“Tell me what it’s like out there,” Kathy Gasper told her partner Eddie Gasper on the phone one day from their New York home in 1978.
Eddie Gasper, who was in Fargo-Moorhead to start his new job as director and choreographer at Minnesota State University Moorhead before his family made the big move to the Red River Valley, responded earnestly: “Well, it’s really flat.”
For two professional dancers who had lived and worked all over the world, Fargo-Moorhead was new territory. But the Gaspers always had a knack for recognizing potential. Right after the family moved to the area, the Gaspers started the Fargo-Moorhead Center of Dance as a way for Kathy Gasper to teach dance to her young children and get back into shape. Word of mouth spread, and the Gaspers soon found themselves on a 40-year journey that would change their lives — and the lives of everyone who walked through the doors of their studio.
That studio now lives on as Gasper’s School of Dance, 524 Seventh St. N., Fargo, and the home of Fargo Moorhead Ballet under the direction of their son, Matthew Gasper. Although Eddie Gasper passed away in 2015, the impact of his and Kathy Gasper’s work continues to ripple throughout the local, regional and national performing arts communities.
“I’m a real believer that you are put in a place you are supposed to be in your life, and for us, that turned out to be Fargo-Moorhead,” Kathy Gasper says.
To commemorate 40 years of dance here with the Gasper family, FM Ballet is performing a “Tribute” show at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 6, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at the Fargo Theatre. Matthew Gasper, who has directed FM Ballet for over a decade, says the framework of “Tribute” also celebrates the present and future of the organization.
The production opens with “Enchanted Toyshop,” a new children’s ballet choreographed by Lindsey Setzekorn about a toy store that comes to life after business hours. It then transitions to a mix of jazz, tap and contemporary ballet pieces from Eddie and Kathy Gasper’s days that epitomized their style of artistry.
“Tribute” closes with Matthew Gasper’s recent ballet “Spirit Rising” inspired by the story of Nimuué, a prehistoric woman whose remains were found near U.S. Highway 59 near Pelican Rapids, Minn., in 1931.
Matthew Gasper hopes this performance educates audiences on how far the FM Ballet has come and how much further it plans to go.
“We have a 40-year reputation of being a major dance contributor in Fargo-Moorhead, but someone new to the area may not know that,” he says. “We want them to know we have a professional ballet company with major repertoire.”
Gasper adds it’s also been good for the dancers to “see where we come from, why I choreograph the way I do and why I’m so strict in rehearsals,” he smirks.
Kathy Gasper traveled from her sunny home in Florida to assist with choreography and fill in any gaps if needed. Fortunately, her son and the dancers did most of the work before her arrival by watching and listening to old tapes of her and Eddie performing.
“As I watched (the dancers rehearse), I remembered every little bizarre moment or fun time with my husband and conversations about creating the choreography,” she says. “I felt like my mind had little firecrackers of retention, which was quite delightful.”
Kathy Gasper adds that although the music has presented a learning curve for the dancers, she is proud of how well they are capturing the essence of the choreography.
“They are finding out that every step we did had a mood or a meaning to it,” she says. “It wasn’t just steps being done, but stories being told and reinterpreted.”
Overall, the Gaspers are excited to recreate the magic that started so long ago — all because Eddie Gasper accepted a job offer at MSUM.
“Eddie would be so proud,” Kathy Gasper says. “He’d tell us, ‘Dance on, people. Dance on.’”
After the Saturday performance, FM Ballet will host a celebration party with the Gasper family and artistic staff at 9 p.m. at the Hotel Donaldson in downtown Fargo.
What: “Tribute” performance by Fargo Moorhead Ballet
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 6, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 7
Where: The Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway N.
Tickets: Visit www.fmballet.org or call 701-234-9440