The Season Ahead: Milwaukee Ballet
Recently, a Huffington Post article by Carla Escoda praised the Milwaukee Ballet’s season opener, Romeo & Juliet. But first, Escoda relayed the arguable statement made by Jennifer Homans that ballet as an art form is essentially dead. This accusation first appeared in Homans’ history of ballet, Apollo’s Angels, and again in a New Republic Op-Ed entitled “The Crisis in Contemporary Ballet: How Emotion Left Dance.”
You can read for yourself in the HuffPo article that Milwaukee Ballet’s artistic director Michael Pink disagrees with the sentiment, and when I raised the issue again during a conversation about the Ballet’s upcoming season, he responded with an utterly flattering view of Milwaukee’s artistic achievements.
“Having worked with companies all over the world, I can say that the standard and quality of the arts in this city is exceptional,” said Pink. “In the heart of the country, where it’s being presented to all kinds of people, art is alive and well and it’s being incredibly creative. Problems arise when it’s institutionalized.”
Pink’s Romeo & Juliet premiered in 2000 as a commissioned piece for the Atlanta Ballet, and companies across the country have continued to perform it “exceedingly well,” according to Pink. PBS filmed and broadcast the performance during its last run at the Milwaukee Ballet in 2007.
The staying power of any great story comes from conflict and turmoil and severely human emotion. Romeo & Juliet can certainly claim all of those, but perhaps its most relatable facet is the ever-empathetic portrayal of young love.
“My real intention was to capture the speed and enthusiasm of youth,” said Pink, “and to realize that these are young, young people—just teenagers—that their behavior is reckless, they have no sense of consequences, they never think beyond the moment that they’re in. And why should they? So it moves with great speed, about the exploration and passion of first falling in love with someone, where there’s so much confusion and you experience fumbling and laughing and moments of playfulness.”
Of course the chemistry between dancers in these iconic roles has to be just right, and Pink is confident that the prominent Milwaukee Ballet partnership of Davit Hovhannisyan and Luz San Miguel, as well as the performance featuring rising stars Alexandre Ferreira and Nicole Teague, will deliver.
“In a company of this size there was a natural bringing together of certain couples,” said Pink. “[Hovhannisyan and San Miguel] have a real chemistry together, a real connection. They are so convincing. [Teague] has built a wonderful relationship with [Ferreira]. They look beautiful and work well together.”
“These are two of the great roles in ballet,” added Pink. “Many ballerinas feel that it’s a defining moment in their career. This is [Teague]’s debut lead role and she has been displaying the great ability to tell an emotional story without words.”
Prokofiev’s score in Romeo & Juliet bolsters the exceptional power of ballet’s wordless performance, conveying everything from light-hearted flirtation to feuding aggression to epic heartache.
“The impact can be different when you have music to support your storytelling,” said Pink. “Music that has great sweeping strings and a romantic sense makes a person feel different than something with a strong and rhythmical beat. The music written for this is one of the great scores for dance. Sublimely romantic and yet wonderfully aggressive for the scenes, it can also be comical. In turn it can drive the emotional intensity of the performance. It gives you the ability to connect in a completely different way and in some respects it translates easier to the audience. Speech can be confusing. Visual theater has a thrilling effect.”
Purchase tickets for Romeo & Juliet (likely to sell out) online or call (414) 902-2103. Read on for a breakdown of the Milwaukee Ballet’s 2013-14 season, with thoughts from artistic director Michael Pink:
Romeo & Juliet
Date: Oct. 31 – Nov. 3, 2013
Premise: The iconic love story as imagined by artistic director Michael Pink, invoking the confusion and heartache of falling deeply in love as a teenager.
Michael’s Thoughts: “I wanted to capture the backdrop of feuding families against this love story…Nonverbal theater can only be successful if it’s treated in the same way as a play, with integrity and continuity. In ballet you have to write the words in steps before you can present the piece, and this both inhibits and provides greater choices.”
Date: Dec. 14-27, 2013
Premise: Tchaikovsky’s familiar and magical score supports the fantastical world of Clara, Fritz and Marie in this always-anticipated Christmas season performance.
Michael’s Thoughts: “The Nutcracker offers the opportunity to share the wealth of roles, so that people can really see the company. It’s a place where I can give the next up-and-comers great work. It’s a fun production for the audience and a big dance challenge for the company; a great opportunity to shape the future of the Milwaukee Ballet.”
Date: Feb. 13-16, 2014
Premise: The winner of last season’s Genesis competition, Gabrielle Lamb, returns with a new work. Joining her to complete the series are acclaimed choreographer Luca Veggetti and Milwaukee Ballet resident choreographer Timothy O’Donnell.
Michael’s Thoughts: “It’s always an interesting opportunity when performing at the Pabst Theater to change the dynamic to a smaller audience, which is preferred most of the time. The size of the stage as well has restrictions that can help to create a different type of work. We tend to do a mixture of contemporary work here, with the goal of promoting these choreographers.”
Date: April 3-6, 2014
Premise: Another opportunity to utilize the historic Pabst Theater, the Spring Series welcomes choreographers Matthew Neenan and Amy Seiwert back to Milwaukee, with original premieres highlighting the Milwaukee Ballet dancers. Venezuelan choreographer Vicente Nebrada will present an interpretation of the traditional “Our Waltzes.”
Michael’s Thoughts: “We try to find pieces that will be new with some of the old tied in. ‘Our Waltzes’ is a work that has been around for many years and is just a pleasing work that still feels contemporary. [Neenan and Seiwert] have staged work for this company, and I like to build relationships with choreographers who come and do a great job and are a pleasure to work with. They’ll be creating original work for the company that plays to the individual strengths of some of our dancers.”
Date: May 15-18, 2014
Premise: The classic tale of Snow White with a dark, contemporary twist. Mirror Mirror is a world premiere from Michael Pink, featuring a new score from composer Philip Feeney (who gave the Milwaukee Ballet a hugely successful Peter Pan score).
Michael’s Thoughts: ”This piece has a wonderful score that will help me re-tell Snow White. It won’t be a literal telling as much as Peter Pan was; it’s going to be more of a visual feast because of the costuming and the setting. I think it will definitely appeal to all ages but I want something that will really explore a style of movements, with all the intrigue and elements of a good story. It will be, perhaps, a modern idiom that I hope will engage people.”