“Art is at its best when it’s challenging,” claimed the ballet’s Artistic Director Michael Pink after Saturday night’s performance of Genesis at the Pabst Theater. The Milwaukee Ballet’s weekend production featured the three finalists from the International Choreographer’s Competition, which were chosen from over 30 entries worldwide. The results proved to be challenging for the audience and dancers, inasmuch as there was more dance than ballet, more bare bodies than costumes, and more stage smoke than scenery.
New Zealand’s Cameron McMillan presented “ESO,” which combined elements of robotics and dance that incorporated angular positions, lifts and arm movements against staccato measures of violin music. While immensely interesting and unconventional, the lyric qualities of ballet were missing as the dancers donned grey boy shorts, T-shirts, and camisoles for this contemporary composition often surrounded by smoke.
The last performance, “The Games We Play” by Australia’s Timothy O’Donnell, won first place in the competition, which Pink announced at the evening’s end. The female dancers en pointe, dressed with delicately covered arms and torsos but paired again with men in boy shorts, applied the movements of “ballet” to this often-frenetic choreography that may speak to a society with too little time for real relationships. O’Donnell revealed his piece represented people he knew within his life conceived into a story framework that helped create his original composition.
Awarding this last piece first place perhaps speaks to the fact that audiences appreciate seeing the stories in life expressed through the art of dance while enjoying the beauty of costumes and musical accompaniment that encompasses classical ballet elements. And while classical and contemporary dance must coexist to invest in the future of ballet, a clear understanding of those defining elements that make ballet unique from other dance forms helps distinguish ballet as a timeless art. A desire to accomplish this together with the quality of the entire company, which the Milwaukee Ballet proficiently showcased when they rose to the challenge of superbly performing these three selections, creates memorable evenings.
This will again be demonstrated for the recently announced 2009-2010 season when The Milwaukee Ballet returns to stories and favorite fairy tales that never grow old, including the world premiere of Peter Pan. Holding the promise of regal costumes and ballet choreography that provides family entertainment, these offerings may capture the magic for the future art enthusiast’s attention and interest, another challenge for all the arts in today’s culture.
Complete schedule and ticket information for the Milwaukee Ballet can be found at Footlights online.