Performance caps five-day residency, includes six MSUM dancers

It will be hell. And it will be great. James Sewell, founder of the Minneapolis ballet company that bears his name, has barely finished developing what he considers his magnum opus – a ballet based on Dante’s literary masterpiece, The Inferno. The multi-media dance project premieres at MSUM on the Hansen Theatre stage Saturday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m.

The ballet tells the story of Dante himself in the first book of his trilogy The Divine Comedy. In The Inferno, Dante is driven toward darkness and guided by Virgil through the nine circles of hell in a personal search for the right path of thought and action. It’s a story of midlife crisis and redemption, says Sewell, “explored through a contemporary lens looking for today’s meaning in a timeless tale.”

JSB’s production, rated “R” by Sewell himself, uses electronic imagery and striking staging and costume design. A diverse soundtrack includes music by Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Lou Donaldson, Eskabel, J. S. Bach and Arvo Pärt.

Less than a month before its premiere in Moorhead, JSB executive director George Sutton admits that the show is still in production, and “will still be in production the week leading to the performance.” According to Sutton, that’s not unusual for a new work.

Joining the professionals on stage are six MSUM students who auditioned for small parts in the production last fall. To prepare for their parts in the ballet, the students made four trips to Minneapolis to work with JSB in the company’s space within the Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts. Sewell also came to campus twice in the past few months to work with the student dancers.

Events related to the premiere include “Of Heaven and Hell: a Lecture, Exhibition and Recital” Thursday, March 6 in Fox Recital Hall and the adjoining White Hall in the Roland Dille Center for the Arts. The event begins with a talk by Dante scholar John Kerr, chair of the Department of English at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. A reception and exhibition of artwork, created by MSUM art students specifically for the premiere of Inferno, follows at 6 p.m. The works reflect artists’ visions of hell or their interpretations of scenes from Dante’s literature, and will also be on display in the lobby the day of the performance. At 7 p.m., Tallahassee, Fla., pianist Jihye Chang, formerly of Fargo, will present a lecture recital featuring works inspired by concepts of heaven and hell. The March 6 events are free and open to the public.

For tickets to the premiere performance of Inferno on Saturday, March 8, go to, or call the MSUM Box Office Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at (218) 477-2271, or buy at the door the night of the performance.