Minnesota Ballet company suffers real-life flood dramaMinnesota Ballet scrambles to salvage sets and backdrops soaked by last week’s floodwaters.
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
Contrary to what Bram Stoker wrote about vampires, sunlight was part of the prescription for curing “Dracula.”
The Minnesota Ballet was maybe the hardest-hit local arts organization, with an estimated 90 percent of sets and backdrops affected by last week’s flood. On Thursday, the ballet was tending to its most recent original production, “Dracula,” by spreading out warped, molded and otherwise damaged pieces from the set in the lot adjacent to a storage space on Winter Street in Superior.
“I’m just going through emotional upheavals,” said artistic director Robert Gardner.
The ballet’s storage area at US Bank in West Duluth was shin-deep with water after the flood. The space was cleared out and damaged drops were hung to dry over the stage at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. They were sprayed for mold and allowed to re-dry. Gardner said they are still assessing whether paint has bled or the pieces are stained or stretched.
Staff and volunteers filled semi-trucks using a triage system of what might be salvageable and what is not. The ballet saves sets, costumes and drops from old production for re-use and to rent out to other companies around the country, Gardner said. A Nutcracker head from an old version of the production, a wishing well from “Coppelia” and a carousel from “The Carnival of Animals” are among the items ruined.
“This is the history of the ballet,” Gardner said, looking into the back of a truck filled with damaged sets.
The Minnesota Ballet did not have any costumes in the storage space. The sets from “Midsummer Night’s Dream” were rented by a company in Florida and sets from the current version of “The Nutcracker” were in storage in Superior. Both were spared.
Gardner estimated more than $100,000 worth of damage. He said the company has gotten donations from dance companies and individual donors from around the country.
Artist Ann Gumpper, who has created much of the scenery for the ballet, had some tips for salvaging pieces. She advised spraying the backdrops with an antibacterial agent to stop bacterial growth and to bleach the flats to get rid of mold.
“It’s much easier to repaint than rebuild them if the plywood is covered in mold,” she said. “You can’t have the dancers up there breathing in mold.”
Drying might help with the swelling of the wood and if pieces are warped, laying a heavy object on top could help straighten them out, she said.
There are times when a spot of humor comes through.
“The first thing we saw when we came down the steps (of the storage space) — Old Turtle came floating toward us,” Gardner said of a production that pairs the ballet with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. “Then, Black Swan.”
The flood damage will not affect the status of the ballet company, Gardner said. The dancers, who are off for the summer, return in late August. They will immediately begin work on a small show with choreography by Penelope Freeh.
After the success of “Dracula,” which premiered this past season, the ballet is performing it again in October.
“Ballet companies have lived through World War I and World War II,” Gardner said. “We may be doing it a different way, but we’ll be doing it. We can still tell stories, we can still bring beauty, we can still exemplify human emotion. We have the ability to do the whole thing. We have the artists.”