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The Winning Performances

Milwaukee Ballet Competition Goes Live

Feb. 14, 2011
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As finalists in the Milwaukee Ballet’s “Genesis:  International Choreographic Competition,” Mauro de Candia, Lucas Jervies and Edgar Zendejas were chosen from a field of 50 competitors from North American, Europe, Asia and Australia to create new ballets on the company dancers. All three have already won by virtue of the fact that their works were given meticulous productions in the gorgeous Pabst Theatre with splendid dancers. Now the artistic directors of the Washington D.C. Ballet, the Kansas City Ballet and Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet must chose a first place winner to choreograph a second premiere next season.  All receive a cash prize with a special purse for the audience favorite decided by ballot.

Edgar Zendejas’ Mara was inspired by his musical composer Jean-Philippe Barrios, whose score incorporated voices speaking of the mysteries of human attraction.  Zendejas’ dancers broke from a shadowy line-up into emotional relationships of two, three or four. The dancing was fast, jazzy, abstract and evocative. One man held onto another man’s head through an extended pas de deux. The curtain fell on four couples dancing their hearts out, a thrilling ending to a work that felt smart and contemporary, but perhaps still exploratory or conceptual. Jason Fassl is a lighting genius, as he demonstrated all night. Some of his effects here were uncannily dreamy; but others, for example a strobe, distanced the dancers, heightening anonymity. That may have been the goal, but it could be a barrier.

Mauro de Candia set Something I Had In Mind to Paganini’s wildly virtuosic violin variations on The Carnival of Venice, and then to Edith Piaf’s famous anthem “Non, je ne regret rien.” It was a rule breaking, laugh out loud farce that mercilessly bent the classical line. Men hunched as they lifted women in tutus to unexpected aerial positions. It wasn’t a parody, just wacky virtuosic dancing inspired by the extravagances of Paganini’s violin playing. The dancers seemed to have a ball. A high level of comic invention is hard to sustain and it when it fails, as it did for some moments in the middle, there is nothing to replace it.  A goofy group portrait and some moon walking brought the laughter back and a distinctive vocabulary emerged. Justin Genna’s star-is-born performance of the Piaf made complete sense and was fabulous, a highlight of the night.

In Lucas Jervies’ Smile, distant Fellini-like snatches of Charlie Chaplin’s great melody filled cracks in a soundtrack by Eugene Ughetti and Beethoven.Petr Zahradnicek in a white suit, hat and cane, haunted the dance as a perfectly spotlighted vaudeville clown. This was a dance about moving into unknown areas and relationships, mostly done with fast movement and bodies working many angles simultaneously. The dancers made it personal and tender. Rachel Malehorn, Julianne Kepley and David Hovhannisyan were especially engaging in their solos and duets. Isaac Sharratt gave a break out performance, nailing extremely difficult choreography. Whatever losses lie ahead, this delicate, serious piece seemed to imply, a sense of wonder is essential.  I voted for Jervies.

The judges and audience awarded first place to the bold and highly entertaining Mauro de Candia,  It will be fun to see what he does with the company next season.  Lucas Jervies took second place and  
Edgar Zendejas was awarded third place.  My congratulations and thanks to all three.


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