Flying high, keeping the kids up late
How could it miss?
Flying, swordplay, kids, pirates… the Milwaukee Ballet’s Peter Pan has it all, and artistic director Michael Pink and his dancers make the most of it.
The flying sequences are inventive and well-integrated with the plot and the dancing. They don’t read as tricks, but as part of the story. Marc Petrocci, as Pan, looks especially comfortable in the air. He defines clear shapes and creates the illusion of generating thrust. He rarely appears to be yanked around by cables, as of course he is.
Petrocci is just as much Peter Pan when his feet are on the ground. He’s an excellent Pan for all the same things that made him an excellent Puck in Bruce Wells’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Petrocci is wonderfully gymnastic. His springy legs, musical flex through his torso, speed and quickness and ability to arrest that speed on a dime make him look like some sort of otherworldly sprite. He is a witty dancer, too, great with a facial take and the ability to appear comically overbalanced when in fact he is totally under control.
Michael Linsmeier will dance the title role Friday and Sunday. Thursday, he portrayed Pan’s shadow and matched his style exactly, which suggests that fans who miss Petrocci won’t be cheated.
Clever staging abounds in this show, due to Rick Graham’s scenic design and what Pink did with it. The pirate ship comes apart in sections to show what’s going on below decks. Beautiful cutouts of London landmarks pass beneath Pan and the Darling siblings as they fly to Neverland. The Crocodile with the ticking clock is a coup d’theater that I won’t give away here. And Pink ingeniously involved the many kids in the audience in reviving the poisoned Tinkerbell, and that got Uihlein Hall rocking.
He did not neglect the dancing. A troupe of fetching female Indian braves battle the pirates in intricate, amusing figure dances. Hook, brilliantly portrayed by Patrick Howell, shows a fondness for dainty Baroque steps. Pink gave Luz San Miguel’s Tinkerbell flurry after flurry of speedy steps, and she sparkled.
Philip Feeney’s music, commissioned for the ballet, is bright and smart and specific in the way of John Williams’ movie scores. It fit the dramatic moments; when Hook danced his Baroque numbers, for example, he did it to harpsichord, which sounds nowhere else in the piece. This score is very good for dancing, with plenty of impetus in spring-loaded syncopation. The dancers responded to it physically. The music, which I think would be uninteresting on its own, energizes the ballet. The Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, under Pasquale Laurino, played it remarkably well.
Pink squeezed a lot of sumptuousness out of a modest budget. Peter Pan looks like a million bucks, but cost a fraction of that. David Grill’s beautiful and richly varied lighting helps a lot, as do Judanna Lynn’s costumes. I liked the daring sexiness Lynn brought to the Indian maids, who are to Peter Pan what the Arabian is to The Nutcracker.
Like The Nutcracker, Peter Pan ought to earn significant revenue for the Milwaukee Ballet over the years. The opening night crowd went crazy for it. It’s a smart, funny, well-crafted crowd pleaser.
Peter Pan runs through Sunday at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. All performances are sold out.
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