Maggie Tesch and Ballet West Artists Inspire UofU Dancers in Piece for February Utah Ballet

08 January 2018 Published in News and Announcements
Chelsea Keefer and Chris Ruud work with Ballet Students on  “She’s So Fine” by Val Caniparoli Chelsea Keefer and Chris Ruud work with Ballet Students on “She’s So Fine” by Val Caniparoli

One of the advantages of studying ballet at the University of Utah is the close affiliation between our faculty and the professional company Ballet West. A perfect example of the ways that our students benefit from these ties is visible this semester when students perform a duet called “She’s So Fine,” by Val Caniparoli, who served as Resident Choreographer for Ballet West from 1993 to 1997. They are being coached by faculty member Maggie Tesch, who performed with Ballet West for 18 years, and as a Principal Artist during 12 of those years.

Given her close connections with the company, Tesch was able to bring current Ballet West professional artists Chris Ruud and Chelsea Keefer to the School of Dance to work with students in December. Making these links between the university and Ballet West even more apparent, Keefer spent several years studying at the University of Utah. She says that being back in the studio with current students was a magical moment, one in which she could share her knowledge with younger dancers. Keefer adds, “I really enjoyed working with the dancers from the U of U. Val Caniparoli’s choreography is the perfect balance of fun and difficult steps while staying within the musicality. When I first learned the piece from Maggie this past year, I found the musicality to be the most challenging aspect. The dancers from the U picked up the choreography very easily, and it was fun to teach the dancers little tricks I used to help me within the piece. It’s especially important to breathe when dancing nonstop for eight minutes straight. Each cast that will perform the pas de deux brings a different quality to the work and it was really amazing to see their artistry come through.”

Student Tyler Piwowarczyk, who is learning the duet and will perform the piece this February during Utah Ballet 2 shows, says, “It’s nice to have the inspiration of Ballet West dancers in the studio with us, especially given their sense of professionalism.”

For Tesch, this is her third time staging Caniparoli’s choreography on students at the School of Dance, and she has also staged his “Lamberena” in Seattle for Pacific Northwest Ballet. “I believe Val’s works are relevant to students today,” explains Tesch. “They are currently being choreographed, staged, and performed by companies all over the world. It is likely dancers will run across one during their careers. Doing current work is huge for college dancers. In other words, having the chance to learn and dissect a working choreographer’s piece, a choreographer who is making a living doing his craft internationally, is one hell of an opportunity.”

Keefer agrees and adds, “After getting ‘She’s So Fine’ into my body, then performing it, and now coaching it, I have understood the piece on a deeper level. Val is so great at creating many layers within a pas de deux. It’s especially interesting once a dancer begins to understand the key sounds within the music, and when you can create little connections with your partner.”

Tesch says she was particularly grateful to have Keefer in the studio with her in December. Recently diagnosed with cancer, Tesch had surgery during the fall semester and is now undergoing chemotherapy. “I worked with Chelsea while she was a student here at the U of U,” says Tesch. “I was a young faculty member and she was a determined dancer who had her eyes set on much more than a degree in ballet. We lost her to Ballet West to be a trainee then she went to Tulsa where she danced for a number of years. I knew some of the partnering would need a man’s eye and Chris [Ruud, a principal artist with Ballet West] had said he would come and spend a rehearsal with them. With my diagnosis, I was unsure how much I’d be able to stage and he then agreed to come as much as he could and bring Chelsea. They are doing this as a favor to me.”

When two casts of students take the stage in February to perform the piece, the moment will be especially poignant for Tesch: “this piece was staged on me originally,” she reveals. “Chris Ruud was added to the ballet the second time it came around [in Ballet West’s repertory] and he worked with the other principal lady. He asked me to help restage it for him and Chelsea last summer for his company, Ruud Dances, when they performed it at the Arts Festival. That’s where I got the idea of doing it for the students at the U.”

Caniparoli had a distinguished performing career as a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, a company he joined in 1973. Today, he continues to choreograph for San Francisco Ballet. Tesch says that working with him in the studio is “quite the experience.” She adds that he “sets the bar high,” and that any opportunity to perform his work creates an opportunity for a dancer to expand their artistic palette. 

By School of Dance Assistant Professor Kate Mattingly