Dancer’s journey takes him back to his roots

Benjamin Stewart, right, is featured in "Classical Coinnections" at the Cowles Center. ()hoto by Sarah Lopez Donovan)
Benjamin Stewart, right, is featured in “Classical Connections” at the Cowles Center. (Photo by Sarah Lopez Donovan)

Benjamin Stewart’s dancing career has taken him across the country — studying at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, and performing with the Atlanta Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

The Apple Valley native’s passion for dance has brought him back home as a professional company member with Twin Cities Ballet of Minnesota.

Stewart is set to perform in the Lakeville-based dance company’s “Classical Connections,” which runs March 10-11 at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis. Along with dancing in the production, Stewart also played piano on a recording of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” which is featured in the show.

The path to professional dancing started in elementary school for Stewart, when he and his twin brother Matthew got involved in a variety of performing arts.

“I started dancing in 1990 at Ballet Arts Minnesota. My twin brother and I grew up doing musical theater since the age of 8. We sang with the Minnesota Boys Choir, Metropolitan Boys Choir, and loved playing the piano, trumpet and French horn,” he said. “Of all the things we loved doing, dancing came the most natural to us.”

Benjamin Stewart, left, plays piano alongside cellist Rachelle LaNae on a recording that will serve as accompaniment in “Classical Connections." (Photo by Sarah Lopez Donovan)
Benjamin Stewart, left, plays piano alongside cellist Rachelle LaNae on a recording that will serve as accompaniment in “Classical Connections.” (Photo by Sarah Lopez Donovan)

As students at Eagan and Eastview high schools, the brothers were involved in the “Encore” and “Bravo” musical reviews, along with the concert choirs and men’s choirs. When they graduated from Eastview in 1999, they both auditioned for the Juilliard School.

“After a grueling 12-hour audition with three cuts, we made it to the end and both got acceptance letters,” he said.

Stewart earned a BFA in dance from Juilliard and went on to dance with a number of prestigious companies across the nation. His return to the south-metro area as a company member with Twin Cities Ballet also marks a professional transition toward instruction and show production, he said.

“I will be turning 37 on my next birthday and that makes me old as a professional dancer,” Stewart said. “I can’t push my body to do what it used to be able to do when I was younger, and I realize my body is telling me it’s time to transition from purely dancing to more character dancing and being a ballet master/teacher.”

His advice to prospective young dancers: “I would say dance is the hardest and most rewarding career you could choose,” he said. “I would say go take a dance class in whatever style or every style that interests you. You won’t regret it.”