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Milwaukee Ballet's 'Peter Pan' Returns 2 Years Older and Wiser

May. 2, 2012
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On opening night of the world premiere of Michael Pink's Peter Pan in 2010, a desperate fellow asking if I knew how he could get a ticket stopped me outside the Marcus Center. The entire run had sold out. I'm told the show had scalpers. Success has allowed Milwaukee Ballet to give the show, lovely in every way, a second run May 10-13.

That rarely happens in ballet companies. Usually, many years pass between revivals of a major work. Meanwhile, the original dancers retire or outgrow the roles they inspired. Rehearsals are spent recreating the original steps instead of taking them further. That's doubly mad since, as the Ballet's artistic director, Pink, points out in our interview, creating any work in a five-week rehearsal period is insane to begin with.

In February, Pink had the opportunity to restage Peter Pan with the Colorado Ballet in Denver. He brought a shopping list of things to fix. He felt that Act Three had been underdeveloped due to time pressure. For example, studying a video of the Milwaukee production, he realized, "My god, I completely forgot I had Hook and the pirates onstage in one scene! Fortunately, the dancers filled it."

Asked what he liked best about the show in Denver, Pink spoke of the action-packed scenes in the Darling family nursery that frame the children's Neverland adventures and are the key to understanding his interpretation. "What became more focused in Denver was the relationship of the father to the whole story," says Pink, a father of three. "He's obsessed with his career and losing contact with his children. In the end, he regains something of his youth."

Back home in Milwaukee, every detail is being clarified. The flying scenes have evolved through confidence and deeper knowledge of the technique. A re-choreographed duet for Wendy and Peter in Neverland, seen in rehearsal, now emphasizes Wendy's longing for a relationship more worthy of a girl on the cusp of womanhood. The underlying tragedy of James M. Barrie's tale of perpetual boyhood is never out of sight in Pink's production. Pink jokes that today Peter Pan would be on every known drug for children with ADD. More seriously: "He will forget you. He will have no regrets. He comes looking for Wendy, but how many Wendys have there been before Wendy?" Poor Wendy.

Pan is also dazzling, the beautiful energy of youth. "It was always a given that Marc Petrocci would play Pan," Pink says. "The role was created for him. He really inhabits the character."

Petrocci arrived in Milwaukee in 2003, an 18-year-old graduate of Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, hoping to dance with a medium-sized Canadian or American company that presented both classical and contemporary work. Pink had also just arrived, newly hired to head the Milwaukee Ballet. He recognized Petrocci's potential at the audition and promised him opportunities if he'd join the company. Five years ago, Pink asked him to play Pan. Petrocci began to prepare. This is their show.

Pan's tendency to forget anyone he hasn't seen in 10 minutes and his consequent inability to love—Barrie called him heartless—is a trait the deeply committed Petrocci doesn't share at all. "I like that Pan represents the uninhibited creative spirit of a child," Petrocci says after some thought. "I love that he has no fear of things an adult would fear, like a fight with a bloodthirsty pirate. One thing I love about Michael's version is how deep it gets, how much of the vulnerable side of Pan I get to approach and show. He's longing for his mother. It takes the youthful excitement and abandon to another level."

Petrocci describes Captain Hook (David Hovhannisyan) as slow, adult, everything that Peter will forever battle. Tinkerbell (Luz San Miguel) is the mother Peter doesn't realize he has—his guardian, someone to spark against. Pan and Tiger Lily (Courtney Kramer) are kindred Neverland creatures, but if he is avian, she is feline. Wendy (Valerie Harmon and Susan Gartell will alternate) is mother. "For whatever reasons you choose to believe," Petrocci says, "Pan won't allow himself to go to the next level."

Peter Pan runs May 10-13 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. For more information, call 414-902-2103 or visit www.milwaukeeballet.org.

John Schneider played Peter Pan in his backyard as a child and believed he could fly if he tried hard enough. He is a playwright, a faculty member in the new Digital Media and Performing Arts Department at Marquette University and the
Shepherd Express' assistant A&E editor.

For more A&E coverage, visit expressmilwaukee.com.n

TAGS: Milwaukee Ballet, Peter Pan, Michael Pink, Marcus Center, performing arts, Colorado Ballet, Denver, James Barrie, Wendy, Marc Petrocci, Luz San Miguel, Courtney Kramer, Valerie Harmon, Susan Gartell, David Hovhannisyan


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