Tag Archives: ballet

Ballet group dances down on the farm

At the height of the summer, corn fields are getting taller, tomatoes are starting to ripen, cows are grazing — and ballet dancers are pirouetting and leaping across the grass.

The Farm to Ballet Project is trading a stuffy auditorium for the open air and evening skies of farms around the state.

The goal is to expand the audience for classical ballet while helping raise funds for local agriculture, organizers said.

The 25 dancers — some professional but many of them amateurs and ranging in age from 18 to 74 — prance and twirl on the grass in colorful costumes. Dressed as lettuce, tomatoes, bees, a cow, pig or farmer, they tell the tale of the growing season.

On a recent evening at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont, the bahhs of a few (real) sheep intermingle with the classical music played by a string sextet. It was the group’s first of eight summer performances.

“It was so joyful,” said Myra Handy of Shelburne, Vermont, who had been waiting to see the ballet since she heard about it last summer. The talent, music and exuberance exceeded her and her husband’s expectations, they said.

“It was a highlight of our summer,” she said.

The idea for the farm-based ballet grew out of a summer class the dancers took outdoors with Chatch Pregger, a professional dancer-turned-teacher at Spotlight Vermont, a performing arts school in South Burlington.

Because Vermont’s summers are so short, the students didn’t want to come inside for class so they moved outside to a park, Pregger said. They realized it was possible _ and how enjoyable it was _ to dance outside on the grass on breezy days with a view of the mountains, he said. Then they decided on a farm theme.

“I always thought what’s ballet promoting? What’s it all about?” said Preggar, artistic director of the Farm to Ballet Project. “And certainly artistically it’s amazing and the art that can be made from it is awesome, but I’m really happy for myself to be able to integrate it with something a little larger.”

Dancing on the grass and in the heat and sun is strenuous, as is the schedule since most of the dancers are amateurs.

“But by the end of the summer, you’re super in shape, so that’s nice,” said Megan Stearns, of Burlington, a lead dancer, who plays the role of the farmer. She studied ballet as a child and returned to it as an adult by taking classes with Pregger.

The dancers have three performances ahead of them: in Shelburne, Brattleboro and Essex Junction. Tickets cost $16.50. Children 12 or under are free.

For Pregger, who has danced with the Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet and Houston Ballet, Farm to Ballet supports something he really cares about: local farming. Seventy-five percent of the ticket sales go to the host-farm or agricultural nonprofit groups.

“I think that regenerative farming or organic farming really has the power to transform both our natural world to help with global warming and with the community that we live in,” he said. “I think people who eat healthy food are healthier, and I think we should all have access to it so I really wanted to honor the work that farmers do.”

At the Philo Ridge Farm performance, many in the 300-plus audience of adults and children also enjoyed dinner beforehand made from locally grown ingredients. Others brought their own spreads and wine, picnicking on the ground, in camp chairs or white folding chairs set up behind the farm house and in front of the “stage.”

Kathleen Harriman, of Vergennes, liked the interaction between the music and dancers.

“And just the good feelings it gave me to watch,” she said after the performance, as her two young granddaughters danced their way to the car in the parking lot.

Milwaukee Ballet goes down the rabbit hole with ‘Alice (in wonderland)’

Don’t be late for the very important dates of May 19 to 22. That’s when the Milwaukee Ballet will be closing its 46th season with Alice (in wonderland), a stunning production that brings the Lewis Carroll classic to life with vivid, surreal staging. The production will feature 30 dancers from the company, as well as nearly 100 children from the Milwaukee Ballet School and Academy.

According to Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink, choreographer Septime Webre’s vision of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland focuses on broad brushstrokes, harnessing the whimsical and familiar elements and personalities of Wonderland. “I liked the artistic side of it. Instead of it being so quirky and dark and mysterious, it’s very open and very bright,” says Pink.

Webre’s interpretation was originally produced by the Washington Ballet Company in 2012, and has appeared previously in Denver, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. It combines the memorable storybook characters of Alice, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Red Queen, the Cheshire Cat and others with Cirque du Soleil-style feats of strength and daring to tell this light-hearted adventure story.

Alice truly has no physical boundaries. Its choreography asks Milwaukee Ballet dancers to perform complex acrobatics and athleticism, and features staging that makes wild use of dimension and space. It’s a challenge that makes Pink excited, but cautious.

“I warned them at the beginning (of the season) when we did Dracula,” says Pink, “’This is waiting for you at the end of the season, Alice is waiting for you. Do not underestimate what you will need to do to get through this.’ It’s a monster of a show.

“In a piece like Alice, our job is to pass on the technique of survival: to know how and when to push, what are the ways in which you can keep yourself safe,” adds Pink. The endurance required of the company to pull off Alice will be unlike anything else of the season up to this point, although the Ballet’s previous contemporary program, Kaleidoscope Eyes, comes close. Pink believes the stamina his company has built up as a result of that diverse, three-work program will help them shoulder Alice.

Even still, Webre’s choreography will be a herculean challenge, Pink says. “Septime’s given some very complex partnering for the Cheshire Cat, for the Red Queen, and for the Caterpillar. In the midst of all this fast and furious movement you have to try and stay focused on the correct alignment and take all the tension out of it so you can make it effortless.”

In addition to this extraordinary dancing, Alice (in wonderland) features colorful and fanciful scenery, costumes and puppets. To Pink, these theatrical elements serve as the bridge between the classic text and the stage. “The costume designer had all of the materials screen-printed (with) quotations from the text,” says Pink, “which I think is a lovely idea because that’s almost like the pages coming to life.”

Some of the puppets and set pieces are so large, they seem to threaten both dancers and audience members alike. Pink says the jabberwocky puppet in particular is “spectacular,” a 25-foot-long silver, black and red creation with menacing frills, spikes and teeth that requires a team of eight to operate.

Alice’s composer, Matthew Pierce, will lend his musical expertise to the production, joining the chamber orchestra on violin. “The piece is incredibly tuneful,” describes Pink, “it’s got a lot of character and there’s something very filmic about it.”

This production will also mark the final appearance of several dancers who’ve helped Michael Pink make the Milwaukee Ballet so impressive in his time with the company. Dancers Susan Gartell (with the company for 13 years), Valerie Harmon (10 years) and Alexandre Ferreira (five years) will leave Milwaukee for new dance prospects after the final curtain, while leading artist Marc Petrocci will retire from dance after a career including 13 years with the Milwaukee Ballet. “This is such a wonderful way to celebrate their contributions as they turn they attention to their futures,” says Pink, “so we’ll be celebrating them throughout that weekend.”

Alice (in wonderland) runs May 19 to 22 at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $35 to $102, and can be purchased at 414-902-2103 or milwaukeeballet.org.

Misty Copeland named first black female principal at ABT

Misty Copeland, the Missouri-born dancer who has become a forceful voice for diversity in ballet, was named a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre on June 30 — the first African-American ballerina to achieve that status in the company’s 75-year history.

The company announced the promotion six days after Copeland made her New York debut in the role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake,” one of the most important roles in a ballerina’s repertoire. The emotional performance ended with Copeland being greeted onstage by trailblazing black ballerinas of earlier generations.

Copeland, 32, has become a celebrity in the past several years, making the cover of Time magazine as one of the most influential figures of 2015, and writing a best-selling memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” in which she recounted the challenges she faced on the road to her hard-won perch in ballet  and which has been optioned for a movie. She also was the subject of a documentary at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Copeland also was featured in a popular ad for Under Armour sportswear that shows her leaping and spinning in a studio, while a narrator recounts some of the negative feedback she received as a youngster, when she was told she had the wrong body for ballet and had started too late — at 13.

The dancer also has appeared as a guest host on the Fox show “So You Think You Can Dance” and was a presenter at this year’s Tony awards.

Copeland is the first black ballerina to be named principal at ABT, and the second black dancer overall. Desmond Richardson, a black male dancer, was a principal with the company in 1977-1978, and returned as a guest artist later.

Also named a principal dancer on June 30 was longtime soloist Stella Abrera.

Milwaukee Ballet’s ‘Giselle’ makes grand jeté into 1941

In 1841, composer Adolphe Adam wrote the music for Giselle, the consummate ballet of mid-19th-century Romanticism. The story of heartbreak, loss and forgiveness is timeless. A young peasant girl falls in love with a nobleman who encourages her affections but is betrothed to another. When she discovers this, she dies of heart failure, only to be resurrected by the Wilis, supernatural beings that dance men to death for betraying women. But in the end, Giselle forgives the nobleman, forcing him to live with his sins.

The theme was all in a day’s work for composers and choreographers of the day. But Milwaukee Ballet’s Michael Pink has something unique in mind. 

In his version of Giselle, set to be remounted more than 10 years after its North American premiere in 2004, Pink gives the ballet an update. Instead of setting the scene in 1841, he jumps ahead to 1941 — when nothing in Europe was as it had ever been before.

The new time period forces a shift in details. Giselle’s village becomes a ghetto and its inhabitants prisoners, while the visiting nobles are transformed into an occupying military force whose nationality is not explicitly named but isn’t tough to figure out. A mixed-gender corps of Wilis, who are already-murdered victims of that army, rise from the grave to avenge not only Giselle’s death but also their own.

The Wilis also represent Pink’s most significant change to the choreography. Pink says he has armed them with an array of modern dance movements to counter the classical ballet steps of the principals and bring some contemporary fire to the 170-year-old work.

“We began thinking about this when I was still at the Northern Ballet (in Leeds, U.K.),” Pink says. “This treatment makes the whole production more contemporary and relevant for our time, just as it had relevance to its original 19th-century audience.”

Pink is a stickler for making his productions more than eye candy, and on this ballet he worked with several collaborators to add gritty authenticity to the performance. With a score rearranged by Gavin Sutherland to give the performance more of “a Kurt Weill feel,” Pink set about trying to give the mood and atmosphere the right timbre for both the period and proceedings.

“In preparation I’ve been working with Jewish groups to find out what life was like in a ghetto,” Pink says. “It was very dark, but there also were moments of beauty.”

Pink tapped Jody Hirsh, director of education at Milwaukee’s Jewish Community Center, to get the period aspect of his production correct. He also turned to actor James Zager to be the show’s dramatic coach and help his dancers with character development.

“I wanted to make sure the performers were as competent as actors as they were as dancers,” Pink says.

Members of the occupying force will be uniformed but without the familiar Nazi insignia out of deference and respect to those who suffered under German occupation, according to Pink. But they will carry rifles, so there will be no doubt about their intentions.

“Nothing too graphic will happen, so there is no need for audience members to have any concerns,” Pink says. “But it will create a powerful image to which those audience members will relate.”

The other dramatic shift — the inclusion of Pink’s modern dance moves for the Wilis — makes an equally bold statement. Even though the ballet still has a historical context, the contemporary aspect is meant to remind audience members that ethnic cleansing continues in different corners of the world and it’s something no one can afford to ignore.

Pink says the full company is put to work in this production, with Luz San Miguel dancing the role of Giselle and David Hovhannisyan dancing the role of Albrecht, her lover. Patrick Howell performs the part of Hilarion, a rival for Giselle’s love, and Valerie Harmon will play Giselle’s mother. There also will be five street musicians performing as part of the cast, bringing a little lightness to the lives of those living in the ghetto.

Giselle could serve as a good point of entry for ballet newbies because of the way its treatment enables audience members to benefit from a distinct narrative, Pink says.

“I think because it’s telling a story that people can relate to the history of, this would provide easy access for those unfamiliar with ballet,” Pink says. “This one offers enough reality that people will understand it, and the juxtaposition of neoclassical to contemporary dance is very visually engaging.”

ON STAGE

The Milwaukee Ballet’s production of Giselle runs March 26-29 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. evenings and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more information, dial 414-273-7206 or visit milwaukeeballet.org.

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Milwaukee Ballet spurs ‘Genesis’ of three fascinating new works

There are no bad performances when Milwaukee Ballet stages a Genesis concert. Artistic director Michael Pink — entering his 12th year with the company, and the longest-serving AD in the Ballet’s 45-year history — is too good at what he does to let any but the best rising choreographers take the Pabst Theatre stage for this biennial international competition.

So this sixth competition’s choreographers are at the top of their game, and it shows. The three finalists, Garrett Smith, Matthew James Tusa and Riccardo De Nigris, are each given eight dancers from the Milwaukee Ballet corps and three weeks of rehearsal, from which they’re expected to derive a world premiere work. Those works then get judged by both a jury of guest artistic directors and each night’s audiences, with an ultimate winner selected at the end of the weekend (who will return next year with a new world premiere) along with an audience favorite.

It’s not a decision I envy that jury getting to make. Thursday night, each world premiere commanded the stage, and which ends up on top might depend more than anything on what the judges — or you in the audience — are looking for.

If high technique is the prime objective, Smith’s Mortal Form knocks its opponents out of the water. The least narrative-driven of the three, Mortal Form looks on the surface like a traditional ballet in modern dress: women wear tutus, but not elaborately large ones; men wear loose shirts and tight undergarments.

The dancers’ movements feel traditional too, at first, mannered gestures that hit the beats of the Haydn symphony backing them. It’s the sort of things you see when you close your eyes and think of ballet: dancers twirl about in sync, men lift women aloft with effortless grace. But paying attention, you see motions start to come with twitches, and their perfection begins to feel oppressive. A mid-dance segment where track lighting drops from the ceiling to bring a warm glow to the stage offers temporary respite, as dancers break away from the lineup to perform slower, more intimate movements in groups of two or three. But they’re always pulled back in, even as the corps collapses from weariness, forced even to surrender to their body’s limitations in sync.

It’s a challenging work at times, one that forces you to make your own connections, but it’s simply gorgeous throughout.

But if sheer ambition is to be given higher preference, it quickly falls behind Re:connection. Tusa’s multi-part sequence is the only one to promote one of its dancers above the rest of the group (Rachel Malehorn), but it’s not the solo work disguised as an ensemble piece I feared it’d be at the sight of its opening pose: seven dancers rhythmically moving around a fallen Malehorn, twitching as she tries to stand.

Instead, it’s a piece that goes through various permutations and configurations one after another, each offering a different example of disconnection. Malehorn bookends it as a tragically lonely figure, fighting against the malevolent stance of her fellow dancers at the beginning and standing alone among an empty stage at the end until a single male dancer rushes out and revitalizes her, with breathtaking eloquence.

She tags out earlier than I’d expected though, joining the corps for a series of rotating partnerships that show off the group’s talents. Romantic but tempestuous in nature (as the Rossini Overture to La Gazza Ladra behind them brilliantly accents), this middle section asks the dancers to display relationships that just don’t click. A man tries to dance with a woman, but she turns him all about and ends up riding him about the stage half on his back. Two couples pair up, but with longing looks at their opposites across the stage and a physical itch that they can’t seem to scratch before they plunge back into the back-and-forth. It’s often a disjointed piece, but it aims higher than its competition and often hits its mark.

In the end, though, it’s “Can I Say Something..??” that’s truly captured my heart, due to what seems like the best reason to pick a winner: for producing the most completely realized work.

It’s the sort of piece I’d normally disdain. Its four men are dressed as mimes and dance accordingly, with exaggerated, cartoonish motions. Its four women, in bright chromatic dresses, serve as love interests, flitting in and out of their lives as the mimes reach too late to embrace them.

Sure, it sounds like gimmickry, and it starts that way. But the dancing itself is brilliant enough to keep you watching, and as you do, “Can I Say Something..??” blossoms. The mimes’ shtick actually becomes humorous. Their pursuit of their loves switches from goofy to poignant. And what was going to be my only complaint in the end — that De Nigris’ perfect ending scene, where a mime finally gets a girl, wasn’t actually the last scene — is eradicated by his actual ending, a comic jolt that wraps up the piece better than romance ever could.

Ironically, De Nigris’ piece is the only one I didn’t find benefited from Jennifer Schriever’s otherwise astounding lighting design, very much a component of Mortal Form and Re:connection’s effectiveness as works. It’s a good thing his piece didn’t need the help.

There’s still time to weigh in yourself. The Milwaukee Ballet’s Genesis competition runs at the Pabst Theatre, 144 E. Wells St., through Feb. 8. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Winners will be announced early next week. Tickets range from $28 to $93 and can be purchased at milwaukeeballet.org or 414-902-2103.

Balletboyz


OK, maybe throwing a bunch of scantily clad men on stage and asking them to show off their bodies is a little gratuitous, but Balletboyz gets away with it because its all-male company is talented as well as attractive. Ballerinas may get most of the attention, but by putting male dancers on display, this 10-man British company shows off the masculine gender’s strength, grace and talent.

At the Overture Center, 201 State St., Madison. Tickets range from $25 to $45 and can be purchased at overturecenter.org or 608-258-4141.

7:30 p.m. on Tues., Oct 28

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In Skylight’s ‘Cinderella,’ couture makes the character

Fashion takes center stage in Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella).

Couture designer Cesar Galindo, whose CZAR line of dresses was warmly received earlier this month at New York Fashion Week, is the costumer responsible for this fashion-forward production of the most popular operatic rendition of the Cinderella myth. Galindo also has designed for Dolce & Gabbana and Calvin Klein.

A Houston native who began by designing corsets and period costumes for the Miami City Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera, Galindo is a personal friend of Skylight artistic director Viswa Subbaraman. The pair had wanted to work together for some time and La Cenerentola, recast as a 21st-century fairytale, was the perfect vehicle, Galindo says.

“The first thing that came to mind was the ball scene, which as a designer was an exciting thing for me,” Galindo notes. The resulting scene is largely inspired, he adds, by Truman Capote’s infamous Black and White Ball.

In 1966, when Capote was at the height of his fame and financial success following the publication of In Cold Blood, the out author finally was able to throw the type of party he felt would attract the socialites he was trying to court. The result was the Black and White Ball, a masquerade held at New York City’s Plaza Hotel in honor of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

The event, on which Capote spent an estimated $16,000 (more than $113,000 in today’s dollars), became the benchmark for New York social events for years to come. 

In La Cenerentola, the Capote-inspired ball scene becomes a dramatic monochromatic moment in a show Galindo otherwise describes as a Technicolor riot of excess. 

At the center of that excess are Clorinda (Erin Sura) and Tisbe (Kristen DiNinno), the two wicked stepsisters. They suffer from a hoarding disorder and an obsession with wearing the latest fashions — often all at once and regardless of pattern or color palette. They also smoke and drink gratuitously throughout the performance, which Galindo says bears testament to their moral weakness.

“We were very ‘AbFab’ when it came to the sisters,” says Galindo, referring to the 1990s BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous starring Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French. “This is, after all, an adult take on Cinderella.”

Rather than a wicked stepmother, Rossini’s version features Don Magnifico (Andy Pappas), a wicked stepfather whose wardrobe follows a level of excess as well, largely in how poorly it fits. He is rarely seen without a cigar in his mouth.

The wardrobes for the Cinderella character Angelina (Sishel Claverie) and the prince Don Ramiro (Luke Grooms) follow a deliberately different color palette, one that’s more tempered, clean and “preppie,” Galindo says. Their more conventional wardrobes, which reflect the characters’ virtue, are the opposite of the sisters’ gaudy couture.

“Angelina is a simple girl that we’ve dressed in a simple pastel palette that’s very Ralph Lauren,” Galindo says.

The home in which the characters interact contains many archive pieces from Galindo’s own studio. Ramshackle walls are styled to represent the characters’ moral decay. It’s a set deliberately at odds with the costumes, which are “very couture, glam and over the top,” the designer says.

Galindo may be better known for his dress designs than his costumes, but he says he enjoys theater work — even though it requires a more collaborative approach. “You have to learn how to work together,” he says. “After all, there is a show to be had and that’s everyone’s first priority.”

On stage

Skylight Music Theatre’s season-opening production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola runs Sept. 19-Oct. 5 in the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre. For more information visit skylightmusictheatre.org.

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Milwaukee, Madison companies embrace Cinderella’s feminine journey this season

Filmmaker Walt Disney was fond of rewriting literary history, making it more palatable for a post-World War II, white-bread America. The 1950 animated film version of Cinderella may have been his most questionable revision.

The popular folk tale can trace its roots back to the first century B.C. A young girl, fallen on hard times and pressed into demeaning servitude, perseveres against unspeakable odds. Through determination and virtue, she rises to a spectacular level of happiness. It’s a heroine’s journey that resonates in the hearts and minds of many cultures.

Then there’s Disney’s version, where all it takes is a little magic, a beautiful gown, a stylish coiffure and the requisite handsome prince to whisk Cinderella from a life of drudgery to a stunning palace that clearly never requires cleaning.

The magical scenario of salvation through a knight in shining armor enjoys enduring popularity. But isn’t there something inherently wrong with a myth that rewards a young woman’s obedience and beauty rather than her fortitude, strength and human right to happiness?

Milwaukee and Madison theatergoers will have a chance to untangle the taffeta of the Cinderella myth during a season that explores three distinct interpretations of the character.

Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre takes the lead on Sept. 19 with its season-opening production of Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, the most popular of several operatic versions of the Cinderella story. On March 28, Madison Ballet mounts the first of three performances of Cinderella. And on May 14, Milwaukee Ballet offers its version of the tale danced to Sergei Prokofiev’s famous score.

What’s behind the eternal appeal of this simple tale? That depends on the version being told, says Viswa Subbaraman, Skylight’s artistic director and music director for the Rossini opera.

“What I like about Rossini’s version is that Cinderella is a much stronger person than she is often portrayed,” says Subbaraman, who has scheduled an entire season of fairy tales and fantasies at the Skylight. “She’s a strong woman who knows herself, and it’s always driven me nuts that she wasn’t portrayed that way in the Disney version.”

Subbaraman has updated the 1817 opera to the present day and employed the talents of New York costume designer and personal friend Cesar Galindo to create a striking contrast between Angelina (the Cinderella character), her wicked stepsisters and, in this version, a wicked stepfather. In this production, clothes make the heroine — and the hero. Virtue and honor, in the guise of clean lines and a “preppie” look, triumph over evil, represented largely by gross consumption and loud, ill-fitting clothes.

Rossini’s Cinderella is diplomatic, honorable and, despite her servitude, the most self-realized of the opera’s characters. In the end she wins out largely because of her virtuous nature, Subbaraman says.

“The performance closes with a strong woman character singing a huge solo,” he says. “It was a pretty revolutionary opera for its day.”

Rossini’s interpretation of the Cinderella character is more in keeping with the traditional story than Disney’s, according to Robin Mello, professor of theater at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts. 

“It’s a story of a hard worker who endures an oppressive system and gets rewarded in the end,” says Mello, who examined the Cinderella myth as part of her doctoral dissertation. “That doesn’t often happen in real life, which makes Cinderella the perfect story of hope and essential for surviving the human condition.”

The Cinderella myth can also be seen as the female counterpart to the hero’s journey, which was explored in-depth by the late Joseph Campbell and is a prevalent theme in literature, theater and film. Heroes have to find the right path and maybe slay a dragon along the path to becoming fully realized. As a feminine equivalent to what is ultimately a masculine story, Cinderella must operate differently, Mello says.

“The masculine hero must undertake his journey to discover his identity,” Mello says. “Cinderella arrives with an identity and has to figure out what to do with what she’s got in order to succeed.”

The Cinderella myth’s strength lies in the incorporation of archetypes identified by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. The animus and anima — the male and female equivalent of the self — and the shadow, which represents the nature of evil, play critical roles in the tale, Mello says.

“The characters of the fairy godmother and wicked stepmother divide the divine into benevolence and evil,” she explains. “The only problem with leaning too heavily on Freud, Jung and Campbell is that they created this masculine way of looking at a story, but never accounted for the feminine experience.”

At its heart, Cinderella is a heroine’s story. The prince plays a critical role that goes beyond merely saving a damsel in distress, Mello says. The Greek concept of hiero gamos — “holy marriage” — is part of the myth. The concept refers to a critical union that’s created for the greater good. In many versions of the Cinderella myth, hiero gamos is attained through the union of Cinderella and her prince.

Using Cinderella’s virtue and triumph for the greater good of the community plays a role in many cultural retellings of the tale, Mello says. In the German version, she’s given land and makes it very prosperous. In the Chinese version, she dies but comes back as a benevolent being who helps her village and her people regain their harmony. 

“There are lots of different endings, but they all embrace the concept that all the upset and hatred and oppression has been made right,” Mello says. 

Milwaukee Ballet’s version of Cinderella next spring takes a more fanciful approach while still following earlier versions of the tale. Prokofiev’s score largely dictates the action, but the story has an intellectuality that appeals to the ballet’s artistic director Michael Pink, who created an original ballet around the narrative.

The ballet opens with Cinderella at the gravesite of her mother. A dove that appears in a tree over the grave, then reappears and drops autumn leaves on Cinderella when she most needs assistance, represents the mother’s spirit. 

While the dove adds a spiritual dimension to the story, the wicked stepsisters, danced by men in drag, add a raucous comic dimension to the performance.

“‘A cock in a frock’ is great English musical tradition,” says Pink, a himself a Brit who once played just such a role.

Even though there will be an ample supply of taffeta, Pink’s Cinderella also is about a young woman who comes into her own. Being saved by Prince Charming is not the lesson that audiences are meant to learn. Instead, Pink wants to present the message that kindness and virtue are the most effective ways to resolve conflict.

“Cinderella is a powerful creature because she has the skill to forgive, which triumphs over everyone else and gives her strength,” Pink says.

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‘Spring Series’ offers pure dance — without a narrative

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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Joffrey Ballet’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ takes novel approach

Take Romeo and Juliet, imagine them traveling in a time machine set for three distinctly different stops in the 20th century, and you’ll have some idea how Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet will bring the star-crossed lovers to the stage next spring.

The Joffrey, which first introduced U.S. audiences to Sergei Prokofiev’s now famous ballet during its 1984–85 season, plans to stage the U.S. premiere of Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor’s unorthodox interpretation of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet April 30–May 11. The production crosses three periods, beginning in 1930s Italy, which was then struggling under an economic depression and facing the rise of fascism.

“Pastor sets his production in Italy at the same time that Prokofiev wrote the original score – 1935,” says Ashley Wheater, Joffrey artistic director. “Perhaps the troubled time resonated with Prokofiev, but at the very least Pastor reminds us that the warring Capulets and Montagues live among us still, and that innocents are often caught in the crossfire.”

After Depression-era Italy, Pastor moves his action to less-specified location in the 1950s Cold War era and the 1990s, a time of ethnic cleansing. The connecting tissue is less the location and more the surrounding social struggles that the characters face.

“The change from period to period within the ballet is subtle,” Wheater says.  “The same dancers continue to play each role and the physical setting remains constant, but the world changes around them. It is as if the same plot unfolds regardless of time.”

It’s a level of poetic license that Wheater thinks is appropriate for the ballet — and even to Shakespeare’s intent.

“Pastor says, ‘We had the play in our hands, and the score . . .  but we started from zero, with no preconceptions. We thought it was our obligation to have an original view,’” Wheater explains. “He intends his choices to make the story more relevant.”

Despite the dramatic time shifts, the spirit of the production and its performance will not seem strange to ballet purists, who will appreciate the choreographer’s sensitivities, Wheater says.

“Despite his modern idiom, Krzysztof Pastor comes from a ballet tradition,” Wheater says. “His style of movement is fresh, but derived from a familiar syllabus.  I believe it is important for dancers to explore many different forms of movement.“

For more information, visit www.joffrey.com.