Cowboy Dance Ambassadors

Home on the range: Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre dancers

Charlene Carey knows how to network. Since founding Missoula, Montana’s Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre in 1998, she’s secured multiple tours to China, partnered with biomedical research facility Rocky Mountain Laboratories to create a suite of dances about viruses and received a $15,000 grant from Missoula’s official tourism organization to act as the city’s cultural ambassadors.

Carey credits her success to her willingness to create a ballet on almost any topic. “I look at what’s relevant in my state, my country, my global community,” she says. “And then I ask myself how I can digest that and make a ballet out of it.” That’s how her Going Viral series got its start: She contacted the head of Rocky Mountain Laboratories and offered to create a ballet about the lab’s research. By its fall 2013 premiere, Going Viral had sections for influenza, dengue fever, polio and Ebola and monetary support from Walgreens, Blue Mountain Clinic, GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines and the Missoula County health department.

RMBT’s tours to the Chinese province Guangxi may seem just as incongruous as dance paired with disease. But Carey has found plenty in common between Montana and China. “Guangxi has incredible rivers for rafting and fishing and so many mountains,” she says. “And they have indigenous tribes there, and we have our Native Americans here. We’ve tried to draw upon those similarities.” For the State Department–sponsored tour to Guangxi this November—fostered by former U.S. senator for Montana Max Baucus (“He’s one of our greatest fans”)—Carey will bring Native American performers from Montana’s Blackfoot Nation and Salish and Kootenai Tribes, in addition to her own group of 25.

When touring internationally, Carey makes sure to infuse every dance with a good dose of Montana. A recent reworking of Swan Lake features the famous dance of the four swans, except with one small swan and a hunter, who wears camouflage and does a tap routine. Their biggest touring Montana-themed hit is Wild Montana Turkey, described by Carey as “hip hop on pointe.” “After all,” she says, “we’re representing not only the ballet company but promoting tourism to Montana wherever we go.”


Photo by Ari Dennison, courtesy of RMBT

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