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These boots are made for dancin'

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Rodeo cowboys
Agnes de Mille's choreography for "Rodeo" was such a departure from the traditional ballet style that it created something of a sensation in 1942.
Photo by Stephen R. Dolan

Aaron Copland's score for the ballet "Rodeo" is among the composer's best-known music. It's also the most frequently presented ballet by legendary choreographer and dancer Agnes de Mille.

This week the Twin Cities' Metropolitan Ballet company is recreating de Mille's choreography for Copland's "cowboy ballet." Teaching dancers the original steps is Paul Sutherland. 

Sutherland made his professional debut as a cowhand in a production of "Rodeo" in 1957 and a few years later was cast by de Mille herself in one of the lead roles as Head Wrangler.

Today, Sutherland is the only person authorized to stage Agnes de Mille's original choreography to "Rodeo." He estimates he's set it about 50 times since 1979.

"Rodeo" was premiered in 1942 by the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. It was a departure from traditional ballets, incorporating a square dance and tap, and as Sutherland explains to Minnesota Public Radio host John Birge, the challenge of getting classically trained dancers to act like cowboys.