It’s a typical afternoon at the Milwaukee Ballet rehearsal spaces. Dancers lounge around waiting to practice, observing other dancers in motion from the viewing balcony on the second floor. They whisper their approval when one of those rehearsing below executes a difficult move.
But wait a second.
The music is country, blue grass – fiddles and banjos. It sounds like something out of “Urban Cowboy.” With ballet dancers?
The music is in fact the Red Clay Ramblers. No Puccini, Rossini or even Cherubini here. This is modern day music for what the Milwaukee Ballet is billing as “Three New Perspectives in Dance,” three contemporary works by three choreographers.
“Ramblin’ Suite,” featuring the music of the Ramblers with choreography by Diane Coburn Bruning, opens the performance. The middle section features choreography by Milwaukee Ballet’s own Petr Zahradnicek, set to the quiet, choral sounds of composer Henryk Gorecki’s “Broad Waters.” The performance finishes with the energetic bounce of a piece by Darrell Grand Moultrie featuring the acoustic Latino folk sounds of Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Milwaukee Ballet’s Zahradnicek, a dancer himself, describes his work as “about a community of people living by the river as seen through the eyes of three women.” He uses 12 dancers in the 19-minute piece. Three women represent the past, present and the future, each with a unique perspective on the river and its central role in the community. The music of Gorecki is central to the dance piece as well.
Zahradnicek, a 35-year-old native of the Czech Republic, first came to the United States with his wife, a former dancer and choreographer, to work with the Colorado Ballet. He joined the Milwaukee Ballet in 2003.
Did his two sons, ages 3 and 6, influence his desire to create a dance of quiet peacefulness? Zahradnicek breaks into a gentle smile. “I’m really trying to make movement fit into peacefulness,” he says.
Darrell Grand Moultrie caps off the evening of dance with a piece that’s driven by tempo, energy and diversity. “I love the diversity of theater, Broadway, concert dance and commercial dance,” says the 33-year-old choreographer – a single, out gay man. Born and raised in Harlem, Moultrie still makes his home there. He studied four years at Julliard and appeared on Broadway in the original cast of the musicals “Billy Elliott,” “Hairspray” and “Aida.”
Moultrie will have 14 dancers performing to three songs from the CD by Rodrigo y Gabriela: “Hanuman,” “Savitri” and the title track, “11:11.” He says the music inspired the moves.
“I return to it over and over again until it becomes a part of my DNA,” he says, during a break from rehearsal. “It’s always the music for me. And this work is all about strength through pure movement. It’s a great moment for the dancers to show their versatility and the piece is tailor-made for that.”
This work is also a world premiere for Moultrie and his second for the Milwaukee Ballet. He choreographed “Vital Sensations” for the 2006-07 season.
As yet untitled, Moultrie’s piece will run about 20 minutes and features women in colorful modern dress. He says he’s just as interested in having the dancers learn from the work as he is in entertaining the audience.
“When I go home on the plane, I want to know that I’ve inspired the dancers to tap into their weaknesses and strengthened their strengths and challenged them in some way,” he says.
And what does he want for the audience?
“I want the audience to have that sense of freedom, that jolt of energy,” he says. “I love, love, love pieces that just move!”