Tom Strini
Milwaukee Ballet

The competing choreographers

Meet Lauren Edson, James Gregg and Gabrielle Lamb, finalists in the Milwaukee Ballet's biennial choreography contest.

By - Feb 5th, 2013 02:38 am
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James Gregg

The finalists in the Milwaukee Ballet’s biennial Genesis International Choreography Competition never seem to be all that competitive. This year’s trio – Lauren Edson, James Gregg and Gabrielle Lamb – held to precedent in that regard during a joint interview at the ballet’s studio last week.

Gregg, a member of Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal, heard about the competition from Edgar Zendejas, another Montreal dancer. Zendejas competed but did not win the Milwaukee Ballet competition in 2011. Nevertheless, he encouraged Gregg to apply and send video.

“Edgar told me about the wonderful experience he had here and the high energy in the company,” Gregg said.

“The most important thing is to be selected as a finalist,” Lamb said. “The biggest thing is all the time to create the work and all the studio space.”

“And the dancers,” Gregg added. “Usually, in a competition, you get thrown in with the younger dancers. Here, you’re with the real company, and they’re all so excited.”

All three finalists are well-traveled as both dancers and choreographers, and all three have been through a number of prior competitions.

“It’s a unique set-up here,” Edson said. “You create a new work. You compete after the work is complete. Many competitions are geared toward the process. This one is about the result.”

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Gabrielle Lamb

Edson, Gregg and Lamb, like Genesis choreographers before them, regard this as a luxurious, low-pressure setting. They have three weeks to create it. They each have four male and four female dancers. And they have the undivided attention of those dancers. In a typical mixed-repertoire concert, each dancer might appear in two or three different works. In Genesis, they concentrate on one work and one choreographer, so they can really dig into the style and thinking of that dancemaker.

This is also an eager, open company. I watched about three hours of rehearsal with Lamb and with Edson. The dancers were completely focused and keen to understand and help. No wonder these choreographers like coming to Milwaukee. The competition has no down side. Winning is gravy.

And just to be specific: The winner of Genesis, as determined by a panel of judges, receives $3,000 and is offered the chance to create an original piece for Milwaukee Ballet for the 2013-14 season. Second place receives $2,000; third place receives $1,000. The patrons vote the Audience Choice Award, of $500.

All three choreographers are still performing. Edson demonstrated her moves to the dancers with a glorious ease and fluidity and beautiful articulations through the body. She calls her piece I Hit the Ground.

“I want to balance pedestrian movement with very physical and athletic movement,” she said. “But it’s not just about the high leg. I want it to make sense. The idea of forgiveness is behind it, but I try not to be too literal. It’s hard to verbalize — this is a physical art. I just show the work. My husband sees all the layers and dimensions and talks about them.”

Gregg’s Biorhythm is about “the idea of choosing a different path for my life.”

“That’s what it’s about,” he said. “Everything comes from the inside out. It’s all about sensation and texture. My movement tends to be very athletic and down and dirty and raw. But this is ballet, so I’m starting more classical and getting more dirty. It’s deeply grounded with deep plies and cave-man movement. Lots of contractions. Lots of grrrr.”

The paintings of Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo were the starting point for Lamb’s Manifold.

“Well, I needed something to write in the proposal,” Lamb said, wryly.

But the art did have an influence. The piece is about “the artist’s life and experience.”

Artists tend to go their own ways, and Lamb is after that in her work with the dancers.

“I don’t want to spend a lot of time getting every one of them to dance alike,” she said. “I’m looking for ways to unlock each dancer and reveal the authentic way that person moves. For me, it’s all about angling to find that special thing they all have.”

In the last few competitions, the choreographers have come from Australia, Europe, Hong Kong. These finalists didn’t have to cross oceans.

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Lauren Edson

Gregg, an Oklahoma native, trained at Ballet Oklahoma, Cece Farha’s Range of Motion, Houston Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet Academy, Lou Conte Dance Studio and The Edge Performing Arts Center as a teen. At 17, he joined Chicago’s River North Dance Company. He rode out an injury by working non-dance jobs for a year in Los Angeles.

“I thought I was done,” he said. “But then I recovered and went back to River North and then to Montreal. I’m keeping the doors open, but Montreal is such a wonderful place.”

Lamb apprenticed one season with the Milwaukee Ballet in her youth. She’s been quite the gypsy, with stints in Prague, Helsinki and “a good long time” in Montreal. The Savannah, Ga., native left home as a teenager to study at the School of the Boston Ballet. She is now a freelance dancer and choreographer based in New York.

Edson, a native of Boise, Idaho, ranged from Portland, Ore., to the Juilliard School in New York in her dancing career. She danced for several years with Trey McIntyre’s company, which is based, improbably, in Boise. That took her home again, and there she remains, now as an independent dancer and choreographer.

They’re all happy to be in Milwaukee right now. In a few days, one will be just a little happier — the winner gets to come back.

Display photo on the landing pages: David Hovhanissyan and Rachel Malehorn. Jessica Kaminski photo for the Milwaukee Ballet.

Performance Dates & Venue
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7-10, at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St.  Call the Ballet’s box office, (414) 902-2103, for tickets, or visit the Milwaukee Ballet’s website.

Pints Before Pointe Opening Night Party
6 p.m. Doors Open in the Lobby Salon at the Intercontinental Hotel
6:30 p.m. Hear from the Choreographers
7 p.m. Be seated at The Pabst Theater
7:30 p.m. Curtain Time
NEW THIS YEAR: Hors d’ouevres courtesy of InterContinental Hotel

$35 includes ticket to the concert: RSVP to Leslie Rivers at 414 902-2102 or via e-mail, LRivers@milwaukeeballet.org.

This TCD video features Genesis rehearsal scenes. Also, Jenna Kashou, narrator for the Pfister Hotel and a staffer at 88.9 Radio Milwaukee, interviews dancers Valerie Harmon, Tim O’Donnell and Rachel Malehorn about their role in the creative process. Kashou will also be the DJ at the Pints Before Pointe party.

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