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Milwaukee Ballet's Promotion of Talent

'Three' provides opportunity to rising choreographers

Mar. 23, 2011
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"The larger world of international dance focuses on a handful of choreographers and wants to convince everyone that they are the best in the world," says Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink in defense of "Three,"a program of contemporary works his company will perform at the Marcus Center from March 31-April 3.

"The false perception is that people of equal talent don't come from Milwaukee or Kansas City," Pink says. "So medium-sized companies like ours have a greater responsibility to explore the abundance of talent that's out there and to give opportunities to as many choreographers as possible."

Pink begins by inviting a choreographer in whom he believes to stage one of his or her existing works with the company's dancers. Once that relationship is established, he'll bring the person back with a commission to create a piece from scratch. "Three" includes examples of both parts of that process.

Diane Coburn Bruning, a choreographer with an illustrious résumé of fellowships and commissions from major companies, is here for the first time to stage her Ramblin' Suite, which Pinksaw at Atlanta Ballet. He describes it as "toe-tapping, infectious, very physical" and believes it will push the dancers to become even stronger, another goal of this kind of program. Bruning's dance uses music by the Tony Award-winning Red Clay Ramblers, a string band that blends mountain music, bluegrass and New Orleans jazz with a musical-theater style. They've done Broadway collaborations and films with playwright Sam Shepard and vaudevillian Bill Irwin. They've also played the Pabst.

The new commissioned work, still untitled, is by Darrell Grand Moultrie, who staged his Vital Sensations with Milwaukee Ballet in 2006. Moultrie is a Juilliard graduate, a member of the original Broadway cast of Billy Elliot, and one of the youngest African-American choreographers working both in ballet and commercial genres. Set to an exhilarating score by the Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, who fuse Latin rock with thrash metal, the unexpectedly jazzy steps I watched Moultrie and the dancers rehearse one otherwise blue morning boosted my spirits to the hilt.

"Our dancers are so capable of meeting every choreographer's requirements," Pink says. "Choreographers watch them and think: 'I can do more!' I've yet to have a choreographer come here who hasn't left smiling and saying, 'What a great company!'"

Still, it's the third piece of "Three" that I'm most excited to see. Petr Zahradnicek, a Milwaukee Ballet dancer and the choreographer of a growing number of dances, is restaging his Broad Waters, made last year for Ballet Memphis—his second ballet for that company. For the Milwaukee premiere, he's added more dancers and reworked the piece to make full use of his colleagues' talents.

Set to unaccompanied choral music by the Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, the piece is about a community and its relationship through three generations to a river, which often floods disastrously. Although lives and homes are lost, the community stays put.

"I'm trying to catch the quietness and peacefulness of the music," Zahradnicek says. "It's almost beyond quiet, totally different from the high energy of the other dances in the program. It shows a different side of the dancers. I looked to the past-present-future cycle of life: Through all the sorrows, when you have ancestors there, you love the place."

Zahradnicek was born and raised in the Czech Republic and has lived away from home for the last half of his 36 years, first as a dancer in Germany, then Colorado, and since 2003 in Milwaukee. The Ballet presented his Concourse in its contemporary program last yearThere, a lone traveler in an airport imagined scenes from the lives of the strangers around him. One pas de deux—a skillfully constructed, emotionally detailed lovers' breakup—was a finalist in a national choreography festival in California last summer.

Pink says of Zahradnicek: "I will continue to promote his work. He's had such solid training as a dancer. He's an incredible company member. I could pay lots of money to bring other choreographers here, but I don't feel the need because Petr is the right artistic choice."

John Schneider trained in dance for eight years as a child. A resident playwright and director of Milwaukee's internationally acclaimed experimental Theatre X, he is versed in the difficulties of making performances from scratch.


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