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Milwaukee Ballet's Dancers for All Seasons

Mar. 21, 2012
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As Milwaukee Ballet prepares to present its "Spring Series" of contemporary one-acts, Artistic Director Michael Pink is announcing plans for next season. Both subjects are newsworthy, and the common theme is the versatility of the dancers.

Next season will open with a completely new ballet by Pink, his first since Peter Pan in 2010. A world premiere by the choreographer whose work also includes the moving Dracula and Esmeralda is an important event. Pink's source material this time is Puccini's popular opera La Bohème. Milwaukee Ballet Music Director Andrews Sill is arranging an orchestral version of the complete score. The story will be transposed from 19th-century Paris to that city's existentialist 1950s, and will be told entirely through movement that will showcase the formidable artistry of the company's main dancers.

When performers are as charismatic as these, it's easy to take their classical chops for granted. Pink brings dancers into the company primarily on the strength of their classical technique; and indeed, they can make impossible feats appear as natural as smiling. So it's exciting that next season will end with the demanding classical ballet Swan Lake. It will be a traditional version, but Odette and Odile will be separately cast, the better to focus on the fairy tale with its interesting echoes of the realistic La Bohème. Next season starts and ends in love and heartbreak.

Pink's engaging all-ages version of The Nutcracker will return for the holidays. Winter will bring the next iteration of the "Genesis: International Choreographic Competition," featuring adventurous world premieres created with company dancers by emerging choreographers competing for the chance to make a second ballet with the company in 2014. Finally, the 2013 "Spring Series" of three outstanding works by guest choreographers will include Amy Seiwert's deeply serious exploration of the unfinished Mozart Requiem, and Darrell Grand Moultrie's showpiece, Simply Sammy, performed to recordings by Sammy Davis Jr. with a guest star tap dancer.

Really, these dancers can do anything, which brings us to the 2012 "Spring Series" running March 29-April 1 at the Marcus Center.

Matthew Neenan's The Last Glass (2010) is a beautifully constructed collage of overlapping vignettes with complex, recognizable characters in affecting relationships rarely seen in ballet, set to stirring music by the indie rock/world music band Beirut. Neenan was co-founder in 2005 of BalletX at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia and has had 12 commissions from the Pennsylvania Ballet. Seen in rehearsal, this inflamed piece demands a high level of virtuosity in dancing and acting, and the cast is up to it. It's a knockout.

Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close (2009) is lyrical and dangerous. When not dancing—couples in constantly shifting physical contact that emphasizes the individuality of each partner—the dancers blindly push, and are pushed by, large white screens that change the shape of the space. The floor is strewn with white feathers. Cerrudo began his career in his native Madrid, Spain, and worked in leading Dutch and German companies before joining Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2005. This appears to be an intimate, thoughtful, up-to-date dance about love and shared space, set against the cascading piano music of Philip Glass and Dennis O'Halloran.

Lila York's Celts (1996) is a rousing, crowd-pleasing display of athleticism and agility that shows off its big cast of dancers individually and as a tribe. Milwaukee Ballet performed it in 2003 as part of Pink's debut season. York was a dancer with the great Paul Taylor Dance Company from 1973-1985, then a collaborator with the dance-theater genius Martha Clarke, and she has long been a celebrated freelance choreographer. This is her signature work, a mainstream American dance that draws on the earthy ancient barefoot dramas of Martha Graham and the reinvented neoclassicism of George Balanchine, and combines it all with fast, muscular, high-jumping Irish folk dancing.

It's worth noting that this handsomely international company is the city's most genuinely multicultural performance ensemble. Each offers something unique and sometimes transcendent. Their artistry is the result of unflagging hard work that began in childhood. Few can do what they do, much less this well—and they just keep getting better.

"Spring Series" runs March 29-April 1 at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. For more information, call 414-902-2103 or visit www.milwaukeeballet.org.

John Schneider's affinity for the work of BalletX's Matthew Neenan could be nostalgic, since his former touring company Theatre X was hosted by the Wilma Theater (nee Wilma Project) in Philadelphia.

Photo: Ryan Martin and Nicole Teague by Mark Frohna


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