Three Choreographers, three stories
The Milwaukee Ballet will perform three dances Thursday through Sunday (March 31-April 3) by three choreographers, each with a story to tell. Petr Zahradnìcek, Diane Coburn Bruning and Darrell Grand Moultrie came into the company’s studio early one day, to share their stories with TCD.
Zahradnìcek we know, as he has been a Milwaukee Ballet dancer since 2003 and an occasional choreographer for the Milwaukee Ballet, the ballet’s school and MBII, the apprentice company.
This weekend, MBC will dance Zahradnìcek’s Broad Waters. Ballet Memphis commissioned it and premiered it last year. Memphis is a Mississippi River town, but that doesn’t explain the title. Memphis artistic director Dorothy Gunther Pugh charged Zahradnìcek with making a dance to choral music. Henryk Gorecki’s Szeroka Woda. appealed to Zahradnìcek. Translation: Broad Waters. It’s as simple as that. The 17-minute dance involves a dozen dancers and focuses on three women. The river is of billowing blue silk.
“The women represent different aspects of the people’s relationship to the river,” Zahradnìcek said. “The first one sees its harsh reality, the flooding, the power. The second one is connected to the past, to the community that has lived there for generations. The third one looks to the future, in a wedding scene that represents the circle of life.”
Zahradnìcek has turned a critical eye toward his dance and has revised it considerably since Memphis. Coburn Bruning tweaked her 2002 Ramblin’ Suite, too, for this Milwaukee Ballet revival.
“It’s fun to be back in the studio with it after eight years,” she said.
Some of the revisions have to do with the music, by the Red Clay Ramblers. The band played on stage when the Atlanta Ballet premiered Ramblin’ Suite at its summer venue in Haywood County, North Carolina. The Ramblers won’t play live in Milwaukee, so Coburn Bruning had to trim a pair of sections that involved the band visually.
Atlanta Ballet’s John McFall commissioned Coburn Bruning to make the piece, for six men and seven women, to celebrate AB’s 25th Carolina summer. He wanted some sort of Carolina or Appalachian theme.
“I had to ask what he wanted with a damned Yankee from New York to make a piece about Haywood County, but that’s what he wanted,” she said. “So I went down there and spent time with Joe Sam Queen, a state senator who knew everyone. We hung out with musicians and dancers who danced in sawdust on the street.”
Coburn Bruning had heard the Red Clay Ramblers, a quirky North Carolina band, perform incidental music for Sam Shepard’s Full Moon in New York. The Ramblers not only play traditional back-country music, they also dream up such sophisticated confections as Literary Giant, about writer Thomas Wolfe, and Merchants’ Lunch.
The choreographer, who is artistic director of Chamber Dance Project in New York, described her piece as “a confluence of square-dance elements and stylistic borrowings.”
“It’s kind of folksy, mostly a lighter work,” she said. “The finale is a contemporary hoe-down.”
Moultrie staged Vital Sensations, co-commissioned by Colorado and MBC, in Milwaukee in 2006. He returns with Frequencies Lit, for seven men and seven women, to music by guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela.
“It’s just great music,” Moultrie said. “And it’s just driving, physical dance, pure dance. It’s about the dancers’ feeling as they do it, and about the transfer of that energy to the audience.”
Moultrie, a versatile dancer-choreographer, appeared on Broadway in the original cast of Billy Elliot. He creates for both modern dance and ballet companies, and he’s much in demand as a guest teacher. He got his start in New York PS 144 in Harlem, where he grew up.
“We put on very elaborate musical productions there,” Moultrie said. “Gwendolyn McLoud was the driving force. She told me that if I kept my grades up, she would pay for anything I did in the arts. And she did.”
Moultrie sang in the Boys Choir of Harlem, then entered LaGuardia High School of the Arts, another New York public school, as a singer in the opera program. He switched to dance and graduated in what has become his profession.
“All my friends were going to Juilliard,” he said. “But I felt like I was a year behind and wasn’t ready. I was a realist. So I went to Towson State, in Maryland, and went to the Baltimore High School of the Arts to take dance and to prepare. Then I went to Juilliard.”
There, Ben Harkarvey recognized Moultrie’s talent and set about to nurture it. He eventually gave Moultrie the chance to create dances for major student showcase concerts.
“The thing about being in New York at Juilliard is that that everyone in the business comes to the shows,” he said.
That led to a commission, which the Times happened to catch, and Moultrie was off and running. But it all began at PS 144, with Gwendolyn McLoud.
“That,” Moultrie said, “is why I’m a big believer in the arts in the public schools.”
The Milwaukee Ballet will present this mix-rep program at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. Tickets are $25-$89 at the Milwaukee Ballet website and at its ticket line, 414 902-2103.