Tom Strini

Present Music (Kevin Stalheim), present dance (Tim O’Donnell)

Present Music, the Milwaukee Ballet, UWM Dance Department get together for a big concert Friday.

By - Oct 25th, 2012 09:00 am
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Kevin Stalheim. Present Music photo by Joo Photography.

Present Music concerts often have many moving parts. Boats on the Milwaukee River in the outdoor portion of the 2011-12 season opener, for example. Friday’s concert, called Falling, will take place entirely on dry land within the UWM Zelazo Center’s Bader Hall. But it’s still pretty complicated.

It began when Simone Ferro, of UWM’s dance faculty, proposed a 15-minute work with Present Music, which would involve dancers from the Milwaukee Ballet Company. Present Music’s artistic director, Kevin Stalheim, thought: Well, as long as MBC’s involved, why not do more? Well, maybe there was a good reason.

“The world of dance overtook me,” Stalheim said, in an interview Tuesday night. “The process can be a little messy sometimes. But you just go with the flow. I’m fine with it.”

Present Music ended up with a concert involving choreographers Ferro and Dani Kuepper, of UWM (Kuepper is also AD of Danceworks), and Petr Zahradnícek and Tim O’Donnell from the Milwaukee Ballet. Zahradnícek is making a piece for UWM dance students. The rest are working with ballet company dancers.

Now, imagine Stalheim’s task: Find music to make all the choreographers happy that still fits withing the instrumentation and numbers of musicians that Present Music can manage. Furthermore, this is a new-music organization; the audience doesn’t come to hear Mozart. And Ferro gave the whole evening a theme and a title: Falling.

“Think of something architectural, in disintegration and reconstruction — that’s all she told me,” Stalheim said. “So I thought of Christopher Cerrone‘s The Night Mare, which begins with a big crash. After tons of choices, she went with that, but without the crash.”That piece will segue into Zaka, by Jennifer Higdon, which accompanies the bulk of the dance. Ferro also has an older work on the program, set to Kevin Volans’ String Quartet No. 6.

Zahradnícek chose Nico Muhly‘s Honest Music and Quiet Music.


Timothy O’Donnell. Photo credit: Jessica Kaminski, for the Milwaukee Ballet.

Kuepper went with three movements Spring, Summer and Fall, from Elena Kats-Chernin’s Seasons, which will premiere on this program. Stalheim and Danceworks have collaborated many times over the years, and Staleheim and Kuepper work well together. They have already talked through the whole score together.

Not so with the other choreographers. Also, keep in mind that all of this required a good deal of negotiation, rounds of pieces offered and rejected, parts ordered, rights secured, musicians hired, and so on. On top of everything else, the Milwaukee Ballet choreographers and dancers faced the all-hands on deck first run of La Boheme, by artistic director Michael Pink, Oct. 18-21. O’Donnell danced the prominent role of Marcello.

“So I haven’t even met Tim O’Donnell in person, and I haven’t yet seen any Milwaukee Ballet dancers,” Stalheim said. “I would like a little more give and take, but we’re rolling with it.”

O’Donnell was the toughest nut to crack, musically. After many tries, Stalheim ran Kats-Chernin’s Winter up the flagpole and got a welcome salute from the choreographer.

“Kevin sent me a lot of selections,” O’Donnell said Wednesday morning. “I was in a bit of a panic. Then I sent him some music I like, to give him an idea. He came back with Winter.

If O’Donnell’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he won the Milwaukee Ballet’s Genesis International Choreography Competition in 2oo9, with The Games We Play. Part of winning was returning in 2010 to create a new piece, a very good one called Bolero. During that time, he commuted from Australia, his home country, where his career was humming along. Last year, he was in Montgomery, Alabama, staging Games We Play.  He’d had great times in Milwaukee, and made a side trip here.

“I took company class,” O’Donnell said. “After class, I told Michael (Pink) I’d really like to work here. He said OK.”

Well, that was easy. But I can see why Pink hired him on the spot. O’Donnell has already given MBC two excellent dances, and as it turns out he’s a brilliant dancer and sensitive actor himself. He was splendid in La Boheme, his first appearances here.

“I’d been here in the dead of winter and loved Milwaukee then,” he said. “To be here now, when the weather’s gorgeous, is even better.”

O’Donnell has made a nine-minute gloss on Swan Lake for Present Music. Two women play the Odette and Odile opposite their Prince. The music spoke to him that way, and O’Donnell thought it a good fit, as the Milwaukee Ballet will do Swan Lake this season.

“I thought it fit the Falling theme,” he said. “Odette falls for the Prince, the Prince Falls for Odile, Odette and the Prince fall to their deaths.”

O’Donnell said that he never puts women en pointe, but has for this piece. “It employs far more classical technique than I usually use. I started out thinking it would be an abstraction, but now as we’re getting closer, have the steps set and start working on performance values, it might become more narrative than I planned. That’s the thing about dance — it’s an artist working on other artists. They have their interpretations. The piece can take on a life of its own.”

Dance people can be a little unpredictable. Just ask Kevin Stalheim.

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26-27, in the Helene Zelazo Center for the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2219 E. Kenwood Blvd. Tickets are on sale at the UWM Peck School of the Arts box office, 414 228-4308, and online.

Falling is a UWM Year of the Arts event, celebrating 50 years of the Peck School of the Arts.

Get more out of TCD. Visit our User Guide/FAQ. And for a last-in, first-out menu of stories by Tom Strini, click on the red byline at the top of the story.






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