Faculty & Accompanists

Kim Sonderegger (MDT School Director, ballet) was born in Minneapolis, MN and received most of her training in New York City. She was associated with Ballet Arizona for 20 years, first as dancer, and later as teacher and interim school administrator. She directed the dance program at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, and was Associate Professor of Dance at Arizona State University for four years, teaching ballet and related graduate and undergraduate courses. In 2008 she joined the full time faculty of Miami City Ballet School. Working with MCB company leadership and national dance educators, Ms. Sonderegger produced the school’s Self Study for accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Dance. Her choreography for students was regularly praised by company director Edward Villella for its sensibility, musicality, and creativity. In 2013 she was invited by Kee Juan Han to join the Washington School of Ballet faculty, where she worked with Professional Training Program and upper school students and company trainees. She staged ballets from the classical and neoclassical repertoire, choreographed regularly, and mentored students transitioning to both college and professional dance careers. Ms. Sonderegger is an Adjunct Faculty member at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, MD. She has taught and choreographed for students throughout the United States as well as in Japan, Brazil, and Colombia. She holds a Master’s degree in Anthropology (Summa cum Laude) from Arizona State University, and has worked as an archaeologist in various parts of the world.

Lise Houlton (Artistic Director, ballet) became Artistic Director of Minnesota Dance Theatre in 1995, succeeding her mother Loyce Houlton, who founded the company in 1962. A native of Minneapolis, best known for her effortless, fluid style and dramatic sensibility, she began her dance career with MDT, then moved at the age of 19 to the world renowned Stuttgart Ballet under the leadership of Glen Tetley. After two years in Germany, she joined American Ballet Theatre where she danced principal roles and worked closely with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Rudolf Nureyev, Gelsey Kirkland, Kevin McKenzie and others.  She has danced principal roles for some of the greatest ballet choreographers of the last half-century, among them George Balanchine, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Antony Tudor, Glen Tetley, Paul Taylor and Jerome Robbins.  Lise has choreographed several works for the MDT repertory including Sidetracks, House on Fire, Bred in the Bone, Alchemical Wedding, A Piece A Chord, Rumblings, The Enchantment: Twelve Dancing Princesses, Point of Departure, Edifice Wrecks, Point of Departure, Point of Reference and An Arrangement.

Justin Leaf (Associate Director, ballet) is an award-winning performance artist and ballet teacher based in Minneapolis. “A lean, soulful dancer, with a wicked sense of humor and movement style of grace and generosity” (minnpost.com), Leaf was a leading dancer with James Sewell Ballet (2002 – 2008) and Minnesota Dance Theatre (2008 – 2014). He trained on scholarship at Pacific Northwest Ballet School and The School of American Ballet before graduating from The Juilliard School with a BFA in Dance Performance in 2001. Justin has studied ballet pedagogy with Andra and Ernesta Corvino and joined the MDT faculty in 2012. Justin’s choreography has been presented by Minnesota Dance Theatre, James Sewell Ballet, Minnesota Orchestra, NomadicLIMBS, Saint Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts, Junkyard Cabaret, and Collective Unconscious Performance. He has received the 2001 Zaraspe Prize for Outstanding Choreography, a 2007 Minnesota SAGE Award for Best Performance, a 2009 McKnight Fellowship for Dancers, and a 2014 Next Step Fund Grant.

Elena Ahmann (ballet) began her dance training at Classical Ballet Academy in St. Paul before continuing at Minnesota Dance Theatre & School in 2005. She has participated in summer programs at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Ballet Austin. Ellie has danced as an apprentice with Minnesota Dance Theatre and has performed in Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker FantasyFaçadeSacre Du Printemps, and Carmina Burana. Ellie began teaching in the Young Children’s Division in 2009, the Performing Arts Division in 2010 and the beginning classes for the Open Adult Division in 2011. Ellie is also a certified yoga instructor. She is passionate about inspiring students of all ages to explore movement, discipline, musicality, and creativity.

Will Bove (contemporary), an MDT Company member, began his dance training in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at Tari’s School of Dance and later continued training with Minnesota Dance Theatre during the 2012-13 season, dancing in The Enchantment and Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy. He returned to Baton Rouge to attend Louisiana State University  (LSU), where he received a BA in digital advertising and a minor in dance. In Baton Rouge, Will was a member of both Of Moving Colors Productions (OMC) and the LSU Dance Ensemble and performed in various works with the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre. After graduating from LSU, he moved to San Francisco, where was a trainee with Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Will’s choreography has been featured in various OMC productions, LSU’s 2016 Spring Dance Concert, and the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program Choreography Showcase. Will has been a jazz and ballet instructor for various studios and programs in Baton Rouge. In addition to teaching dance, he is a certified personal trainer with years of experience as a running coach and group fitness instructor.

Lirena Branitski (ballet) was born and trained in the former Soviet Union. M. Branitski was first soloist of the Kiev State Theatre of Opera and Ballet and a frequent guest performer on the stage of the famed Bolshoi Theatre. She became a touring member of the Bolshoi Theatre concurrently with renowned ballet dancer Mikhail Barishnikov. She has performed on stages throughout Europe, Canada and South America. M. Branitski has a vast performance repertoire of soloist and principal roles in both classical and contemporary ballets. She has performed under all the master Russian choreographers, including the world-renowned Peter Gusev, Vakhtang Tchabukiani, Raisa Struchkova, and Alexander Lapauri.  After emigrating to USA in 1980 M.Branitski was teaching at her own school as well at Minnesota Dance Theater. From 1989 to 2006 M.Branitski was teaching and choreographed at Ballet Arts Minnesota. In addition to teaching ballet and character classes at the Dance Institute, M. Branitski has choreographed for student performances. At Minnesota Dance Theatre & the Dance Institute, she teaches technique class, and coaches company dancers in classical repertoire. Her direct link to Russian classical ballet technique, repertoire and character dance is a rare privilege for Minnesota Dance Theatre & the Dance Institute. In 2009, M. Branitski was appointed School Principal of the Dance Institute. In 2012, she was the recipient of the Special Citation at the 2012 SAGE Awards.

Jessica Cressey (Pilates) is a Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) certified Pilates instructor who has been teaching individual clients and classes since 2001. Jessica also instructs future and current Pilates instructors pedagogy, basic anatomy, and kinesiology through the Align Teacher Training Program in Minneapolis and training workshops at SmartBody Studio in Amsterdam. Jessica has been teaching at Minnesota Dance Theater and the Dance Institute since 2003. In 2011 Jessica began teaching Pilates at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities through the Department of Dance. A popular teacher respected for her ability to work with all clients at any level of fitness and experience, Jessica splits her time between comprehensive Pilates instruction and a professional dance career.

Chelsea D’Astolfo (ballet) began her professional training on full scholarship at the School of American Ballet.  She performed throughout the Tri-state area with the lecture demonstration program of the New York City Ballet.  She also studied and performed with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen.  She danced with Buffalo City Ballet, performing many lead roles in classical and contemporary ballets.  Chelsea was ballet mistress for Patricia McBride and Jean Pierre Bonnefoux at the Chautauqua Institute.  She has taught in the Washington, DC area and in Western New York for fifteen years.  Chelsea holds a Bachelor of Science degree in social science from the State University of New York.

Matthew Keefe (ballet) has served the dance field for over 20 years as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, administrator, production & stage manager, non-profit consultant, board member, and artistic director. He holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Iowa and a non-profit management certificate from Rutgers University. Matthew has danced with James Sewell Ballet, Louisville Ballet and BalletMet Columbus, Charleston Ballet Theatre, has appeared as a guest artist for dozens of performances across the US and abroad including productions with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Minnesota Opera, and MN Orchestra’s 2015 production of Carousel. He has choreographed over 50 ballets for professional and student ensembles. Matthew served on the board of Dance/USA for six years, chairing the Trustee Committee and a member of the Executive Committee. He served as the Artistic and School Director of the Rockford Dance Company where he led an increase in enrollment and reduction of deficit while creating several innovative productions with the performing company. He was the stage manager for the 2010 and 2016 Youth America Grand Prix and appears (briefly) in the documentary, “First Position”. Matthew has recently choreographed and directed the 2016 production of The Mermaid and 2017’s The Jungle Book for Children’s Dance Theatre in Rochester, MN. Matthew and his wife Brittany recently founded DanceCo, a professional company producing original work for young audiences and their families.

Marcia Keegan (ballet) started her dance training in Minneapolis with Hy Somers, moving on to the Joe Savino Ballet and Centre de la Danse in Cannes, France. She has performed with the Children’s Theatre Company, Minnesota Opera, the Guthrie Theater and Minnesota Ballet with Frank Bourman.

Annika Laughlin (ballet) grew up studying dance in Minnesota and New York State. She continued her dance training at Buffalo State College, focusing her studies on Dance and English. In addition, she has completed a two-year early childhood education program, where she studied the physical, social, mental, and emotional development of young children. Annika worked locally for two years as a company dancer, ballet instructor, and student rehearsal assistant with the Continental Ballet Company in Bloomington, MN before deciding to devote her time to pursuing her teaching interests. Annika adores working with the youngest of dancers. As a teacher, she works to provide a strong beginning foundation in ballet technique, while also creating experiences for the students to experience the joys of dancing. Her classes for the young dancer focus on developing natural coordination, balance, discipline, and age-appropriate ballet technique in a playful, creative, and supportive environment. Annika is passionate about young children’s ballet classes and loves sharing this passion with students and their families.

Jill Lile (ballet) began her training in Omaha NE with teacher, Valerie Roche and continued her studies in summer programs at Banff and San Francisco ballet schools, the Royal Academy of Dancing in London and in various schools in New York City. She has a BFA and an MFA in dance from and Texas Christian University and the University of Illinois. She has danced with a variety of companies in both ballet and modern including Ft. Worth Ballet, Ballet Omaha, Madison Ballet, Illinois Dance Theatre, Ballet Arts Minnesota, and Beverly Blossom and Company. She has worked with Anna Sokolow, Sally Wilson, and has danced in many of the classic ballets and in Tudor works. Ms. Lile has taught at Ballet Arts MN and University of Minnesotota/Mankato, University of NE/ Lincoln, and Creighton, and is currently teaching at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Macalester, and MDT. Ms Lile is also a practicing chiropractor and acupuncturist specializing in the treatment and prevention of dance injuries.

Sally Rousse (ballet, floor barre) leads a multi-faceted life in dance that includes performing, teaching, curating, choreographing, and writing. She has received two McKnight Artist Fellowships for Dancers in 2001 and 2014 and a 2013 Sage Award for Outstanding Performer. She was also named Artist of the Year by City Pages in 2010. Sally trained at the School of American Ballet and with David Howard before performing as a leading dancer with Ballet Chicago, Royal Ballet of Flanders, and James Sewell Ballet, which she co-founded in New York City in 1990. Sally is the first-ever Artist in Residence at The Cowles Center and will produce “ICON SAM: Temple Dances,” premiering on June 14 and featuring the work of MDT Artistic Director Lise Houlton, among other. Sally has taught ballet for several dance companies and schools including Harvard University and Paul Taylor Dance Company. She recently completed Floor-BarreⓇ certification in Paris.

Julia Sutter (contemporary) did her undergraduate work in Ballet and Modern Dance at State University of New York at Purchase, and also received an M. Ed. in Child Development and Education from Loyola University, Chicago. Her extensive teaching has included many years at The Bockman School of Dance, Chicago, three years at Minnesota Dance Theatre working with Loyce Houlton, and eighteen years at Ballet Arts Minnesota teaching ballet and modern dance, as well as choreographing student works. From 2006 to 2016 she has taught and choreographed for Minnesota Dance Theatre. From 2014 to 2016 she has also been teaching and choreographing at The School of St. Paul Ballet and TU Dance Center in St. Paul, MN. Julia has served as a lecturer in Movement and Dance for the Young Child at Loyola University of Chicago, Erickson Institute of Chicago, and the Greater Minneapolis Day Care Association. While at Ballet Arts Minnesota she also was an instructor of dance for “Young Audiences”, an outreach program for Minnesota Public Schools, as well as a guest teacher for the Minnesota Orchestra Education Program.

Yuki Tokuda (ballet) is originally from Japan, and was trained under Mikiko Dei, Hideo Fukagaw, and Jun Ishii. She moved to the United States in 2000 and has danced professionally with USA Ballet, Peoria Ballet, the Metropolitan Ballet, and Cities’ Classical Dance Ensemble. She was the principal dancer at Continental Ballet for the past 7 years. With diverse training in classical, contemporary, modern, and jazz, she is an international guest dancer and collaborator with many companies, including the James Sewell Ballet. She has an expertise in pointe work, partnering, company etiquette and enjoys teaching aspiring dancers. Ms. Tokuda trained at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York under John Magnus, Francesca Corkle, and Eleanor D’Antuono, with David Howard, John Prinz, Fabrice Herrault, and Michael Vernon at Steps on Broadway as one of the first International Visa Program students. Her repertoire includes principal roles in Pas de Quatre, Rodeo, Sleeping Beauty, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, Les Sylphides, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Coppelia, Romeo and Juliet, and Giselle. Ms. Tokuda is also a certified STOTT Pilates teacher and she is the designer and owner of Yukitard, a custom leotard company for ballet dancers and students.

Zachary Tuazon (ballet, contemporary, and boys classes) was born and raised in Tinley Park, Illinois. He received his initial training in ballet, modern, and jazz with Brenda Langan and Diane King. He has also received training from the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. He received his BA in Dance Pedagogy from Butler University where he performed works by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Susan McGuire, Derek Reid, and Patrick Hinson. This is Zachary’s fourth season with Minnesota Dance Theatre.

Guest Teachers

Charles Askegard, Dodie Askegard, Adam Barruch, Mary Ann Bradley, Raina Gillilan, Kaitlyn Gilliland, Laurel Keen, Dario Mejia, Deirdre Murnane, Jennifer Scanlon, Stephen Schroeder, Grace Snider, Daniel Ulbricht, Laura Selle Virtucio

Accompanists

John Banks, Roberta Carlson, Sara Duran, Richard Erickson, Emilia Flegel, Franco Holder, Susan Hsu, Cheryl Kramer, Tom Linker, Pat Lyles, Brian Mehr, Eugene Huddleston