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Chance, Risk and High Aspiration at Milwaukee Ballet’s ‘Genesis’

Feb. 21, 2017
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Photo Credit: Mark Frohna

The special excitement of Genesis has two sources. First, Milwaukee Ballet’s every-other-winter competition gives three choreographers of proven talent from different parts of the world the chance to vie for a future commission with the company, an honor that only adds to the prestige of being selected in the first place from a large pool of aspirants. The challenge for these choreographers is great: Each has barely three weeks to make a fully realized one-act ballet with dancers and designers they’ve never met before, one that will shine brightly enough beside the other works to win first place as decided by a panel of national experts. 

The second, perhaps even greater, appeal of Genesis for Milwaukee audiences who, like me, have come to cherish the company’s dancers, is the opportunity the show provides to see beloved artists in new ways and in new works made specifically for them. It’s not at all the same as having existing ballets, old or new, reset on them, or seeing them in more familiar ways in ballets made by company choreographers with understandable preconceptions about their expressive capacities.

So Genesis is a show of chance, risk and high aspiration, yet the feeling in the theater is that everyone wants everyone else to win on every level. In that spirit, I’ll say as I always do that I hope Michael Pink brings all three choreographers back. 

The piece I loved best was Enrico Morelli’s “The Noise of Whispers,” primarily a daring, sensitive translation into dance of the almost unbearably beautiful slow movement of Frederic Chopin’s First Piano Concerto. Mariana Oliveira’s “Pagliacci,” a tale of first love and heartbreak, of dropping the posture and facing the mirror naked, was a very close second. George Williamson’s “Wonderers” had wondrous and sometimes spectacular passages but seemed structurally unfinished, as if he’d run out of time.

The show’s towering performances were Isaac Sharratt’s as the love-crushed clown in “Pagliacci,” danced with complete emotional honesty, and Lizzie Tripp’s commanding, virtuosic turn as Morelli’s brave seeker of something like trust in vulnerability and intimacy. Patrick Howell’s excellent partnering skills were put to beautiful use in an unusually compassionate male duet with Garrett Glassman—a highlight of Williamson’s dance depicting personal journeys, and Parker Brasser-Vos brought a smart, disarming brashness to his role as Sharratt’s rival for the love of Annia Hidalgo’s preternaturally gifted Columbina. Jason Fasl’s lighting and Mary Piering’s costumes were great assets.

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