Photos by Lacey Gasper, costumes by Suzanne Spiese
Inside Gasper’s School of Dance, the delicate face of Nimuué or “Lady of the Lake” peered down at Matthew Gasper, artistic director of the FM Ballet, from the confines of an elongated canvas. The sliver of her face represents the notion of a woman who, by some estimates, explored North America before the Pharaohs ruled over Egypt.
Gasper explained his initial interest in developing a ballet based on the story of an ancient skeleton unearthed in the early 1930s between Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, and Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Inspired by the artist who created the painting hanging behind him, Gasper received a glimpse of the ancient adventurers’ life when he experienced the artwork of Pelican Rapids native, Marcella Rose.
September 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Historic Holmes Theatre
826 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes, Minn.
To reserve your tickets, visit dlccc.org/holmes.
The Muse of History
The more that’s uncovered about Nimuué and her journey to the glacial landscape of the region, the more questions are raised. While it may never be determined exactly when she lived or where she was from, Rose has achieved detail finer than any scientific experiment could discern through her paintings and sculptures.
“As a dancer and choreographer, art really motivates me a lot, so looking at different paintings like this one of Nimuué helps develop the mood and shape of a ballet,” said Gasper. “For example, this picture here, it’s the colors, but it’s also the flowing of the brush strokes that I look at. I see water, I see ice, I see stress with the red but also peace within her face.”
Like many area artists inspired by the story of Nimuué, Gasper utilized his craft to bring movement to a story preserved only through the bones of a young woman from before recorded history. Under the direction of Gasper, the FM Ballet will perform an original continuation of the full-length ballet called “Spirit Rising” on September 21. The performance will take place during an event called “Unveiling Nimuué” at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes, and will feature a contemporary style with aspects of the elements, nature and Nimuué’s exploration of the terrain.
“The story is really open ended and it’s as creative as we want it to be, but we also want to be as true as we can to the facts of the archeological find. Phletus especially is very into the detail, he’s a scientist first,” said Gasper about Phletus Williams, composer of the original piano accompaniment to be used during the FM Ballet’s performance.
Preserving a Forgotten Story
Serving as head of the Glacial Minnesota Woman Organization (GMWO) with his wife, Williams and a group of volunteers have been working to preserve and understand the story of Nimuué, the name they coined after investigating the story some know as “Minnesota Woman.” The Williams couple also introduced the tale of Nimuué to artist Rose, who joined the GMWO as creative director after dedicating her artistic inspiration exclusively to the tale of Nimuué.
Since she was discovered on the sight of Highway 59 in 1931, the curious story of the perfectly preserved body went unheard for the most part with details of the woman’s life constantly shifting from the results of one science experiment to another. While her remains were buried ceremoniously by the Dakota Sioux, thus halting further research, her story is kept alive through the work of artists and activists. For Gasper, creating a ballet based on Nimmué comes from the desire to not only dazzle the eyes but also open the mind to perspectives of a woman at the brink of humanity.
“That’s what I look forward to every time we hit the stage, is for that moment of inspiration from a little kid looking up at a ballerina and thinking ‘that’s it,'” said Gasper. “I think that goes for any live performance, you get the inspiration to want to do that, to be that graceful, do that many turns, or jump that high. That is why one, I liked performing when I used to dance and two, why I like watching the audience during a performance.”