Performers of Swing a Club: facing cancer

The following performers committed greatly to the meaningful process of of Swing a Club: facing cancer. Click on their names for biographical information.

Carolyn Albert Janice Roberts
Dona Werner Freeman Sheila May Slowinski
Eliza Larson
Emily Weninger
Anthony Roberts  

Carolyn Albert (performer 2004-05 / bio written 2004) is a senior at St. Olaf College, and is honored to be a part of Companydance for a third year. She has been a part of the St. Olaf Improvisation Ensemble, and has worked with both Professors Anthony Roberts and Heather Klopchin in the past. She was trained at Studio 121 in Freeport, IL, in both modern and ballet techniques and was a member of New Expressions Dance Theatre, under the direction of Jill Johnson, for six years, performing in a variety of works with that company. At St. Olaf, she majors in Religion and a self-designed course of study focusing on religion and social justice in the United States.
Carolyn has experienced the sudden illness of a young friend with leukemia and has friends who have survived cancer and others who have lost loved ones. A dear friend is currently battling breast cancer. Her father is a physician and meets with those who fight this disease on nearly a daily basis. More than anything, Carolyn feels a sense of futility when faced with the pain and struggle cancer brings, but finds herself grateful, in the still moments, for the inspiration of those who she has seen fight it. She is performing this work for them.

Katie Balfanz
(performer 2005-06 / bio written 2005) is a junior at St. Olaf College and is pursuing majors in both Dance and English. She has trained in ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical, and hip hop styles and is now directing her focus to modern dance. Katie is now in her third year as a member of Companydance. In addition to her training and performance experience, Katie is an instructor for Universal Dance Association summer dance camps where she teaches high school and college age teams across the Midwest. Most recently, she has been commissioned by a high school team for her choreography. While Katie's future is uncertain, she hopes to pursue a career in the dance field.
Last fall, Katie’s aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her aunt finished her treatment and is now living as a survivor.

Billi Stromseth Faillettaz
(performer 2005-06 / bio written 2005) is a psychotherapist, currently working as a volunteer with the Red Cross Disaster Relief Mental Health Team.  She is an active member of the metro Red Cross Stress Team and the Minnesota Rapid Response Team.  She has served in responses to disasters in the Midwest and recent hurricanes in the gulf states.  In post 9/11 New York, Billi worked with victims of trauma and loss and later assisted the workers at ground zero. 
Billi’s career began as a nurse.  She worked at the Argonne Cancer Research Hospital at the University of Chicago.  She received her BSN from St. Olaf College in 1980. In 1983 she received her MS in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing from The University of Minnesota with a thesis topic of “depression in women”.  Billi worked at the Wilson Center in Faribault, Minnesota with young adults and on an adult psychiatry unit at the University of Minnesota Hospitals. At St. Olaf College she taught mental health nursing as a leave replacement, started the student wellness program, and helped to start and then advised SARN, the Sexual Assault Response Network.  Billi was a therapist in the college counseling center for twelve years.  She has worked with mental health projects in the city of Northfield and in Rice County.
Billi is married to Vern Faillettaz, professor emeritus of religion from St. Olaf College, and they have three adult children and one grandson.  With Vern she co-led a semester in the Middle East and interims in Rome and Mexico.  She has taught “Life Stories” in the St. Olaf Life-Long Learning program.  
Early in her career she was a member of a modern dance group among women associated with St. Olaf College.  Throughout her life her interest in dance has persisted. She has seen performances by some of the great choreographers of modern dance.
At Argonne, where Kubler Ross did her ground breaking work on the stages of grief and loss, I  worked for four years with patients in all stages of cancer, most of them terminal. I led grief and loss groups in the Northfield community and at the counseling center. I experienced not only the loss of my parents, but also of a beloved sister.   I shared the grief associated with cancer not only with my clients, but also with close friends and members of my family, including my daughter who recently had treatment for breast cancer.  Sharing these performances helps me honor their hope and courage.

Dona Werner Freeman
(performer 2004 / bio written 2004)
As an Artist in Residence for St. Olaf Theatre Department, Dona Werner Freeman acts and directs on campus. Last year she played Ruth in the Haugen Theatre production of Collected Stories, and directed Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale for Kelsey Theatre. This year Dona will direct St. Olaf Theatre's Nickel and Dimed, opening in February.
A professional actor for twenty years, Dona's primary focus has been the coaching of other actors. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from the Unviersity of Minnesota, and furthered her studies in the summer of 2002 as a member of the British Academy of Dramatic Arts Midsummer in Oxford program, an intensive program in classical performance. Dona has taught and acted at the Guthrie Theater, and spent a decade on the faculty of the University of Minnesota. Her work has been seen locally at The Actors' Theatre of St. Paul, Frank Theatre, The Theatre Exchange, and The Hidden Theatre, among others.

My father was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 48, and died two years later of the disease, when I was in the sixth grade. His struggle with the disease remains my foremost memory of him, of his strength, optimism and bravery in the face of cancer's devastation.

Heather Klopchin
(performer 2004-06 / bio written 2005)
Currently, Heather Klopchin is an Assistant Professor of Dance at St. Olaf College where she is teaching Ballet Technique, Dance History, and Senior Career Seminar. Heather holds a BS degree in Management from SUNY Geneseo and an MFA degree in Dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Heather is passionate about performing, choreographing, researching, and teaching dance.  Highlights of her career to date include performing in works by David Dorfman, Doris Humphrey, Mathew Janczewski, Walter Kennedy, Linda Lehovec, Mark Morris, Anthony Roberts, and Renée Wadleigh. Heather has performed with Linda Lehovec & Dancers in various locations throughout the Midwest for the past few years.  In May 2005, Heather premiered her work, The Fall of the House of Usher, in the Companydance Spring Concert at St. Olaf College and in May 2006 she will premiere a new group work.  She currently performs with a Minneapolis based company, ARENA Dances, and performed in New York with the company in January 2006.  Heather will be reprising her role in Anthony Roberts’ Swing A Club: facing cancer in March 2006 at Willamette University in Oregon.
My experience with cancer has included my grandfather dying from cancer, two uncles dying from cancer, and having a close friend living with cancer.

Eliza Larson
(performer 2004-05 / bio written 2004) is currently a senior Dance and English Major at St. Olaf College. She studied ballet and modern dance for several years at Columbus Youth Ballet in Columbus, Ohio and the Marblehead School of Ballet in Marblehead, Massachusettes before coming to St. Olaf. For four years now Eliza has been involved in St. Olaf Companydance, and has also studied Choreography, Dance History, African Dance, and a variety of other dance related subjects. She has performed works by Jan Erkert, Anthony Roberts, and Heather Klopchin and will perform pieces by Janice Roberts and KT Niehoff this spring. After graduation Eliza hopes to keep dance a priority in her life and is considering possible fields and paths that make that a reality. Eliza was also a member of the 2003-04 cast of Swing a Club.
This is the first opportunity for Eliza to deal with cancer in a creative setting. Several members of Eliza's immediate family and circle of friends have had cancer in recent years, and thankfully, all are now in remission. This has been a therapeutic experience for her to explore information and images relating to this disease.

Jennifer Nuelk
(performer 2004-06 / bio written 2005)
I am in my final year at St. Olaf, with the intention of graduating with a degree in Economics and Finance in May 2006. I hope later to enter the investments field as an analyst or financial advisor.  I have been dancing since I was three at various schools throughout Minnesota. I studied ballet, jazz, and tap at The Dance Shoppe and Hopkins Dance Center. After studying with Milwaukee School of Ballet, Virginia School of the Arts, and American Ballet Theater over three consecutive summers, I have focused mainly on ballet. Before joining Companydance at St. Olaf, I studied and performed as a student with Minnesota Dance Theatre for two years. I continue to study ballet at St. Olaf, while “testing the waters” of modern dance.
Participating in Swing a Club has helped me grow as both a student and performer of dance, opening my eyes to how expressive dance is and how movement is able to transcend all barriers.

My experience with cancer is somewhat limited. My grandfather passed away from pancreatic cancer when I was much younger. I am able to remember him, but not much about what he went through with his cancer. A friend of mine has, unfortunately, had much more experience with cancer and death in her family and, through this work, has given me some motivation and insight.

Melissa Riedesel (performer 2005-06 / bio written 2005)
I am currently a Senior at St. Olaf College, majoring in dance and with a concentration in Statistics. I was trained in ballet, jazz, and tap and have expanded my dance experience to include modern dance by attending many summer intensives such as the Interlochen Arts Camp, Milwaukee Ballet School, American Dance Festival, and Zenon Dance School Block E scholarship program. While at Olaf, I have become even more interested in the opportunities that modern dance has to offer. Next year I will be involved in infectious disease research and hope that this opportunity will springboard me into graduate work on infectious disease.
My family has been greatly touched by cancer. My dad's father passed away from laryngeal cancer and my mom's mother seemed to begin a decline in health after the discovery of breast cancer. I was of a young age when my grandparents passed away so have not been as affected by these events. Most of my experience with cancer has been through stories and accounts of hope. My sister is currently in medical school and spent a summer at a children's hospital in Los Angeles where she worked intensively with many young cancer patients and their physicians. Though she told stories of many families and children who were sad, angry, and anxious about the events and future, she was most taken by the amounts of hope and thanksgiving that cancer survivors, including family members who had lost loved ones, had for the patients and physicians who had cared for them.

Anthony Roberts
(performer 2004-06 / bio written 2005) is an Artist is Residence in the Dance Department at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. He teaches course work in modern dance technique, dance technology, interdisciplinary fine arts and is co-artistic director of the student modern dance company, Companydance. In addition to choreographing annual works on Companydance, he has created dances for the University of Minnesota, Gustavus Adolphus College and Main Street School for the Performing Arts in Minnesota, and the Mountain Movers Dance Company in Tennessee.
As a dancer, Anthony has performed nationally and internationally with Repertory Dance Theatre and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, both located in Salt Lake City, Utah; Sharir Dance Company in Austin, Texas; and the Jacob's Pillow's Men Dancers (a project touring internationally to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ted Shawn's birth). He has performed historical modern dance works by Ted Shawn, Doris Humphrey, Helen Tamiris, Jose Limón, Charles Weidman and Merce Cunningham. He has also performed the works of many prominent contemporary choreographers, and he is extremely proud of playing one of the mice in Colorado Ballet’s
Nutcracker, where he darn near gnawed the nutcracker’s cheesy foot in two.
Anthony has received numerous grants and awards for his artistic work, including support from The Ella and Kaare Nygaard Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education, St. Olaf College, Arizona State University and East Tennessee State University. He and his wife, Janice, were Sage Cowles Land Grant Artists in Dance at the University of Minnesota. Anthony received a BFA in Ballet Performance from the University of Utah and a Master of Fine Arts in Dance, with an emphasis in Technology, from Arizona State University, Tempe.

I had no exposure to cancer until my brother, Tom Roberts, was diagnosed with melanoma in 1998. He subsequently died on March 31, 2001. Since that time, however, I have tuned my inner antennae to more readily receive news and information related to cancer.

Janice Haws Roberts
(performer 2005-06 / bio written 2005) is an Associate Professor of Dance at St. Olaf College, where she is currently Chair of the Dance Department. She received her BFA from Arizona State University and her MFA from the University of Utah. For eight years she danced with Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in Salt Lake City, Utah. During her tenure with Ririe-Woodbury, Janice also worked as a solo artist and guest choreographer with several universities and companies. In fact, prior to coming to St. Olaf, Janice was a Minnesota Dance Alliance Visiting Artist in 1989 and again in 1990, teaching master classes at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Mankato State University and the Hennepin Center for the Arts in Minneapolis. In January of 1995, she and her husband were Sage Cowles Land Grant Artists in Dance at the University of Minnesota.
Throughout Janice's professional career, she has had the opportunity to perform the works of a multitude of prominent choreographers, including Kei Takei, Alwin Nikolais, Pilobolus, Murray Louis, Joanie Smith and Danny Shapiro, Bill Evans, Jamey Hampton, Tandy Beal, Douglas Nielsen, Jerry Pearson, Alyson Chase, Phyllis Lamhut, Claudia Melrose, Val Caniparoli, Shirley Ririe, Joan Woodbury and Donna White. During Janice's recent sabbatical she was an ongoing guest performer with A. Ludwig Dance Theatre in Arizona.
Janice is excited to be working with her husband on the touring project of Swing a Club this year. She found last year's performances of the work to be profound and moving.
I have had several experiences with cancer. Two of my mother's brothers died from cancer, and my father is currently battling prostate cancer. I, too, was greatly impacted by my brother-in law's battle with and death from cancer. Performing Swing a Club will be a wonderful way to honor those I love and have loved who have been touched by cancer.

Emily Schulte (performer 2004 / bio written 2003) is a first-year dance major at St. Olaf College. She has studied ballet, jazz, lyrical, modern and tap for ten years with Sterling Dance Company in her hometown of Grand Marais, MN. Emily is grateful for having the opportunity to work with Ressl Dance!, Christopher Watson Dance Company, Zenon Dance Company, Northwestern Ontario Dance Centre, and the Minnesota Ballet. She looks forward to pursuing her passion for dance at St. Olaf College and hopes to have her own studio someday!
Like many people, Emily has been exposed to the threat, pain, and recovery of cancer through the experiences of family friends. She has witnessed two women win the battle of breast cancer, but has also had to cope with the harsh reality of leukemia. "It is so hard to accept the fact that sometimes there isn't anything doctors can do to cure a person. I empathize with a close friend whose only hope now is time; time to spend with his wife and grandchildren. Because Grand Marais is such a tightly knit community, when one person suffers from the disease, it's as if the whole town has been diagnosed."
**choreographer's note: During the time span of the creation of Swing a Club, the close friend that Emily referred to in her biography expired.

Liz Sexe
(performer 2006 / bio written 2005) is a junior at St. Olaf College and is a Dance and Biology major with a Biomolecular concentration. She trained in ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical, hip-hop and theatrical styles of dance and currently is involved in Companydance with focuses on improvisation and modern dance. Choreography is one of her passions, and she enjoys teaching at her hometown studio, Studio 3-D in Deerfield, WI. Liz's plans for the future are undecided, but she is deeply interested in a health related profession, volunteering in the Peace Corps and continuing to have dance as an important part of her life.
My grandfather was diagnosed with cancer before I has born and fought for many years. When I was in kindergarten he was taken away. He has lived through the stories told to my sister and me by our dad. A few close friends of mine have had family members who have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer. I am deeply inspired by the strength and love I see through these families.

Sheila May Slowinski
(performer 2004-05 / bio written 2004) (class of 2005)
I started dancing at age seven. My childhood techniques were focused on the genres of tap, ballet and jazz. Through St. Olaf I have gained experience in modern, swing, hip-hop, improvisation, African and a wide array of dances from around the world. This is my fourth year in Veselica, a world dance company, and Companydance, a modern based dance company. I enjoy the variety the two companies give me. Variety keeps me fascinated with the field of dance. I enjoy dancing to release stress as well as to express my emotions. I am a dance and elementary education major with a math concentration, and I am currently in the process of creating my own piece about a personal experience for my senior dance project.
My experience with cancer is through my relatives. My grandpa was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery in 2000. My grandma had cancer when I was little, but I do not remember much about it. My uncle was just diagnosed with skin cancer, but I believe they caught it in time so that it seems to be of little worry to my family. I have experienced many deaths and the sicknesses of those who are close to me this past year. I have come to understand that dealing with loss and hard times is a personal and unique experience, but that the best way for me to get through them is talking and expressing myself to others.

Sarah Steichen
(performer 2006 / bio written 2005) is currently a sophomore at St. Olaf College. She is pursuing a double major in dance and economics with the aspirations of performing and attending graduate school. Her training began in Connecticut and continued at various dance studios around the Twin Cities. Her training has included jazz, ballet, tap, hip-hop, lyrical, and contemporary, with a current focus on modern. She has greatly enjoyed her experience with modern dance as a second year member of Companydance at St. Olaf, and is currently an instructor for Universal Dance Association summer camps taught in the Midwest Region. Her passion for creating and expressing have led her to much success as a free-lance
choreographer for studios and dance teams in the Midwestern states, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Mexico. Although Sarah's future is uncertain, she knows that dancing will forever be a part of her journey.
This project has come at a very opportune time for Sarah. This fall she lost her grandfather, who was a survivor of prostate cancer to a heart attack. In the fall of 2003 she lost her other grandfather to cancer, which also began in the prostate but unfortunately spread to the rest of his body.

Sara Tonsager
(performer 2006 / bio written 2005) is a junior at St. Olaf College, majoring in chemistry.  She was trained in tap, ballet, jazz, and lyrical before coming to St. Olaf and joining Companydance.  Dancing at St. Olaf has given Sara the opportunity to continue with ballet and jazz, while exposing her to modern dance.  Modern has proven to be a new outlet for her, and she has enjoyed using modern to explore new movement and emotional expression.  This coming summer Sara will be participating in medical research and after St. Olaf, she would like to attend medical school and pursue a dual degree in medicine and public health.
The ravages of cancer have touched the lives of too many of my family and friends, whether it be my Grandma Janet taken by laryngeal cancer, or my uncle's dad, Tom, taken by prostate cancer, or my second cousin Jesse who dealt with a malignant brain tumor for six years before he died at age 19. Others I know are survivors of breast, bone, prostate and ovarian cancers. Many continue their battles with cancer--the afflicted as well as the researchers. I remember those who know and have known cancer personally. I have hope for the future.

Emily Weninger
(performer 2004 / bio written 2003)
I'm a junior at St. Olaf and plan on majoring in math and economics. I've always liked math and recently became intrigued with the history and application of economic policy/theory. After graduation I hope to take some time off to get a job or possibly study abroad. Eventually I would like to go to graduate school and study economics. Career possibilities range from a high school teacher to the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. I have one older sister who is dancing and singing in Chicago and two great parents who are parenting in Brookings, SD.
My experience with cancer has been limited, but enough to form a general mindset about the disease. Even though my aunt died from colon cancer roughly 10 years ago, I was too young to fully understand what she went through. I was never scared of the disease and don't feel that I am now. It wasn't until recently that I learned what actually happened to my aunt and how horrible her experience was. I feel as though I've been surrounded with survival stories my entire life, and as a result I didn't worry about the disease or perceive it as a threat. While I still don't feel that I worry or fear cancer, my perception has changed slightly as a result of this piece. It's forced me to face the terminal side of the disease more than I have in the past. However, I still don't worry about it enough to get yearly checkups. My attitude toward sickness in general is that eventually my body will repair itself if I just give it time and rest. This is probably the most fatal quality I possess, and probably why I've never been overly afraid of cancer.

Mary Clare Zabinski
(performer 2004 / bio written 2003)
Originally from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, I am currently a senior dance major at St. Olaf College. I have been dancing since I was about six years old. I started dancing at the Reif Center Dance Program in Grand Rapids, where I mainly studied ballet and modern, as well as some jazz and tap. While there I danced with their company, which performed works by Bev Wilson, Ellen Schafroth, Mary Pettit, Robin Stiehm, and Doris Ressl. At St. Olaf College I have furthered my interest in modern dance and choreography. I have been dancing with their Companydance since I was a first-year student, performing works by Anthony Roberts, Wynn Fricke, Chris Aiken, and Jan Erkert.
I have had little direct experience with cancer. I have mainly been affected indirectly through the loss of people close to friends and relatives of mine.