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Meredith Holt, Published March 28 2013

Fargo mother-daughter to perform together in FM Ballet production

If you go

What: FM Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

When: 7 tonight and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets cost $20 for adults, $10 for students, and are available by calling (701) 234-9440.


FARGO - In preparation for FM Ballet’s latest production, artistic director Matthew Gasper has noticed some friendly competition between one of his adult fairies and one of his youth fairies.

“Little Dylan sees how ‘big’ her mom’s being as a fairy, then she tries to outdo her mom,” he says of 8-year-old Dylan Johnson and her 35-year-old mother, Jessie.

Dancing “big” means using your body’s full ability from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes.

“When a dancer can do that, it’s really, really magical,” Gasper says. “The audience will see the difference between a dancer who just kind of goes through the motions and a dancer who’s living in them.”

This weekend, Jessie and Dylan will be among the nearly 50 cast members bringing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to life through dance on the historic Fargo Theatre’s stage.

Most professional ballet dancers are in their early 20s, but this is Jessie’s fourth production with FM Ballet, and she’s a working mother of two in her mid-30s.

Ballet can be more physically challenging for someone in her 30s than her 20s or teens, but Jessie says she’s not looking to make a career out of it, whereas the majority of the other dancers in the company are, and have had some success.

“When I go into rehearsal, I’m not doing this so that I can audition for a bigger ballet company on the East or West Coast. This is my last stop, and I’m perfectly fine with that,” she says.

Among those in attendance this weekend will be Jessie’s husband and Dylan’s twin sister, Delaney. Both girls take classes, but Delaney chose not to participate in productions.

“There’s a big time commitment for all of the cast members, whether you’re one of the little ones or the big ones,” mom Jessie says.

She says Delaney loves watching her mother and sister perform. She gets to pick out a special dress for opening night and gives them roses afterward.

“Seeing the twinkle in her eye during performances keeps me up on my pointe shoes,” Jessie says.

Dad Darrell also plays a supporting role. He helps with stage makeup, and Jessie says he “can actually make a decent ballet bun.”

“He’ll carry his briefcase in one hand and a pile of tutus in the other and think nothing of it,” she says.

The company works on barre exercises, technique and conditioning for a few hours twice a week, but more rehearsal time is added as performance dates near.

Since Jessie and Dylan are both in “Midsummer,” they have the same rehearsal schedule, which makes things easier for the Johnsons, but for Jessie, balancing work, dance and family is a matter of perspective.

“I’m very fortunate in that I get to spend all of my time doing things that I love – at work, at home, and at the ballet barre,” she says. “It’s never a matter of, ‘How am I going to get all this done?’ so much as, ‘Wow, I get to do all this stuff today!’ ”

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was selected as this year’s children’s ballet, which pairs young dancers with experienced company members for mentoring.

Gasper says having a mother and daughter in the same production is nurturing, but not overbearing.

“When Jessie needs to be onstage, Dylan’s where she needs to be offstage,” he says. “Everybody in this production is holding their own.”

After 10 years of study growing up in Iowa, the Fargo woman left dance to focus on her education, career and family. She returned after her twins were born.

“I was attracted to the studio from the perspective of the quality of instruction and the history that the Gasper family has in the dance world,” she says.

She’s been back at it for six or seven years now and put her daughters in classes when they were about 3, which she says is a natural time for kids to start.

Also the current FM Ballet board president, Jessie says dance gives young children an outlet for their excessive energy and helps with their memory, coordination and balance.

“It’s valuable for them to have to follow the direction of somebody other than a parent,” she says. “They learn a lot, but they don’t know it because they’re having such a good time.”

The learning isn’t just for the little fairies. Jessie, who works in marketing technology, says the skills she gains in ballet transfer over to other areas of her life, too.

Her time in the downtown Fargo studio helps her “get out of her head” after work and regain her focus, and performing helps her with professional interaction and presentation.

“If you’re onstage and your toe is bleeding, you can’t show the audience that in your facial expression,” she says.

Choreographer Gasper calls Jessie’s facility and expression an asset to the company.

“Every time I put her on stage, she grows in leaps and bounds,” he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590.