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Pushing Classical into Contemporary

Michael Pink's Swan Lake

May. 14, 2013
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In rehearsal for Milwaukee Ballet's Swan Lake, Luz San Miguel dances the delicate curved arabesques of the White Swan with more than grace and perfect technique; she seems endlessly apologetic. The mournful girl knows that it's because of Prince Siegfried's love for her that her circle of women friends was also cursed to spend the daylight hours as swans. The young prince stood in the way of General Von Rothbart's will to rule. Von Rothbart cast the curse to crush his rival's will to live. Now he'll raise a Black Swan from the bowels of the lake to finish the job.

San Miguel describes artistic director Michael Pink's choreography as "very Michael. You show the character's inner life and feelings. The relationships are personal and intimate." Pink reminds the dancers that they are playing women with individual identities, not swans.

Swan Lake was unsuccessful in its 1875 premiere. Tchaikovsky's score was thought too complicated for dancing. But in 1895, Russian choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov split the challenge. Each choreographed half of it, and with help from a star ballerina, they created a viable ballet.

"There is no definitive choreography for most of it," Pink said. "It's required that you do what you can." He's kept the traditional Black Swan pas de deux, credited to Petipa, with its famous 32 fouettes (spins on one toe.) The rest is his. Even more than in 2006 when the company first danced his version, he's taken his own route. In particular, his choreography for the White Swan pas de deux in which Siegfried meets the cursed Odette after years of searching "pushes classical limits into the contemporary," he said. Still, his choreography gives the dancers all the physical and mental challenges of classical technique they need to maintain their high level of skill.

He's cast separate dancers for the White and Black Swans. "In this version, they face each other," San Miguel noted, smiling since she'll play both roles in alternate performances. Her husband Ryan Martin will dance Siegfried to her Black Swan. "It's special when we get to dance the classics together," Martin said. "We have a good connection; she can whisper to me."

The couple has danced Swan Lake in many versions in several countries. "Michael goes straight to the point," Martin said. "Audiences recognize and identify with the characters. For Michael, classical technique is the beginning, not the end. It's a medium for human emotion."

Swan Lake runs May 16-19 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. For ticket reservations, call 414-902-2103 or visit milwaukeeballet.org.


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