‘Spring Series’ offers pure dance — without a narrative

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Milwaukee Ballet dancer Valerie Harmon. -Photo: Jessica Kaminski

For aficionados of ballet, nothing is more evocative of its possibilities than narrative-free, abstract dance pieces like those showcased in the Milwaukee Ballet’s upcoming Spring Series.

The work of three guest choreographers is to be featured during the April 3–6 performance at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Uihlein Hall. Two of the three half-hour works are world premieres. 

In addition to offering exciting new dance works for the audience, Spring Series allows Milwaukee Ballet’s 24-member dance corps to take the stage and demonstrate their skills, says company artistic director Michael Pink.

“The offerings are balanced across the board,” he says. “The main thing is that audiences will get to enjoy every dancer in the company during his or her own featured moments.”

Pink chose his guest choreographers for the music they use and, in two cases, for their past experiences with the company. Choreographers Matthew Neenan and Amy Seiwert are returning to the Milwaukee Ballet for this program. The work of deceased Venezuelan choreographer Vicente Nebrada is coming to Wisconsin for the first time. 

The differences in style will add vibrancy to the program, Pink says, but there are unifying factors that bring the works of Spring Series together as a cohesive whole.

“All three of the choreographers have a great sense of musicality,” Pink says. “You’d imagine all choreographers would have that ability, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

Seiwert’s piece is danced to the music of Icelandic experimental composer Ólafur Arnalds, known for his neo-classical and electronic/ambient style. Arnalds composed the music for the film The Hunger Games and toured with Sigur Rós, an Icelandic post-rock band. He was once the drummer for the Icelandic hardcore punk band Fighting Shit.

In contrast, Neenan’s work is set to the music of retro pop/jazz band Pink Martini, which coincidentally performed at the Pabst Theatre during the ballet’s rehearsals. Pink was able to arrange for Neenan and Seiwert to attend the show and meet the musicians backstage after the performance.

In yet another contrast, the dance piece by Nebrada, founder of the International Ballet of Caracas, is set to Viennese waltzes reconstructed with a Latin feel. Titled “Our Waltzes,” the piece features five couples, each performing a series of pas de deux.

The varied works provide opportunities for the company’s dancers to excel technically and artistically. The audience gets the thrill of experiencing pure balletic movements that are not part of a storyline, such as Swan Lake or The Nutcracker.

“Audiences have become more and more accepting of these abstract works,” Pink says. “They allow the dancers to extend their techniques and offer the opportunity to perform these extreme movements. I think people are amazed at what the physical body can accomplish and endure.”

Although the entire company is onstage at some point, several dancers are likely to stand out, Pink adds.

“Alexandre Ferreira is rapidly evolving and will make you wonder how people can move with such incredible grace and power,” Pink says. “Nicole Teague and Susan Gartell are maturing into powerful presences, but I am pleased to say all of the company will be seen in a good light.”

As for the absence of a Christmas tree or swan fluttering to her demise, Pink says even ballet newbies are pleased with the kind of unconventional dance featured in Spring Series.

“The general consensus is that a full narrative work is more appealing to a wider constituency, because it presents a story with costumes and music from beginning to end,” says Pink. ”The more avid ballet-goer will want to race to these abstract works, and even unsuspecting audience members will be captivated by the performances.”

ON STAGE

Milwaukee Ballet’s Spring Series plays April 3–6 in Uihlein Hall at Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Arts, 929 N. Water St. For tickets, call 414-273-7121. For more information, visit www.milwaukeeballet.org.

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