Tom Strini

Milwaukee Ballet’s competition champ returns

By - Feb 14th, 2012 08:44 pm
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A moment from Mauro de Candia’s “Something I Had in Mind.” Jessica Kaminski photo for the Milwaukee Ballet.

Mauro de Candia won more than $3,000 and a medal when he won the Milwaukee Ballet‘s Genesis International Choreography Competition a year ago. He won a return engagement to create a new piece on the company.

The time is now. We got together Tuesday at the MBC studio, an hour before one of de Candia’s last rehearsals with his 10 dancers.

“This year has been nice — productive,” said De Candia, 31. “I was inspired when I was here last year, and I am inspired to be back now. The year started well with the Milwaukee competition, and it ended well. In March I will move from Berlin to Osnabrück, to become the director of the ballet there.”

Like every German town of any size, Osnabrück has an opera house with an opera house, orchestra and ballet company. This picturesque university town, of 164,000, has a modest State Opera House. De Candia will have 10 staff dancers, a ballet master and a business manager.

“They saw the Cinderella, to the Prokofiev score, that I did in Augsburg and approached me in December,” de Candia said. “I wasn’t planning to pursue such a position, and I really had to think about it.”

De Candia, an entrepreneurial sort, has some ballet schools of his own in southern Italy, his home, and he is intent on keeping up his growing international career as a guest choreographer. The Osnabrück situation is flexible enough for that, with the added benefit of a base of operations and 10 hand-picked dancers.


Mauro de Candia. Uwe Lewandowski photo.

The Milwaukee connection has loomed large. His guest Prince Charming in the Augsburg Cinderella was none other than Patrick Howell, of the Milwaukee Ballet. And Augsburg will soon stage de Candia’s Something I Had in Mind, his winning competition entry.

“To win a competition in the U.S. opened new doors,” he said. “The judges were esteemed in the field, and the competition has a certain weight. It relates me to the U.S. market. I’m getting interest, I’ve been approached. The competition put a light on me.”

De Candia entered the competition in the first place only after studying the Milwaukee Ballet via the Internet and video. The company, more than the competition, sparked his interest.

“I don’t like to go to a company just to make a living,” he said. “I like to go where I think I’ll grow artistically.”

He found that working with the Milwaukee dancers last year. Five of the 10 in his new piece danced for him last year.

“They all saw my piece,” de Candia said. “It felt as if we had all worked together maybe a month ago. It went fast. They are very open. Because we know each other, we can explore more, we can take a further step.”

The first half of Something I Had in Mind was very funny, in a clever, abstract way. (Here’s how I described it at the time.) This time around, with Purple Fools, De Candia intends to keep Milwaukee not only laughing, but also thinking. The idea of the music is already funny: Offenbach, Ponchielli and J. Strauss Jr., in samba and tango arrangements, and bits of Shostakovich‘s Jazz Suite. At 27 minutes, this is a substantial dance.

“People will recognize my sense of humor,” he said, with a little smile. “A dance can be funny and look strange but still be beautiful.

“The theater itself is strange, ballet is strange. I’m turning up the volume to make it look like a circus, but it has a message under it. I like to go to extremes, and in those extremes we can see how, in life, a misplaced gesture can… ”

De Candia’s English is good, but it is his third language, after Italian and German. And he was trying to express some subtle ideas. When he trailed off the sentence above, he filled in the blank with a gesture and expression of a persona taken aback. His point was that the wrong gesture can have a startling effect.

I ran a paraphrase along these lines by him to see if I understood his point, and he approved: In the theater, we put on make-up and costumes and become someone else. But we do that in life, too. We take on a different personality with, say, our boss than with our wife. Purple Fools draws its humor and syntax from parsing out the layers of artificiality on stage and in life. They are so commonplace that they become invisible to us; when they become visible in, say, a dance, we laugh at the comic ironies.

“It’s a really subtle thing, but people can read that,” de Candia said. “The duet near the end is about who’s really leading and really who’s following, and who’s getting in the last word. If you put that in an ironical frame, it’s funny — but the message is not silly.”


Choreographer Brock Clawson

Choreographer Petr Zahradnicek

Choreographer Petr Zahradnicek

This Milwaukee Ballet program also offers premieres by the company’s own Petr Zahradnicek (Autumn Leaves, inspired by the poetry of Paul Verlaine and accompanied by the Florentine Opera’s Studio Artists and pianist Steven Ayers); and by Chicagoan Brock Clawson (Crossing Ashland).

Meet all the artists at the Pints Before Pointes promotion before opening night. Artworks by the finalists for the Pfister Hotel Artist in Residence for 2012, sketched during ballet rehearsals, will also be on view at that promotion.

Performance Info: The company will dance at the Pabst Theatre, 144 E. Wells St. The performance schedule is a little different that usual for the ballet: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16-19. For tickets, visit the MBC website, call the company’s ticket line, 414 902-2103.

Display picture on the A&C page: Sam Neale and Valerie Harmon in Mauro de Candia’s Something I Had in Mind, Feb. 2011. Milwaukee Ballet photo by Jessica Kaminski.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Dance

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