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For the love of art: Dance+, a partnership in beauty

Updated: Feb 19


Zachary Leighton was born and raised in southern California and began dancing at the age of nine when he tried a boy’s Jazz/Tap class in his hometown of Acton. Three years later, Zachary danced in his first full-length ballet, The Nutcracker, and he was hooked. He has performed, taught, choreographed and produced ballet around the country, including in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, California and Alaska. He has been with Northern Plains Dance for two years.



Linda Donlin was born and raised in North Dakota, and enjoyed a successful career in public relations, while pursuing her love of the arts in her spare time, as a singer, board member for art organizations, dance mom, and most recently as an artist. She is represented in Bismarck by The Capital Gallery, and she loves to paint the performing arts, especially ballet, because of the beauty and grace of the art form.


Leighton and Donlin are partnering in Northern Plains Dance’s upcoming production of Dance+, which combines visual and performing arts. An all-inclusive performance, merging multiple forms of art including dance, painting, and music. It is a beautiful combination of styles that allows audience members to use their imaginations and gain a new perspective.


Leighton choreographed a three-movement piece, entitled Rapprochement, which means the establishment or resumption of harmonious relations. The first and third movements are classical pieces by Franz Joseph Haydn, and the second movement is set to a more contemporary piece by Max Richter. In the first movement, dancers appear to reject the lead character for a choice she has made. The second movement shows her experiencing mental anguish about the rejection until others extend their hands in empathy. The third movement depicts the characters rejoicing as they welcome her back into the fold.


Donlin and Leighton met in January to discuss the concept behind the performance and the desired look and feel for the staging. They decided two paintings should be created for the piece, which will be projected as backdrops. The first painting has a palatial feel that suggests a continuation of the Belle Mehus’ architecture behind the dancers. This one, entitled Belle of the Ball, will be projected during the first and third movements of the piece. The second movement’s painting, entitled Solo Snowscape, takes the audience outdoors in the moonlight, suggesting a more somber, reflective mood. The pieces complement each other, with the placement of the columns and the chandelier in the indoor piece gently echoing the placement of the trees and the moon in the outdoor piece.


“This developed into a wonderful collaboration,” Leighton says. “We actually ended up creating the pieces in a similar way. Linda sent me photos of the paintings in progress, and it gave me ideas for things to add in the next rehearsals. I sent her clips of the rehearsals, and that helped her finetune the paintings. She was able to incorporate everything we talked about: the colors, the texture, the energy and the mood. They turned our better than I could have dreamed.”


Donlin’s paintings, 18x24 acrylics, were done with palette knife in a textured, impressionistic style. All of the artists’ paintings will be for sale during the performances. As a bonus add-on, Donlin will paint a dancer or dancers on the scenes from provided photographs for the lucky collectors who take them home.


“Zach was wonderful to work with on this project – so creative and able to communicate his vision clearly,” she says. “I’m excited about these paintings. They work well as stand-alone pieces of art, but I can also see adding dancers to them to create a beautiful keepsake for someone to have forever. I know I would have treasured something like that when my daughter was dancing.”


Productions of Dance+ will be performed at the Belle Mehus on Friday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 and on Saturday, Feb. 29, at 2:30 and 7:30.

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