James Sewell Ballet takes on "Romance"

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The 1957 marriage of Fred and Gloria Sewell serves as the inspiration for their son's latest work "Romance."

If the following sounds far-fetched, perhaps you’ve spent too much time swiping online…

A Navy band violinist shows early to a church gig.  Waiting in the pews, he passes the time watching the church choir finish their rehearsal - a beautiful young vocalist catches his eye.  With that passing glance, a lifelong love begins.  60 years later, their marriage, and love, endures.

Nowadays, there’s not much catching of the eye going on. In 2017, app-obsessed digital courtship reigns supreme, and in-person “meet cutes” are securely on the endangered species list.

Thankfully, we have Fred and Gloria Sewell to believe in.  Their meeting at an Arlington, Virginia church could easily serve as the prologue to Hollywood’s next romantic comedy. Unfortunately for movie producers, the rights to the Sewell plot are already taken, secured by a ballet choreographer, their son, James.

“Here we are 60 years later. They still love each other, they’re still best friends, to me that’s an inspiration,” James Sewell said.

The James Sewell Ballet certainly appears inspired as they dive into their newest work, “Romance” this weekend at the O’Shaughnessy.  This “meet cute” is all grace, and no bump.  Leaving the awkward coffee spills, and busy street collisions behind, true love returns to its rightful place at the ballet, if only for a moment.

“Romance” is just one slice of a larger program called “Connections”, but it’s easily the most personal to James himself.  In fact, the family connections don’t stop at the storyline.  Set to Dvorak’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra - James first heard his father perform the music as the solo violinist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in this same venue, the O’Shaughnessy, many moons ago.

“When I was about 12, I remember falling asleep listening to him practice,” Sewell said.  “I’ve always thought, 'Someday I’ve got to choreograph this piece,' but I could never figure out quite what the story was.”

You’ll have no problems recognizing this story - a beautiful narrative on chemistry and young love, told through conventional means and graceful athletes.  But as much as it is a lighthearted gift to his audiences, this story was originally a gift for James.

“It was a wonderful moment for me to sit down with my parents and say, ‘tell me everything about how you fell in love’,” Sewell said.

An artistic family with an expanding portfolio, the Sewells were familiar with music.  As a child, James followed in his father’s footsteps taking up the violin and oboe.  When it came time for James to embrace his true fate, dance, Fred and Gloria entered uncharted waters.  And yet, they were there for every step and pirouette along the way.

“When I first started, they didn’t understand ballet and a son doing ballet - it wasn’t something that was familiar to them - but they understood an artistic passion,” Sewell said. “I’m so grateful for the unconditional support.”

“Romance” is admittedly not Sewell’s most challenging work for an audience to understand.  But that’s not the point.  This piece harkens back to a time when story ballets ruled the land, and more traditional fare whisked audiences to a simpler world.

“I hope they can get caught up in the romantic endeavor. If they can smile, sigh, and feel like they don’t want to clap that would be perfect,” Sewell said.

There’s no doubt, this ballet is worth clapping for.  If nothing else, 60 years of marriage deserves a standing “O”.

The O’Shaughnessy presents “Connections,” new works by James Sewell Ballet and the Ahn Trio this weekend only, Nov. 3 - 5.  Tickets can be purchased online at oshag.stkate.edu or by calling the box office at 651-690-6700.

Abraham Swee is a multi-media producer at FOX 9 covering the arts across central Minnesota.  Send story ideas to abraham.swee@foxtv.com