The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 3, 2013

Getting to the pointe: MBC Performing Company debuts with 'Stars and Stripes'

By Tanner Kent
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO -- When the last few notes of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Variations” blared through the Mankato Ballet Company studio during rehearsal on Monday night, 15 dancers heaved a collective sigh of relief.

In a lengthy number that encompasses the whole of Weber’s rock concerto for cello -- which he famously wrote after losing a bet on a soccer match to his brother, a professional cellist -- the 15 founding members of the newly formed Performing Company spend much of it en pointe. Or, in other words, they spend much of it in pain.

As Mankato West senior Amy Poburka unwrapped and removed her pointe shoes -- the structurally reinforced footwear that allow ballet dancers to bear their body weight on their toes -- she found her feet in state similar to each of her fellow dancers: raw, blistered and bleeding.

“Sometimes I bleed right through the shoes,” she said.

Poburka has been with the Mankato Ballet Company since she was 4 years old. And the upcoming “Stars and Stripes” performance represents her swan song as a member.

Yet, she’s been rehearsing as hard as ever. With only a few performances left before her ballet career takes a back seat to college life at the University of Minnesota, Poburka said she’s hoping to save her best for last.

“I want to make sure this performance is a good one,” she said. “I want to leave a positive example for all the other dancers.”

“Stars and Stripes: An All-American Collection of Dance” represents the first-ever performance of the MBC’s Performing Company, which was formed to give a more rigorous experience to dancers who have advanced skills and may have an eye toward a professional career.

Eryn Michlitsch, MBC artistic director, said a commitment to the Performing Company adds about six hours of practice on top of a dancer’s typical slate of ballet classes.

“It’s a lot,” Michlitsch said. “It’s a big commitment. But they impress me every day.”

The performance includes a guest performance from St. Paul-based Dance Spectrum, a rendition of a patriotic ballet and a performance of “Mirror Image” -- which utilizes live cello accompaniment from Riley Weber, an MBC instructor and University of Minnesota student -- as well as the ballet choreographed to Lloyd Weber’s concerto.

The choreography from the piece originates from Michlitsch’s mentor, the late Kay Englert, who taught Michlitsch in Tacoma, Wash.

On the cusp of the Performing Company’s debut appearance to the public, dancers said the results have been well worth the added sacrifice.

“This year especially, people have improved so much,” Karin Davey said.

Beret Elker added: “We’re excited for people to see everything we’ve been doing.”

INFO BOX HED: If You Go What "Stars and Stripes: An All-American Collection of Dance" When 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday Where Mankato West High School auditorium Tickets $8 for adults and children (under 2 are free). Available at the door one hour prior to performance.