Boxing as ballet


Our artistic partner, the St. Paul Ballet, recently previewed some scenes of a new show about boxing and dancing that will have its world premiere at The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts in Minneapolis, March 3-4.

“To Billy” is by Zoé Emilie Henrot, the St. Paul Ballet’s artistic director who is also choreographing the Snowblower Ballet.

The inspiration for this performance about the dual disciplines of boxing and ballet came about because the ballet’s studio is next door to the Element Boxing and Fitness gym in St. Paul.

As with the Snowblower Ballet, “To Billy” is supported with a grant from the Knight Foundation Art Challenge. Here’s the full news release:

MINNEAPOLIS – St. Paul Ballet will present a program featuring the World Premiere of To Billy by Zoé Emilie Henrot, along with the contemporary ballet Suite for Strings choreographed by Joseph Morrissey and Off The Base, an original work by Darwin Black. Performances will take place March 3-4 at The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts.
To Billy
When St. Paul Ballet relocated their studios, they found themselves next door to a boxing studio and an unlikely partnership was born. Inspired by the real-life collaboration between the adjacent studios of St. Paul Ballet and Element Boxing and Fitness, To Billy offers a simple role reversal plot where a young boxer and a young dancer struggle with expectations and defy them to follow their true passions.
Created by St. Paul Ballet’s (SPB) artistic director Zoé Emilie Henrot, To Billy is a nod to Lee Hall’s Billy Elliot that challenged traditional gender roles in ballet and boxing, but the performance takes its story from the grace and humor of the fledgling relationship between SPB and Element. To Billy illustrates the timeless dream of rising from humble beginnings to “making it,” while setting the stage for future collaborations between SPB and Element as these two communities meld and mature.
St. Paul Ballet’s executive director Lori Gleason said, “During the last two years we have found that the stereotypes we fight in ballet parallel those in boxing – ballet is feminine, boxing is masculine; ballerinas are wispy and self-absorbed, boxers are brawny and tempestuous; etc. The truth is that we’re more alike than we are different. We both value discipline, strength, endless practice, footwork and so much more. We even share the fact that we have pre-performance rituals – in ballet, we prepare our pointe shoes; in boxing, they wrap their hands.”
Suite for Strings
Joseph Morrissey, Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts, choreographs the contemporary ballet Suite for Strings set to the music of Czech composer Leoš Janáček. A fast and furious piece set to a demanding tempo, Suite for Strings features a beautifully fluid partnering for four couples, making it a thrilling example of ballet’s evolution for today’s artists and audiences.
Off The Base
TU Dance company member and emerging choreographer Darwin Black premieres his original work Off The Base as the final piece of the program. The full company of St. Paul Ballet dances Black’s dynamic choreography exploring vulnerability and fear. With powerful imagery and a primal soundscape, Off The Base admits that to be alive is to be vulnerable and provides a canvas for building a new vocabulary for our fears.
About St. Paul Ballet
Founded in 2002, St. Paul Ballet began as a training school offering pre-professional and recreational ballet at the historic 1680 Grand Avenue “studio above the hardware store.”
St. Paul Ballet began a new chapter in 2013 with the vision to lift the human spirit through the art of ballet under the guidance of Artistic Advisor Christina Onusko and Executive Director Lori Gleason. In 2014, Zoé Emilie Henrot began directing the artist-led company of professional dancers (now six women, four men and three and apprentices) and is establishing a reputation for artistic excellence. The company performs a repertoire of classical and contemporary works, ranging from story ballets to innovative works by local, national and international choreographers that explore new directions for ballet to ensure its continued relevance and make ballet more accessible to its artists and audiences. Learn more at
About The Cowles Center
The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts serves as the Twin Cities’ flagship for dance, presenting 20+ productions each season in The Goodale Theater in the heart of Downtown Minneapolis. The Center’s campus includes three performance spaces, education studios, and administrative offices for more than 20 arts and nonprofit organizations – making it a dynamic and vibrant hub for the Twin Cities’ performing arts community and a place where dance can grow and thrive.
At a Glance
WHAT: St. Paul Ballet at The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts
WHERE: The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, Goodale Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55403
PRICE: $25-$35
March 3 at 7:30 p.m.*
March 4 at 7:30 p.m.
*A post-show discussion will begin immediately following the performance.




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