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Mentoring Hope for Young Artists

Off The Cuff with Jenny Miller and Karl von Rabenau of Lake Arts Project

Apr. 11, 2017
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Jenny Miller and Karl von Rabenau

Lake Arts Project debuted in spring 2014 with Aurora’s Dream. First, a visual art class at Arrowhead High School in Hartford envisioned Sleeping Beauty’s dreams in colorful pastels. Then Lake Art Project’s founders, Jennifer Miller and Karl von Rabenau of the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy, invited professional choreographers to respond to the students’ artworks with dances for their ballet students. Then professional dancers from Milwaukee Ballet, Nomadic Limbs and the Catey Ott Dance Collective agreed to perform alongside the students in a concert accompanied by an exhibition of the visual art that inspired the dances. Since then, student writers, composers and musicians from Nicolet High School and Homestead High School have become collaborators and the list of professional mentors has grown. On Sunday, April 23, Lake Arts Project will present its third multidisciplinary performance, Mentoring Hope, at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. I asked Miller and Von Rabenau, retired Milwaukee Ballet dancers who married in 2003, about their brain child.


What inspired Lake Arts Project?

KVR: The anchor is the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy. I’m now in my 14th year of teaching and every year you throw out questions like, “Hey, have you guys ever seen Mikhail Baryshnikov or Margot Fonteyn?” And fewer and fewer hands would rise. Then, “Do you know who Michelangelo is? Who Bach is?” Nobody has a clue. So Jen and I were like, “Wow, how can we assist with this?” The idea was to bring kids from the visual art field, the musical art field and movement together to look at what each does. We sent letters to some local high schools and Arrowhead was the first to respond. This year we’re working with Nicolet for the second time. We were put in contact with a student from Homestead...

JM: I was meeting with a dance student and her mother, who was like, “Oh my gosh, my son would love that!” And Philip Zuccaro came in the next day and introduced himself. He’s a senior at Homestead and he composes music for the plays there. Within 24 hours he had a couple of compositions for us. He’s done maybe four now. We’ll try to incorporate everything but two have definitely been chosen by a choreographer…

KVR: And he talked to his creative writing teacher at Homestead, and her class wrote poetry along the theme of our project.


So it’s Homestead poets instead of Arrowhead painters?

KVR: Yes. We asked the poets, “Mentoring hope, what does that mean to you?” We opened it to them, saying you can participate in the final production in any manner you want, just printing your poetry in our program or, if you want to record yourself saying it or participate physically in the performance with your poetry, you’re more than welcome to do that. Then it’s up to the choreographers to make that happen.


And you have collaborators from Kansas City; Valley Academy of Arts in Neenah, Wis.; UW-Madison and UWM; Milwaukee Ballet and its orchestra…

JM: And Jake Polancich and Ryan Meisel who are seasoned musical improvisers. When a student dancer comes onstage and improvises, it’s as if they take their hand with their music. I never thought that young students would be willing to take that risk. It was never my strong suit. I can kind of do it now because I feel I have nothing to lose. There are so many companies, especially in Europe, where that’s part of your audition process now. They want contemporary style.


Why “Mentoring Hope”?

KVR: We feel that’s necessary today.

JM: It’s the mentoring of hope for the future, for the future of the arts, for the future of art students. Sometimes when we ask high school students for their artwork or poetry, it’s very dark.

KVR: I think when you’re young, things can seem overwhelming. But negative reinforcement on any level, whether it’s reprimanding your child or fighting a war, is going to have a negative effect. So how do we focus on what’s good? How do we manifest that in ourselves so we can manifest it in the world? That’s a tall task. If we can help people figure out something positive in their life to bring forward and out to the world, I think we will do a wonderful thing for them and for their future and for all of our futures.

Performances are at 1 and 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 23 at Danceworks Studio Theatre, 1661 N. Water St. For more information visit lakeartsproject.com.

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