Karla Grotting began dancing in her mother’s basement studio, as soon as she could walk. Her mother, Kay Larson, taught tap, ballet, jazz, acrobatics, ballroom and baton, instilling an early love of movement and music. By 1974, Karla found her way to the Zoe Sealy Dance Center where she fell in love with jazz dance, eventually began working with the Minnesota Jazz Dance Company in 1979. In her time at MJDC, she performed in works by Zoe Sealy, Maria Cheng, David Voss, Clarence Teeters, William Harren, Paulette Cousins, Kerry Casserly, Lea Darwin and others. In 1987, Karla moved to NYC to join JAZZDANCE by Danny Buraczeski and danced in both his New York and Minneapolis companies, which deepened her love for jazz dance, jazz music and its history. Karla is a founding member, principal dancer and associate director with Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, with whom she’s been dancing, touring and creating since 1990. Karla graduated from the U of MN-Twin Cities with a BA in Theater and a BFA in Dance, where she continues an adjunct faculty member. Karla enjoyed the past year as a visiting guest artist at St Olaf College and will return to visit again in the spring of 2016. Her awards include the U of M Student’s Choice Award for Outstanding Teacher in the College of Liberal Arts, a 2007 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Dancers and a 2010 Sage Nomination for Outstanding Educator. Karla creates her own dance works which blend the unique styles of her tap, jazz, modern and percussive dance experiences and has set original works on the FFF, St Olaf College, The Eclectic Edge Ensemble, SPCPA, Gustavus Adolphus College and others.
a major influence in the development of jazz dance in the Upper Midwest moved to the Twin Cities 45 years ago. In 1972 she founded the Zoe Sealy Dance Center, which for many years was a primary training ground for jazz and tap artists. In addition, Zoe founded and was Artistic Director of the Minnesota Jazz Dance Company and toured with the company in the 70’s and 80’s throughout the U.S. and Canada. For 25 years Zoe was on the faculty in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota where she was instrumental in building the jazz program. She has also been on the faculties of the International Music Camp, Jacobs Pillow, Northwest Ballet, and Ballet Arts Minnesota. Her teaching and choreographic work has been commissioned across the nation and internationally in Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Now retired, when her travel plans allow, she continues to freelance as a teacher and choreographer and is active in the dance community in various volunteer capacities. Her most gratifying work now is mentoring younger artists, helping them to develop their skills and watching them grow as artists. Recent honors include the 2011 and 2013 Sage Nomination for Outstanding Dance Educator, and the 2012 Sage Nomination for Special Citation.
is a Professor of Dance at Southern Methodist University, teaching classic jazz dance technique, composition and choreography. A classic jazz stylist for over two decades, his work has traced a clear and deep investigation of jazz, its sources and its ongoing evolution. After a career on Broadway appearing in such musicals as MAME with Angela Lansbury andTHE ACT with Liza Minnelli, he founded the original New York City based JAZZDANCE in 1979. Based in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul from 1992-2005, the company performed at leading concert halls and festivals in more than 35 states, in Europe, Russia and the Caribbean.
Buraczeski’s choreography has been commissioned by the Walker Art Center, the Joyce Theater, the Library of Congress, the American Dance Festival, the Bates Dance Festival and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. He was a recipient of a 2003 McKnight Fellowship in Choreography and was a 2004 Bush Foundation Fellow. Buraczeski was named Artist of the Year in 2000 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has received multiple fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, for whom he is now a regular panelist/consultant.
Jeffrey Mildenstein, the youngest of 7 children born to Harley and LaVonne Mildenstein, grew up in Ida Grove, IA. His older siblings remember him as a natural performer even as a toddler. The whole family was entertained watching him dancing in his diapers to the music of the Lawrence Welk television show. By the time Jeffrey got to school, he was such a ham in kindergarten that he seemed to spend more time disciplined in the hallway than in his kindergarten class. But it was his incredible impersonations, from people in the church choir to Topo Gigio on the Ed Sullivan show that were really entertaining and even got his siblings into trouble just for watching him.
After a wrestling injury in middle school, Jeffrey followed his older sisters to dance class with their teacher, Mary Lea. Jeffrey was natural mover and discovered his great passion for dancing. Mary Lea recognized his talent and brought him to jazz dance master, Gus Giordano in Chicago. At age 16, he moved to Evanston where Giordano’s company was based to begin training with Gus in earnest, eventually becoming a principal dancer with Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. One of his featured roles was performing a duet with his friend and fellow company member Julie Walder. A televised performance of The Rehearsal with their starring duet earned the Giordano Company a coveted Emmy Award.
In 1982, Zoe Sealy commissioned him to set a work on the Minnesota Jazz Dance Company. Jeffrey created “Crimes of Passion”, a high energy, aggressive, pop-punk powerhouse of a piece to a score by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Queen. The MJDC dancers loved it. Unfortunately, there is no existing video of this work.
Fellow company member, Meribeth Kisner remembers Jeffrey’s days with the Giordano company in this way: Jeffery was a child and a wise old man locked in one body. His energy and joy were endless. When he came to Gus's he was very young. He had no money and his dance wear was full of holes and tears (not in the fashionable sense). He was amazingly flexible for a boy. But it was his childlike joy for dance that really shone through. Gus saw it immediately and began to mentor this beautiful young man with the long, wild, blonde hair. When he danced he tossed it it like the mane of a horse. It was wonderful to watch him grow into a magnificent dancer as he matured. No one danced like Jeffery. He saw and interpreted it his own way and it was beautiful. He lived and danced fully. He once told me he believed he wouldn't be on this earth long. Very prescient. He choreographed "On the Corner" for Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. It was the story of a young prostitute who is looking for love--any kind of love. She yearns for human compassion and connection. It was an enormous success and a mainstay in the repertoire. Jeffery was one of the main interpreters of the Giordano style. He was passionate and hot headed. He was a pleasure to dance with.
In 1987-89, Jeffrey was a visiting guest artist in residence at Western Kentucky University (WKU) where he taught jazz dance and also choreographed. He continued to teach and choreograph until deep into his illness, seemingly beyond the point his body was capable of working. Natural Woman was the last work he set and he was desperate to finish it before his energy gave out. Meribeth Kisner, the Giordano dancer who knew him from the beginning of his career, was with him near the end of his life. She remembered, “All he talked about was dancing with Gus and with Gus’s company. No matter his situation, as usual, Jeffrey charmed every nurse in the hospital. I miss him every day.”
WKU supports a Jeffrey Mildenstein Scholarship in his honor, for students showing a high level of dance ability.
Jeffrey Mildenstein died of AIDS at the Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville in 1989. He was 32 years old.
Clarence E Teeters (January 13, 1954- August 9, 1988)
Clarence Teeters Jr. was born and raised in St Louis, MO. His mother, Margaret, taught elementary school while his father,Clarence Sr, worked in several different government jobs. His parents, both college graduates, enjoyed and excelled at all kinds of social dancing and their children Clarence and his younger sister Karla grew up in a house full of music (Karla is a singer) poetry, and Black history.
As a teenager, Clarence spent many hours at the YMCA, where he excelled in gymnastics, swimming and other physical programs. He attended high school at University City where he had a diverse set of friends. He loved to listen to the radio, dance, read comic books and was noted for his creative and artistic ways.
Clarence attended Northwestern University, in Evanston, IL, where he graduated with a degree in Speech Pathology. During his college career, Clarence met Gus Giordano and began his studies at the Gus Giordano Dance Center. Within a short time, began a successful career dancing with and eventually choreographing for the Giordano Jazz Dance Co. Clarence was a natural performer and a gifted mover, whose long, loose-limbed style was somehow both wild and free, yet at the same time, articulate, lyrical and precise.
Clarence’s own dance works contained a unique combination of styles including classic jazz, early funk dances, ballet and often theatrical, character driven elements. Along with his Giordano classic jazz training, he continued to study in NYC with Michael Shawn and Betsy Haug. His choreography is described as extremely musical, suited for each dancer, and an unusual combination of intense coordination beneath a cool exterior.
Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, Zoe Sealy commissioned him to set four works on the MN Jazz Dance Company, where his pieces instantly became audience and dancer favorites. His work led him to travel the world before settling in NYC where he took the city by storm. He was dance captain for the 1979 Broadway production of Evita with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. His original bio lists creative work with Holiday on Ice, Terri Klausner, Mary Tyler Moore, the Broadway show “All Girl Band” and industrials for Maidenform and Capezio. Clarence also worked in Germany, where he performed a one-man show called “American Point of View”. For several summers, he was on faculty at the prestigious American Dance Festival in Durham, NC. Clarence eventually moved to Raleigh, NC where he lived worked in dance with the love of his life, dancer Aldo Melito. His sister Karla describes Clarence as “kind, gentle, thoughtful, generous, intelligent, fun and above all, loving. He came from gentleness”. In a short phrase found in a program of Clarence’s work, he had written “Major thanks to all of my friends who have helped make this evening possible...so I don’t have to dance all alone…”
Clarence Teeters Jr died of AIDS in 1988 at the age of 33. His partner Aldo Melito died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 36.
David Voss (January 31, 1938- June 22, 1991)
Incredibly beloved by students, collaborators and colleagues, as well as appreciated by countless audiences, David Voss was a multi-talented, unique contributor to the development of MN contemporary dance as a composer, musician, dancer, choreographer and teacher. He also influenced a generation of dancers regardless of their style or technique. David, an orphan, was born Jan 31, 1938. He was adopted 6 weeks later by a working class couple who raised him in South Minneapolis. Though loving, they were out of sync with his artistic interests and especially his vibrant, creative and musical energies.
David graduated from Southwest High School in 1956. His father encouraged him to enroll in the engineering program at the University of MN. In less than a week, however, David walked into the music building and changed his major to Music. He also took other classes, one in particular from the poet John Berryman who made a lasting impression on David. He completed his BA in music and after a stint in the Army, David returned to the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota to begin studying for his masters in music composition. During this time he was also choir director at Holy Trinity Lutheran church, where he scandalized the congregation by scheduling contemporary choral music. To pay his way through school, at one point he was holding down three jobs simultaneously. Firstly, he worked as an orderly at University Hospital; secondly, he worked as the night switchboard operator at the Gopher Campus Motor Lodge; and thirdly, he played piano in a bar.
During his graduate studies, he began accompanying for Loyce Houlton's dance classes while she was teaching and directing the University’s dance program. Mrs. Houlton encouraged Voss to take her modern dance classes at no charge. Mrs. Houlton left her position at the University of MN to found a school in Dinkytown, near the University of MN. Soon David was not only accompanying her classes but composing, dancing, teaching and performing with her Contemporary Dance Playhouse, which would later evolve into Minnesota Dance Theater (MDT). David was an integral part of MDT’s artistic path during the 1960's and ‘70s. He also taught in the dance program at the University of MN. Though he had many opportunities to compose music for dance with MDT he did not have many outlets for his choreography.
In 1985, Zoe Sealy, a colleague from the University's dance program, invited him to set a work on her company, the Minnesota Jazz Dance Company (MJDC). Rather than compose his own score,Voss chose to use music by legendary jazz artist Jimmy Giuffre for his new work on the MJDC. His deep understanding of this timeless, emotional, articulate music allowed him to create a work that, while it included many stylistic elements from ballet and contemporary dance, was intrinsically jazz-based. According to David’s longtime partner, Roger Beck, “The underlying theme of the Jimmy Dances was an underlying theme in David's life, namely, that true artists, (Jimmy Giuffre being one of them)--in other words people for whom creativity is as essential as the need to breathe--will give up everything—lovers, families, audiences, before they will give up their art ---That’s because they have to create. And if they're lucky, they find like-minded people to work with them. So the Jimmy Dances is about artistic togetherness and artistic solitariness.”
When Barbara Barker came to chair the University of MN dance program, she encouraged David to complete his masters in music composition. With David’s masters degree, Barker demonstrated the high caliber of her teachers in the new program. David’s new masters degree helped to insure the vitality of the program for the future and also to secure tenure for David.
David was also a visiting guest artist of note for two tours to Australia and New Zealand, where he taught at these countries’ leading contemporary dance companies and was even offered the directorship of one in Camberra.
David and his longtime partner, Roger Beck, lived in a houseboat, (though beached on dry land) in Stillwater, MN where David found a sanctuary of creativity, music, love, companionship and orchids. David continued teaching and choreographing up until the last few weeks of his life when his body, wrecked by AIDS, could no longer support him. Roger and David’s family of friends cared for him until David died of AIDS in June 1991. David was 53 years old.*
*When the librarians at the New York City Public Library’s Performing Arts Archives at Lincoln Center learned of David's death, they requested all of the videotapes of his choreography and teaching. They already had arranged an interview with him to join their Oral History Project on dancers with AIDS. They copied the films and returned them to Roger. A year later they called again to say that on World AIDS day--the day without art--they were keeping a continuous loop of David's choreography running in the Performing Arts Library lobby at Lincoln Center .
William Harren (July 31, 1955-October 5, 1989)
William Harren was a unique and powerful performer, choreographer, and teacher of dance. His contributions to the Minnesota dance community were many.
Born in 1955 in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, Bill was one of ten children. He rode horses and performed in theatre productions, but did not take a dance class until his freshman year at the College of St. Joseph/St. Benedict near St. Cloud. The following year, he transferred to the University of Utah, where he earned a BFA with Honors in Modern Dance, studying with Shirley Ririe and Joanne Woodbury of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, among others. He also studied extensively in Colorado with Hanya Holm, German pioneer of modern dance, whose artistic philosophy had a tremendous influence on his work, and later led him to study and perform internationally with Holm’s world-renowned former student Alwin Nikolais in the Nikolais Dance Theatre. He also performed in New York with Ruth Currier and Phyllis Lamhut.
Bill taught and choreographed dances for Rezone Dancers, the precursor to Zenon (“Day”, “See Jane Run”, and “Shelter,” all in 1983.) He joined Minnesota Jazz Dance Company in 1984, and choreographed “As You Desire Me” and “Samothrace” on MJDC that same year. He also taught and choreographed for Children’s Theatre Company and School, as well as presenting his work in many independent settings.
In 1985, Bill founded modern dance company Ballet Harren, and served as Artistic Director and principal choreographer from 1985-89. Beginning as a company of three with his wife Georgia Harren and Holly Schramm, the company grew by its final year to include dancers Jennifer Anderson and Georgia Corner. Ballet Harren’s premiere in 1986 was a full evening-length work of Bill’s choreography, “Life and Death.” The artistic range of Bill’s choreography was seen in “Life and Death”s many vignettes and movement sequences, from humor to moving emotional expression, to the theatrical use of voice and commentary. Another memorable evening-length piece was “The Silent Opera” in 1987. All sound was created onstage by the performers, and the piece was an abstract story of the inner life and imagination of an elderly woman in a nursing home. His final work was 1989’s “Laughter and the Four Winds,” a quartet for Ballet Harren’s women, which was a beautiful example of the lyricism and motional intelligence which had always graced his work.
Just as important to Bill as choreography was dance education. Ballet Harren taught and performed in many dance residencies in schools all over Minnesota. Bill created Ballet Harren’s Dance Access for Educators, a program which provided elementary classroom teachers with fundamentals of dance and resources to enable them to include creative dance in their teaching.
In 1988, Bill was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He also received grants from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations.
William Harren died in 1989 of AIDS at the age of 34.