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Milwaukee Ballet's World Premieres

‘Kaleidoscope Eyes’ is pure dance, parable and memoir

Apr. 5, 2016
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Mark Frohna

In contemporary ballet, classically trained dancers deploy their singular abilities in ways undreamed of by the art form’s founders. Milwaukee Ballet hosts an every-other-year competition for such work, Genesis. The winner returns to create a commissioned piece for the company whose dancers always make the most of these adventures. The two contrasting world premieres in Kaleidoscope Eyes last weekend were by Genesis winners Timothy O’Donnell, now a resident dancer and choreographer, and Garrett Smith who, let’s hope, will do more work here. The Milwaukee premiere of the distinguished American choreographer Trey McIntyre’s heartening “concept album” of dances set to Beatles’ songs completed the program.

Smith’s “Addendum” is kaleidoscopic. Nine dancers in unzipped hoodies and sweat pants of deep blue, rose and pale yellow use nine child-size straight-backed black wooden chairs as props, costumes and small stages. The actual stage is bare but for the exposed instruments of David Grill’s ravishing lighting. In alternating silence and rich cello music by Zoë Keating, a compendium of utterly unpredictable pure dance passages unfolds. Such values as equality, community, hard thought, imagination, humor, hope and risk emerge. It’s about the work, about adding something special to the world. The dancing is heroic.

O’Donnell’s “The Sixth Sin” portrays a surreal world of high fashion. Set to a trendy electronic soundscape laced with advertising phrases, it tells a parable about a model (Valerie Harmon) who believes that looks are the key to love; instead, she’s disrespected by both chic fashionistas and fans. Ballet dancers, too, worry about their bodies, so O’Donnell surely knows whereof he speaks; but the piece could go further toward erasing the line between dancers and characters. One fine passage is a pas de deux between the male fashion idol (Alexandre Ferreira) and his fan (Barry Molina) that suggests a tricky interdependence. It’s good to see O’Donnell reach to tell his story. The influence of his mentor Michael Pink is obvious.

McIntyre’s intuitive choreography made the Beatles songs he’s chosen for “A Day in the Life” sound especially beautiful. From the simple beat of “Mother Nature’s Son” to the cacophonous crescendo that closes “A Day in the Life,” the piece suggests a memoir of a maturing process. It ends in shaky triumph. Parker Brasser-Vos and Itzel Hernandez did lovely work in important roles. In the lead, Marc Petrocci gave his usual consummate performance, graceful, controlled, a force of nature in that huge hall.

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