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Milwaukee Ballet Leading Artist Marc Petrocci Will Retire in May

Apr. 18, 2016
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Photo by Nathaniel Daveuer

Marc Petrocci was 12 years old in 1997 when he left his Canadian hometown near Niagra Falls to live and study at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. At 18, he auditioned for Milwaukee Ballet’s then new artistic director Michael Pink who hired him as a company dancer. As Petrocci tells the story now, “Michael said, I see great potential in you and I want to give you opportunities. What that will look like and how long that will take, no one knows. But I think you’re the kind of person who will work to maximize those opportunities.”

Now, at 31 and at the peak of his powers, Petrocci will end his full time professional ballet career at the close of this season. All who’ve seen him perform during his thirteen years here know that he never gives less than everything on stage. “I do feel very strong currently,” he says, “and that’s one reason why I’m stopping. I’ve always told myself that if I have the opportunity, I want to leave this career on top.”

A great character dancer in both classical and contemporary styles who has endeared himself mightily to Milwaukee Ballet audiences, he is probably best known for the two huge roles that Pink created for him and that his dancing inspired: The Nutcracker’s Fritz and the title role in Peter Pan. His artistry has been honed by this company and he has been an important part of its identity.

In a letter to “Colleagues, Friends and Family” announcing his decision, he writes about his growth “not only as an artist but as a human being.” He writes of the privilege of dancing beside “truly fabulous dancers,” of learning to appreciate every facet of the institution’s operations and of his gratitude to Pink and the many friends he’s made.

With a wife and one-year-old daughter, he has extra reasons to focus on building a second career, something all professional ballet dancers, like athletes, must do eventually. He’s been working, mostly in the summers, toward an undergraduate degree in economics from UWM. To complete the degree, he needs classes that are only offered during the school year and he needs to focus hard on his studies. “Going back to school,” he writes, “made me aware that if my eventual career transition was to be a success, it would take a lot of thoughtful guided planning.”

He called me last week to talk about all of this. He wants those who care – friends and fans -- to know that his decision was not made lightly. He wants us to understand that Milwaukee has given him his life, so to speak, and that he’s taking the next step of the journey with joy, thanks to that. Let me quote him:

“If you commit yourself to investigating every aspect of what you love to do, you meet people and your community grows. And through that, I was able to find a home here, to extend my family, to find people who enriched me and made me a better person. When I brought them my ideas, they saw potential in them and how, with work, they might become bigger then I had perceived. I want to tell everybody that I’ve touched or who’ve touched me that it’s through this investing of myself here, and through them giving back to me, that I’ve reached this decision.”

“From day one, I don’t think I ever looked at my age as a determinant of how much I should give, which is not to say that I presumed I was entitled to anything; quite the opposite.  It’s more that if I gave the most, people would see that and would give back to me. Over the years, “giving the most” took on different meanings. Early on, it meant high energy, a commitment to doing everything at full volume. As I grew as an artist and a person, I learned to modulate that volume. But it was always the same commitment.”

“It’s pretty safe to say that nothing I do professionally in the future will inspire the same sort of passion this did for me. But it’s my hope that as I enter a new sector of the workforce after graduation in, hopefully, a little over a year, I’ll find as stable a home as Milwaukee Ballet has been. I hope that I can continue to grow as I did here, through commitment, through continuing to critically analyze myself to see how I can fit in and help the organization I’m part of.  This is about me taking the leap to the next step at the right time.”

His wife, Courtney Kramer Petrocci, a Milwaukee Ballet dancer through last season and now an MFA graduate from UWM’s dance department, has been appointed Artist Director of Summer’s Academy of Dance and The Berkshire Ballet Theatre in Northern Illinois. Beginning in fall, Marc will commute from Illinois to UWM and also teach part time at the Academy. “I love coaching dancers, helping them work through problems and challenges,” he says. “Ballet technique is really just a vehicle through which you can express yourself. And there are so many way to express yourself.”


And Other Dancers Will Leave For Other Companies

Milwaukee Ballet will announce today that in addition to Petrocci, who is retiring, Alexandre Ferreira, Susan Gartell and Valerie Harmon are leaving at the end of this season to continue their dance careers in other cities. Each of them has played a vital role in the company’s rise to greatness. Milwaukee Ballet will remain strong but it will not be the same. I’ll miss each of them, I’ll always be grateful for the joy they’ve given me and I certainly hope for the best for them. So I’m sad. But I’m excited, too. I look forward to celebrating the new dynamics and individual achievements of the coming season.


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