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A decade of dance

When Suzanne Kritzberg first glanced at a press release and read that the prima ballerina of the Minnesota Ballet was to be honored at the opening performance of "Coppelia," her first reaction was, "Oh, I wonder who that is."...

When Suzanne Kritzberg first glanced at a press release and read that the prima ballerina of the Minnesota Ballet was to be honored at the opening performance of "Coppelia," her first reaction was, "Oh, I wonder who that is."
The lithe dancer's brown eyes twinkle with amusement when she tells this story.
"I don't feel like a star," she said.
Kritzberg is quick to add that she is the principal female dancer in the ballet company, with all the attendant skills and responsibilities, but a prima ballerina? That's a label that makes her feel a little strange, she said.
Perhaps that will change on Friday when Kritzberg's fans cheer her and toss mounds of flowers at her feet to honor this dynamic dancer who has riveted audiences across the country with her dancing.
"The principal dancer is the highest ranking female in the company," said Allen Fields, artistic and executive director of the Minnesota Ballet. "I would say that Suzanne is among the top 10 percent of ballerinas in the country. To have all the qualities of an actress, the physicality and discipline to do her job, to go though her career without injuries, and being a lovely person to look at -- she's a very beautiful and award-winning ballerina."
From 80,000 to 100,000 people have seen Krtizberg dance in theaters across the country as well as in Central America, he said. In short, she's a prima ballerina and will be honored as such, Fields said.
Tossing flowers on stage to honor a favorite performer is a tradition at the Royal Opera House in London, England, Fields said.
At the performance at the DECC on Friday, baskets of flowers will be set by the stage, and "the public will be invited to toss their flowers at our dancer's feet. We hope the whole community comes out to honor her," he said.
Certainly the ballet the company is preparing for this weekend, "Coppelia," will draw a large crowd. The 125-year-old ballet is popular with both children and adults, and is a great showcase for the talented dancer.
The ballet features lots of great dancing as well as funny characters like old Dr. Coppelius, danced by Robert Gardner, associate artistic director of the ballet, and Coppelius' bevy of life-size dolls.
Kritzberg dances the role of Swanilda, a spunky baker's daughter who knows her own mind.
"Act II is my favorite," she said. "You get to run around and be a brat. I like to play with Robert."
A visit to the ballet's headquarters in the old Board of Trade Building to watch rehearsals for "Coppelia" last week revealed another truth about this ballet. It's beautiful and touching and is not as easy to dance as it might look.
"Part of our job is to make it look easy," Kritzberg said. "That makes it harder than a sport, I think."
Kritzberg is on stage during most of the two-hour ballet, Fields said, and many of her dances, especially in Act III, call upon extraordinary skill and stamina.
Fields said Kritzberg does this work flawlessly, however. His word for it is "fearless."
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When asked about it, Kritzberg said: "I've always been a tom boy, a go-for-it kind of girl. I'm not afraid to take a chance on stage. I just go for it, and hopefully, it works. Even when I get nervous, I don't let it get in the way. I go for the performance. That is probably what he means by 'fearless.'"
Kritzberg hasn't always been that way. The Chicago native got kicked out of her first ballet school at age 8. "I hated it," she said. "I didn't want to be there."
By 11, however, she realized that learning to dance was something she "might" like to do, after all, and asked her mother to enroll her in ballet again.
It wasn't until she was 18 that she realized that ballet was something she "really, really wanted to do," she said.
She has worked hard at the dance ever since.
Certainly Kritzberg's talents have been recognized and used effectively by the Minnesota Ballet. She's danced lead roles ever since she was first hired by the company.
She's danced the lead tragic roles of Giselle and Odette and performed pas de deux roles in "Sylvia," "Don Quixote," "Le Corsaire" and the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet."
She's had dances created for her. Fields and Gardner choreographed the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker especially for her, she said.
She's also been a hit at more contemporary dances created by the company.
Kritzberg said that sometimes, when she looks back on her career so far, she realizes what she's accomplished.
"I never thought I was going to be a principal dancer," she said. "Now, it seems more real. When we go around the country and they give us the same response, it helped me to see myself realistically -- yes, Suzanne, you can do this."
And she can. To find out, come to the performance of "Coppelia" this weekend and see. Perhaps you, too, will be moved to throw flowers at this ballerina's feet.

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