Skip to main content

Minnesota Dance Theatre records

Identifier: PA047

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of 184 Hollinger boxes of materials from the Minnesota Dance Theatre, as well as some few boxes from the Pacific Northwest Ballet. This is a wide-ranging assortment of materials, from correspondence, financial records, and publicity and development materials to scene designs, slides, light plots and posters, to name a few categories.

The bulk of the materials reside in the Administration files, composed primarily of correspondence, agendas, minutes, and significant amounts of materials from the development, fund raising and long-range planning activities that took place during the life of the company.

The production materials are of lesser bulk, but contain 2 boxes of folders relating to the choreographic works performed by the company. Some of these choreographies are more fully documented than others, and the folders can include set and light designs or notes, sound cues, costume sketches and notes, together with a very few notes which could loosely be called choreographic notes.

There is also a group of audio-visual materials, in which is contained a group of photographs that document the choreographies. These are labelled and filed alphabetically for ready access.


  • 1964-1989

Language of Materials


Restrictions on Use

Materials in subseries 1.3 Operations may be restricted. Please contact the Performing Arts Archives for more information.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright was retained by copyright holders.


The Minnesota Dance Theatre was founded in Minneapolis, MN by Loyce Houlton in 1962. She drew her performers from a group of dancers at the University of Minnesota. Ms. Houlton received a Master of Arts degree in Dance Education at New York University, then studied under Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Sophie Maslow, Louis Horst and Doris Humphrey. Upon returning to the Twin Cities, she taught at the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and the College of St Catherine.

Late in 1961 Ms. Houlton gathered a group of her advanced students from the University of Minnesota to perform a work which she had been commissioned to choreograph for the University of Minnesota Concert Bands. This group of performers became the nucleus of the Contemporary Dancers, the first salaried professional dance ensemble in the Twin Cities. The members of this fledgling company performed at several locations that year, presented lecture/demonstrations, and staged a major spring performance which became a company tradition.

In 1962 the Children's Dance Theatre and School was established as an adjunct to the Contemporary Dance Company (CDC). The children's classes were taught by Ms. Houlton and other adult members of the CDC. The training was rigorous. Two years later, during the 1964 Christmas season, the Children's Dance Theatre staged the first of many performances of Ms. Houlton's highly acclaimed "Nutcracker Fantasy". This first performance was an instantaneous public success and received rave notices from reviewers.

The quality and success of this production led to an offer from the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra) to collaborate with them in their own annual presentation of the "Nutcracker Fantasy". In turn, the success of this venture attracted the interest of the St Paul Women's Philharmonic Association, which commissioned Ms. Houlton to choreograph an original opera for youth entitled "Sturge Maclean", first performed in 1965, with music composed by Paul Fetler, then of the University of Minnesota School of Music.

Over the years, the quality of dancing and performance attracted scores of guest instructors, including Asaf Messerer of the Bolshoi Ballet, Antoinette Sibley and Svetlana Berisova of the Royal Ballet, Enid Ricardeau of the Detroit City Ballet, and Francoise Martinet of the Robert Joffrey Ballet Company. Ms. Martinet championed the new company, urging the community to support dance as a strong art form in the Twin Cities, and insisting that national leaders be brought in to see the growth and quality of dance activity in the area.

The company and school continued to grow in size and number of performances given. These included a production of "The Little Match Girl" with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, with Ms. Houlton's 12-year-old daughter, Lise, in the title role, backed by members of the adult company, including David Voss, Frances Machala, Andrea Marvy, Marsha Longstaff, Phyllis Patalas, and Bobby Crabb.

The next few years saw successful performances and fragile finances. A gala benefit in 1967 included performances of "Opus from the Inside Out", "Audition", "Images of Love", and "The Killing of Susie Creamcheese". The next springtime concert featured a performance of "The 32 Circus", based loosely on Ray Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. The choreography included appearances by Bain Boelke of the Children's Theatre, Grace Keagy of the Guthrie Theatre, and Vern Sutton of the Center Opera Company. This busy year saw the company touring the region, hosting Rochelle Zide of the Boston Ballet as guest choreographer for "La Fille Mal Garde", and traveling to New York for study at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance

The coffers grew increasingly slim as the company grew, but in 1969 a new home was found for the dancers, and the company was renamed The Minnesota Dance Theatre. After lack of money forced Ms. Houlton to dismiss the entire company late that year, they remained to study and perform without pay, and the season continued. The company produced a spring season that included presentations of "Earthsong" with music by Aaron Copeland, "Tactus" (Stravinsky), "Chronicles" (Bartok), and "Raymonda" by Glazunov. March of 1970 saw a presentation of "The Graduation Ball", guest choreographed by David Lichine. Lichine remained in the Twin Cities past his original commitment in order to set another dance on the company , "Creacion", first choreographed in 1947 for Leslie Caron. The summer of 1971 was climaxed by an invitation to participate in the 39th annual Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts. The troupe performed six concerts in a program consisting of "Earthsong", "Bone Lonely", "Serenata Danzante", "Terminal Point", "La Rencontre", and "Chronicles".

Ms. Houlton's choreographies were lauded, and many of them found their way into the repertoires of numerous other companies, including "Tristan", for the Berlin Opera Ballet, "Galaxies", for the Pennsylvania Ballet, and "Lone Poems" for the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Her "Wingborne" has been called a "classical American pas de deux" for its synthesis of modern dance and classical ballet.

In 1987, facing financial troubles, the company began discussions with the directors of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, culminating in a decision to merge with this company in early 1988. The merger was not successful and the blended company disbanded in 1989, effectively ending the life of the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

Ms. Houlton continued to pursue activities within the dance community in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, to the extent that a group of dancers, directed by Lise Houlton, mounted a production of the "Nutcracker Fantasy" in December,1994, reviving the name Minnesota Dance Theatre for this performance as well as a subsequent dance concert early in 1995. Loyce Houlton died in March, 1995.


102 Cubic Feet


Collection contains correspondence, financial records, programs, posters, photographs, slides, video and audio tapes, scene designs and costume sketches together with development materials and publication.


The collection is organized in four series:

  1. Administration
  2. Production
  3. School
  4. Audio/Visual

Physical Location



Donated to the Archives in 1989 by Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Related Materials

Related collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries include: Ballet Arts Records (PA104).

Select materials in this collection have been digitized and are available online in Umedia by visiting:

Processing Information

The collection was processed and the finding aid written by Tracy McClun and Barbara Bezat, 1995 as part of the Dance Heritage Coalition: Access to Dance Research Resources project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Minnesota Dance Theatre records
Leslie Czechowski
March 2004
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Performing Arts Archives Collecting Area