Faculty & Accompanists

Lise Houlton (PAD, Open Division) 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.

Elena Ahmann (YCD, Open Division) 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.

Jeremy Bensussan (Boys Classes) was born and raised in the Twin Cities. He earned a BFA in Dance from the University of Minnesota in 2010. Locally Jeremy has danced with Minnesota Dance Theatre, Minnesota Opera, Flying Foot Forum, Out on a Limb Dance Company, Keane Sense of Rhythm, Eclectic Edge Ensemble, Christopher Watson Dance Company, and others. New York dance credits include Dusan Tynek Dance Company and The Bang Group. Regional musical theater credits include Fiddler on the Roof (New York), 9 to 5 (Ohio), Annie Get Your Gun (Wisconsin), and CATS (Rhode Island). Minneapolis musical theater credits include French Twist (Guthrie), Heaven (Guthrie), Golden Boys (The Lab), and La Cage Aux Folles (Bloomington Civic Theater). Jeremy was nominated for a 2014 MN SAGE Award for Outstanding Performer.

Will Bove  (Bio coming) 

Lirena Branitski (Open Division) 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 (Conditioning) 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 (PAD) 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.

Raina Gilliland (PAD) is a graduate of the School of American Ballet and Professional Children’s School in New York City. She began her training with the School of Minnesota Dance Theatre and also studied with American Ballet Theatre and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre schools. She has performed works by Loyce and Lise Houlton, Ashton, Balanchine, Boykin, Feld, Kylián, LeCrone, Monte, Petipa, Rhoden and Rink. Internationally acclaimed dance critic Tobi Tobias describes her as “tall, elegantly built and beautiful … with goddess-like power.” Raina is an MDT Company Member.

Helen Hatch (PAD), a Minnesota native, began studying dance at Ballet Arts Minnesota, and Minnesota Dance Theatre. She is an honors graduate of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program in Dance, and has also trained at the LINES Ballet School and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Helen has performed works by Helen Pickett, Joyce Trisler, Francesca Harper, and Amy Raymond among others, and was a founding member of the Lara Wilson Dance Project in New York. Her choreography has been presented at the Ailey Citigroup Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out Festival, and throughout Mexico and Guatemala by the JUNTOS Collective. Helen has danced with Minnesota Dance Theatre since December 2011. Helen is an MDT Company Member.

Matthew Keefe 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 (Open Division) 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.

Justin Leaf (Open Division Manager) is a performance artist, choreographer, dance teacher, and yoga teacher based in Minneapolis. Justin began his dance training in his hometown of Hagerstown, Maryland, and then studied on scholarship at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle. In 2001, he received his BFA in Dance Performance from the Juilliard School and has been a company member of James Sewell Ballet (2002 – 2008) and Minnesota Dance Theatre (2008 – present). His choreographic commissions include new works for Minnesota Dance Theatre, James Sewell Ballet, and the Minnesota Orchestra as well as for his own performance company Junkyard Theater. He has received the 2001 Zaraspe Prize for Outstanding Choreography, a 2007 Minnesota SAGE Award for Best Performance, and a 2009 McKnight Fellowship for Dancers, funded by the McKnight Foundation and administered by the Southern Theater.

Jill Lile (Open Division) 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 (Bio coming)

Julia Sutter (PAD) brings an outstanding background in dance and arts education. She 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 (Bio coming)

Zachary Tuazon (Boys Classes, PAD) was born and raised in Tinley Park, Illinois.  He received his initial training in ballet, modern, and jazz under the tutelage of 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 went on to receive his BA in Dance Pedagogy from Butler University where he had the privilege to perform works by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Susan McGuire, Derek Reid, and Patrick Hinson.  This is his first year with Minnesota Dance Theatre and he couldn’t be more ecstatic to be a part of the company’s 53rd season.

Brittany Marie Wilson (YCD), a Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota Dance Department began her diverse artistic career as a competitive figure skater for 14 years in the Midwest region. With her yoga and dance training in modern, jazz, character, ballet and tap. She teaches private lessons for competitive figure skaters and dancers, as well as performing in musical theatre and dance shows across the Twin Cities.

Guest Teachers

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


John Banks, Roberta Carlson, Bill Cermak, Sara Duran, Richard Erickson, Emilia Flegel, Susan Hsu, Cheryl Kramer, Tom Linker, Pat Lyles, Brian Mehr