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‘Genesis’: Dance From Around the World

Milwaukee Ballet hosts an international choreographic competition

Feb. 9, 2011
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The choreographers of the Milwaukee Ballet’s Genesis: International Choreographic Competition agree there's nothing like it in the world. “Not with this process,” says choreographer Lucas Jervies, who recently founded a dance company in his native Australia after nearly a decade with Scapino Ballet in Rotterdam. “Flying choreographers in from around the world, allowing them 90 hours of rehearsal and a full performance run with a professional company, and putting complete trust in them with nobody hovering over to make sure it’s this or it’s that.”

“They tried it in Antwerp,” adds choreographer Mauro de Candia, an Italian living in Berlin and working with dance companies across Europe. “It only lasted two years.”

This is Milwaukee Ballet’s fourth competition in 10 years, and each is a two-year project with the winning choreographer invited to create a second premiere the following season.

Choreographer Edgar Zendejas of Mexico has his own dance company in Montreal and makes commissioned works in Canada, Mexico and the United States.“It’s beautiful here,” he says, “because I have all this time.The rapport with this company is amazing.The caliber of these dancers is very high.This is not work, not competition.”

Each man works in a different style.For subjects, Jervies is examining the transition he's experiencing, “starting over with hesitation,” in returning to his homeland.Zendejas is asking what we look for in friendships—"What makes a person special?”De Candia is making a “no sense piece” that is no less honest.“I want to do something hilarious,” he says.

“The competition is an excuse to find fabulous talent from around the world,” says Michael Pink, the Milwaukee Ballet’s artistic director.“The competitive aspect is a fun distraction.The point is for the choreographers to be part of the company for three weeks.”

The contest began in September with announcements in key international dance magazines and websites.Fifty choreographers from 15 countries in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia submitted videotapes.Pink and the staff viewed and reviewed the tapes in different combinations.Six favorites were whittled to three.

“I look for people with professional track records who are used to working with dancers,” Pink adds. “The relationship is crucial; the dancers will put up barriers otherwise. I look at their craft, structuring, subject, musicality and inventiveness:what’s different, what’s not different?”

Each choreographer must make a 20-minute piece for four female and four male dancers from the company.Who gets which dancer?De Candia calls it a raffle:Names are drawn from a hat.Pink explains, “Our company is so well balanced that it makes no difference which dancers end up with which choreographer.”

“All the dancers have personality,” Zendejas adds approvingly. “They are all different.In a classical company it can become a monotone, but here it is still quite colorful.” Jervies praises the dancers for their work ethic, enthusiasm and expertise.De Candia is grateful for their commitment, honesty and openness.

The real prize, the choreographers agree, is the opportunity to do it all again next season.In addition, the winner receives $3,000. Second place is $2,000, third place $1,000. The Audience Favorite, chosen through nightly balloting, receives an additional $500.

The artistic directors of the Washington Ballet, the Kansas City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet are the professional judges this year.“I invite people who may have an interest in the work,” Pink says.“It’s so hard in the U.S.A. to see other companies.People do live within their communities and don’t go beyond them without a real effort.”

The choreographers come from situations where experimentation is expected, even demanded.Pink is encouraged by the audience’s response to Genesis. "I try to believe that people of all ages and tastes are excited to see their company embrace the experimental aspect of it. Milwaukee audiences should be aware of how open-minded they actually are.They are willing to support new works, to take risks. There is still the perception that the major cities are the leaders, which is not true.”

Milwaukee Ballet’s Genesis: International Choreographic Competition will be presented Feb. 10-13 at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St.

Schneider was a leading member of Theatre X, is the leader of the jazz cabaret ensemble the John Schneider Orchestra and teaches dance and theatre at Marquette University.


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