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John Lamb, Published September 02 2012

Locker taking over as F-M Ballet Company ballet mistress

FARGO – Liisa Locker is stepping into some big ballet slippers.

The 25-year-old dancer is taking over for Kathy Gasper, who is stepping back after years as ballet mistress at the Fargo-Moorhead Ballet Company.

It’s a company with which the younger dancer is familiar.

Raised in Michigan, Locker started taking classes at Gasper School of Dance, home to the F-M Ballet, in the 2006-07 school year and even went on to substitute teach in other classes. She’s appeared in about 12 Gasper/FM Ballet productions since.

She went on to graduate from North Dakota State University with a degree in physics and mathematics, but never quit dancing, though a back injury may hold her back from some performances this year and allow her to focus on teaching.

Locker spent August teaching back in Michigan, but returns to Fargo in time for dance auditions on Wednesday.

When did you start dancing?

I was 6, first grade, and the story is that my parents took me to see “The Nutcracker” when I was 3 years old, and I pestered them about it for three years until they finally signed me up.

So, was “The Nutcracker” always a favorite?

I do like “The Nutcracker,” but I’m not a huge fan of Tchaikovsky as a composer. I prefer his ballet “Swan Lake” if we have to pick Tchaikovsky.

What is a ballet mistress?

I’m going to help our artistic director Matt (Gasper) run rehearsals, teach company class and who needs work on what.

Kathy Gasper had filled the role of ballet mistress, but she’s taking a bit of a step back this year, so I’m just going to step up and helping that role.

What are your goals as the ballet mistress?

I think it’s really important that Fargo-Moorhead ballet improves technically and artistically. We have a pretty sound base to move on, and it’s just keeping the company moving up the way it has been the past couple years.

Auditions for the company are Wednesday. What do you look for in a younger, developing dancer?

We look for someone who can present themselves as an artist. Technique is important, but we really look for young dancers who can sparkle on stage, someone who draws your eye to them. Someone who is not just a good dancer but interesting to watch. Someone with a little personality.

As someone who has been dancing for 20 years, what do you try to communicate to younger dancers so they don’t lose that spark?

I love ballet because you really have to work very hard at it. It takes an awful lot of dedication. If you have a student who is dedicated to it, they’ll have moments every single class where something will all of the sudden make sense, and they’ll constantly be improving, whether they’re a young one or someone my age.

I’m still working on technique a little bit. So you’ll see the technique improve, you see the personality improve. Telling them when you see those moments is one of the most important things to keep people interested.

So, final question and a little departure, what did you think of “Black Swan” a couple of years ago and its depiction of ballet dancers?

I wasn’t a huge fan of it. I liked it as a psychological thriller. The body double for Natalie Portman, Sarah Lane, is one of my favorite dancers, so that was fun. But ballet is not all crazy like that.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533