Dancers in residence expose students to new experiences

Alexandra Beller and Toni Melaas ’00 of the Alexandra Beller/Dances Company of New York are currently in a guest residency with St. Olaf’s Dance Department, teaching classes and choreographing a piece that students will perform in the Companydance Spring Concert in May. The residency, which began on Feb. 22, will conclude with a master class and final performance on Saturday, March 1.

The residency program is meant as a chance for students to gain new perspectives and experiences in the medium of dance.

“We try to have a variety of experiences for students,” said Professor of Dance Janice Roberts, “so we look at artists and the different skills that they have and how they work with students. We’ve done a historical work, we’ve worked with African-American artists and next year we’re going to do a jazz work. And [Alexandra Beller’s] company is sort of a cutting-edge, young company that’s out there. So we try to have a variety of experiences over a span of four years for the students to encounter in different ways.”

“It’s great to get a new perspective on movement and movement creation,” said Karina Culloton ’15, one of the ten students who will perform in the piece being choreographed by the guest artists. “We have awesome professors here, but sometimes it is good to change it up a little bit and learn what other people are doing.”

“When you come to a college like St. Olaf [as a dancer], we have some faculty, but our expertise might only lie in this field or that field, so we like to give them a nice, broad spectrum of what’s happening in the world of dance,” Roberts said. “It gives them a broader experience, a more worldly experience. And it also gives them contacts. You know, if one of them wants to move to New York to dance, now they have people that they can contact there for help or advice.”

At the beginning of the year, students had the opportunity to audition to be part of the dance being choreographed by the guest artists. For these students, the week-long rehearsal period is an intense sprint to create and learn an entirely new piece before the guest artists leave.

“[The students] have rehearsal every single day, some days for seven hours, some days for eight hours, so it’s really long,” Roberts said.

“We are creating this piece in such a short span of time,” Culloton said. “And by the end of the week we will have been in rehearsal for almost 30 hours. But it is so worth it.”

But this year, the residency has been expanded to include more than just a weeklong intensive with a small group of students. This year’s additions to the program include the final performance at the end of the residency, classes taught by the guest artists during the week and a master class open to students and the public before the guest artists’ final performance later that day. These additions enable the visiting dancers to connect with more students during their short time on the Hill.

Another significant part of this year’s residency is alumna Toni Melaas, who is a living example of one of the many trajectories students majoring in dance – or any of the arts – can take post-graduation.

“We want students to understand these conduits of how they might forge a pathway in the arts,” Roberts said. “I think it’s wonderful for students to have these people that they can talk to and ask, ‘How did you do this?’ I really love that aspect of the residency this year.”

“Both Toni Melaas and Alexandra Beller have such an amazing wealth of dance and life experience,” Culloton said. “I just want to soak in as much as I possibly can.”

The guest dancers’ master class will be from 11 a.m to 1 p.m., and their performance will be at 7:30 p.m. on March 1, both in Dittmann Center Studio One. Both are free and open to the public. Tickets to the performance may be reserved by calling the Dance Office at 507-786-3248 or by emailing