With long and productive performing careers largely behind them, ballet dancers Amy Earnest and Lance Hardin now voice their contentment to inspire and prepare new generations of dance students for the stage. Since the late summer of 2012, their base of operations has been the Reif Dance Program, housed in the Myles Reif Performing Arts Center, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
There, they teach and choreograph 18-20 ballet classes in a program that serves 200 students, aged three-to-adult, with a dance curriculum of 50 weekly offerings in fundamentals, ballet, jazz, modern, and tap. Though only in their 30s, the husband and wife duo have nearly three decades of teaching experience between them.
Their own dance studies extend even longer. Earnest began dancing at age three in Atlanta. After studying with the School of Atlanta Ballet from age 11, she moved to Seattle at 18 to pursue professional development with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She is certified both with the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum and as a Pilates instructor. Hardin, a native of Chicago, began his dance training at age 11 at the Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance and, later, at the Academy of Houston Ballet. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ballet from Indiana University.
Earnest and Hardin both have performed principal roles from the Balanchine repertoire, as well as works by Paul Taylor, William Forsythe, Nacho Duato, and Alonzo King, among others.
In addition to Pacific Northwest Ballet, Earnest has performed with the Tulsa Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Hartford Ballet, and Chautauqua Ballet in venues as far afield as Portugal and Hong Kong. Hardin’s credits include the Milwaukee Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, North Carolina Dance Theatre, and Chautauqua Ballet. The couple met while dancing in North Carolina.
Both cite as highlights of their dance company experiences the few opportunities they had to work with choreographers – King, Duato, and Dwight Rhoden – as they created a new dance from nothing, as opposed to the more usual practice of having existing works “set” on them by repetiteurs.
Prior to moving to Minnesota, Earnest and Hardin owned and ran the Avant-Garde School of Dance in Centennial, Colorado, part of the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area. Grand Rapids was not unknown to them when they responded to the Reif Center’s national search for a director(s) of its ballet program; both had performed there on tour in 1998, and it looked like a good opportunity to make a difference.
Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, near its Lake Itasca headwaters, Grand Rapids is home to 10,869 residents in a county of 45,000 people and 1,000 lakes. Located 175 miles north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, 80 miles northwest of Duluth, and 100 miles south of the Canadian border, the city’s largest employer is the Blandin Paper Company.
It was Myles Reif, a former general manager, plant manager, and president of Blandin, whose foresight and leadership prompted the creation of an arts center that would partner with its community; he did not live to see the January 1981 opening. Owned by Independent School District 318, the 645-seat Reif Center is operated by the Reif Arts Council. In fiscal 2011, the Center sold nearly 25,000 tickets to patrons, 40% of whom traveled more than 25 miles to attend performances of theater, dance, music, and popular entertainments.
David Marty, the Center’s president, enjoys a national reputation as a savvy and visionary leader who knows how to effectively connect artists and audiences in meaningful ways while balancing a budget of approximately $950,000.
In addition to its state-of-the-art theater, the Reif Center has three spacious dance studios with sprung floors (1,200 sq. feet, 1,800 sq. feet, and 2,250 sq. feet), private dressing rooms, and a newly refurbished observation room for parents.
Evidence of the dedication and investment of some of those parents in their children’s artistic development can be found in the distances they drive four and five times a week: 34 miles and 45 minutes one-way from Hibbing to the east, and 69 miles and 70 minutes one-way from Bemidji to the west.
Hardin says the number of boys enrolled in the dance program is pushing double digits and has prompted thoughts of offering a boys class beginning in the fall. The program also is looking for three instructors, in jazz, tap, and fundamentals.
Reif Dance presents three annual productions: The Nutcracker in December, the Reif Dance Company show by advanced students in March, and the spring dance theater show in June.
In November 2011, Reif Dance named James Sewell, artistic director of the James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis, as its artistic advisor. The partnership includes regular workshops and performances in Grand Rapids by Sewell and his company, and regular visits by the Reif students to Minneapolis throughout the year.
On April 13 and 14, 2013, 39 dancers from Grand Rapids joined members of the James Sewell Ballet and the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies to perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” at The Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis. When the Sewell dancers take the stage at the Reif Center a week later, April 20, the Reif dancers will perform “Percussive,” a new work choreographed by Hardin to music by Peter Gabriel.
For its annual spring production, the Reif Dance Program will present “The Wizard of Oz,” June 7-9.
Then, rounding out their first year in Grand Rapids, Earnest and Hardin will be joined by Sewell dancers for the ballet-focused 2013 Summer Dance Intensive, July 29-August 17. The three-week intensive also will offer classes in contemporary styles, modern, jazz, tap, choreography, and Pilates, with a free, Summer Showcase performance on Saturday, August 17. A housing and meal package at Itasca Community College is available for out-of-town participants.
Earnest and Hardin say they enjoy the sense of community they have found in Grand Rapids, a place where they can know many people and be known for the work that they do in developing dance artists. They look forward to many days of sharing their experiences and helping to shape young dreams.
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