Young choreographers’ world premieres compete in Milwaukee

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Thanks to the Milwaukee Ballet, three young choreographers will have a chance to push the boundaries of dance while Milwaukee audiences judge the results.

Genesis, the Milwaukee Ballet’s biennial international choreographic competition, takes the Pabst Theater stage Feb. 16-19. Each performance will feature new works from competition finalists Enrico Morelli, Mariana Oliveira and George Williamson.

The finalists, chosen from among 54 international entries by Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink, represent some of the most inventive young choreographers practicing today.

The finalists are given unparalleled access to the ballet’s resources, including a team of eight dancers — four men and four women — chosen at random from among Milwaukee Ballet’s corps. Each choreographer has 90 rehearsal hours over a three-week period to create his or her 20-minute world premiere.

Genesis gives young artists the opportunity to have their work seen on a major U.S. stage, helping them find their feet in the incredibly competitive dance world,” Pink says. “Genesis also offers audiences a chance to witness new works, a part of our company’s commitment to producing innovative world premieres in Milwaukee.”

The team of celebrity judges includes Nevada Ballet artistic director James Canfield, Orlando Ballet artistic director Robert Hill and American Dance Festival executive director Jodee Nimerichter.

Each audience member also will cast a vote for the Audience Choice Award, with the winner receiving a cash prize.

The finalists took the time to outline their work for WiG.

Enrico Morelli, Italy, winner of numerous Italian choreographic competitions and recipient of a Silver Medal from the president of Italy.

Background: “I wanted to be a dancer and a choreographer since I was child. I was born with the desire to pursue beauty and perfection, and that is what ballet strives toward with its pure lines and elegance. Then I grew up, switched to modern dance and started working on choreography to satisfy the urge to express myself.

Dance philosophy: I consider the human body as a world not fully explored. It is an eternal cradle where we find peace and contentment. But it is also a dark cave, a place of anxiety, pain and fear. We have endless possibilities to know ourselves.

Dance, with its sincerity, allows us to do exactly that. The dance is a dream that wipes out the laziness and boredom. Dance is the medium that transforms the entire existence through a continuous experimentation that removes obstacles and separation between art and life.

The competition entry: The work is divided into two parts — one more violent and shouted and another one more intimate and whispered. I’m not a narrative choreographer. Instead I like to share beauty, which I find in everyday life all the time. When I create, I don’t do so didactically. What you see is what I live, what I see in the world.

The music: I am using a piano concerto by Chopin and a new electronic composition by Adrien Casalis, a young French musician with whom I collaborate. I like to mix classical and electronic music in my creations. The two worlds are temporally distant, but if well-matched, they can create magical and surreal atmospheres.

The takeaway: I think that a choreographic work should not be limited to tell only one message. I hope that my work has various interpretations. The viewer may see some element in my work that they recognize from their own lives.

Mariana Oliveira, United States, born in Brazil, trained at London’s Academy of Dance and founder of the Union Project Dance Company in New York City.

Background: When I was young, my dream was to be a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet. I eventually realized those high expectations weren’t going to be fulfilled. When I moved to New York at 19, I saw the work of female choreographer Aszure Barton. It changed my life. From that moment on, I dedicated my life to choreography.

Dance philosophy: It is very important to me to have a strong concept behind the movements, so I often try to connect with other sources of art, such as visual art, theater, cinema and literature. Once I have a very clear concept, I begin developing the movements. By the time I get to rehearsal, the entire piece has been developed, with all aspects visualized. This way, when the dancers learn the choreography, there is room to recreate and rediscover the piece within the framework.

The competition entry: My work is entitled “Pagliacci” and is based on Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera. The piece is a tragicomedy that reflects on the art of creating through the clown character’s descent into madness. It is an attempt to expose the artist’s humanity beneath the mask. Also portrayed are characters from the Italian Commedia dell’arte, including the playful Colombina, the sad clown Pierrot and the Machiavellian Harlequin.

The music: When I decide to use a certain piece of music, I must know everything about the composer, including who they are on a deeper level. I was fascinated by Charlie Chaplin’s movies, which he not only scripted, acted and directed, but for which he also composed the soundtrack. I spent two months watching all his movies and set my dance to the music from his 1928 film The Circus.

The takeaway: As a choreographer, I’m always in search of new stories to tell, and most of my works have a strong storyline. The dancers’ movements should reflect the characters’ emotions, conflicts and personalities. This is why it’s important for my creative process to have a strong concept that connects with the audience on a personal level.

George Williamson, United Kingdom, created works for the English National Ballet and presented a ballet for the Queen’s Coronation Festival.

Background: As soon as I decided to study ballet full-time, I realized that it was the creative side rather than the performance side of the art form that I most enjoyed. I left training with a clear idea that I would start choreographing as soon as possible.

Dance philosophy: My philosophy in creation is that balance is for ballet class and things that push the dancers off balance and to the edge of their technique are always my starting points.

The competition entry: I am pushing myself to create something dynamic and engaging for an audience to watch, but also to inject a sense of place and time into the movement. I hope that the work will showcase my choreographic style and statement as an artist, but also will take the audience on a journey.

The music: I have chosen to use two movements from the famous Sibelius violin concerto, the first movement of which will be recomposed in places. I chose to do this because it’s beautiful music, but I felt like I wanted to give it a modern edge. The second movement is left in its original form.

I have also chosen a very delicate and pure piece of choral music by Rachmaninoff, which separates the two Sibelius movements. I wanted to juxtapose the modern sounds of the first movement and lead us into the classical virtuosity of the second. The music will allow me to bring out different tones in my choreography, rather than just one note.

The takeaway: I am not trying to tell the audience anything too literal. I have my own ideas about what I am trying to achieve with the work, but I would prefer for audience members to engage with the ballet in their own way.

On Stage

Milwaukee Ballet’s biennial international choreographic competition Genesis runs Feb. 16–19 at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $34 to $106. For tickets, call 414-902-2103 or order online at