The Minnesota Ballet is one of the finest regional dance companies in the Midwest. This professional company of fourteen dynamic artists, home-based in Duluth, Minnesota, tours nationally, entertaining audiences with a repertoire as diverse as it is artistic.
After serving 15 years as Artistic Executive Director, Allen Fields retired in 2007 to become Artistic Director Emeritus.
Under Fields’ leadership for more than a third of the ballet’s 41 years, the Ballet grew from a small company that seldom toured outside the region into a premier Midwestern company that tours nationally and internationally. Fields, who remains in Duluth, left the position he held since 1992 to pursue other creative interests, such as directing Cats for the Duluth Playhouse this summer and serving as guest artist at the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts. As Artistic Director Emeritus of the Minnesota Ballet, he keeps his connection with the Ballet by teaching, consulting, and doing special projects.
“Allen developed the ballet into the highly professional organization it is today,” said Carole Turner, Ballet Board president at the time of his retirement. “We were truly fortunate to have his leadership all those years, and we are grateful that he still contributes his talents to the Ballet. We are also fortunate that Allen handed the reins to Robert Gardner, whose talents have grown over the years and whose leadership has been apparent to the Board,” Turner added.
As the artistic director with the longest tenure in the Ballet’s history, Fields provided not only leadership but continuity to the growing organization; the longest any previous director had served was five years. Knowing the broad appeal of story ballets, he added Acts II of Swan Lake and Giselle to the ballet’s repertoire. He choreographed and staged the troupe’s first three-act ballet, Coppélia, a comic favorite in since 1994, as well as his sparkling Cinderella production, set in Renaissance Tuscany, another favorite since 2003.
Fields’ first Nutcracker production for the Minnesota Ballet premiered in 1992 and proved a strong draw at the DECC Auditorium for five years. With Gardner’s help, in 1997 Fields gave the Northland its very own Nutcracker production with a distinct setting along Lake Superior’s North Shore. The production has also drawn big audiences in Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Thunder Bay, Ontario.
He also created elegant classical ballets and, from his wide performing background, created big production numbers sparkling with popular dance from appealing ballroom, to sassy jazz, to kicky swing.
In 1995, Fields took the ballet on its first international trip, to San Salvador, El Salvador, where the ballet performed to a standing-room-only audience at the historic Teatro Presidente and conducted master classes at the National Ballet School, when the Salvadorans were rebuilding their arts programs after years of civil war.
Under Fields’ leadership the ballet won the rights to acquire works by master choreographers Agnes de Mille, Antony Tudor, and George Balanchine, works in the repertoire of the world’s prestigious ballet companies. Fields has worked with other artists and organizations, choreographing pieces to such original works as Betsy Schramm’s “American Mosaic” and Mary Ellen Childs’ “Kilter,” and for his visceral modern piece, The Passions, created for the tenth anniversary gala performance and set to music he commissioned from Bruce Wolosoff. For the evening program of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial dedication in September 2003, he wrote a dramatic script and choreographed a piece that the Minnesota Ballet performed to the spiritual “I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land.” He created the Ballet’s choreography for Old Turtle, performed in the highly praised collaboration with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra in March 2004 and again in 2007.
Fields also led the capital drive to remodel the historic Grain Exchange for the ballet’s new quarters; the ballet’s office and main studio have been housed at the top of the Board of Trade Building since 1999, and the ballet received an award from the Duluth Preservation Alliance for restoring this important landmark.
Fields originally connected with the ballet in 1991 when he was living as a free-lance dancer in Chicago. Responding to a notice that the Duluth Ballet needed a male guest dancer, he came north to perform in the venerable Le Corsaire duet. Two months later he was back in Duluth, guest performing as the Cavalier in the Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. He impressed the Duluth Ballet so much that it asked him to choreograph a piece for its Spring Performance, as well as dance in it.
In his brief stays in Duluth, Fields liked what he saw: a community with lots of natural beauty and impressive support of the arts. This native of Pinehurst, North Carolina, even liked the bracing climate. Hearing that the Ballet was conducting a search for an artistic director and knowing his career as a dancer was winding down, Fields applied for the job. He told the Ballet’s board of directors not to worry that he had no directing experience—he would learn. One of Fields’ first priorities was to change the name of the Duluth Ballet to Minnesota Ballet to better reflect the Ballet’s status as the state’s ballet and to make the Ballet more attractive to tour presenters. Tours have taken the ballet over the Midwest to places farther afield from Texas to Florida to North Carolina.
Fields brought international dance experience to his first directing position, having trained at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the American Ballet Theatre School in New York. A principal dancer for the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, he also performed with such companies as the Ohio Ballet, Eglevsky ballet, and Atlanta Ballet; made guest appearances in South America, Europe, Canada, and Mexico; and danced with Hubbard Street Dance Company and as the Snow Prince in the Chicago Tribune Charities production of The Nutcracker.
Fields has been recognized as an state arts leader, being invited as one of twelve statewide artists to the Governor’s Artists in Minnesota Dinner; serving on the Series Presenter Panel for the Minnesota State Arts Board, the McKnight Foundation Artist Panel, and the Shubert Theater Committee; and working with the Laurentian Arts and Culture Alliance in Virginia to restore the historic State Theater. Fields received the 2004 George Morrison Artist Award from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council and the 2008 Lifetime Artist Award from the Depot Foundation. Under Fields’ leadership the Ballet received the inaugural Arts and Culture Award from the Depot Foundation.
Artistic Director: Robert Gardner