Let Us Now Praise Young Creators

Milwaukee Ballet partners young choreographers and dancers with local musicians.

By - Feb 5th, 2018 05:35 pm
"MXE Milwaukee Mixed," Feb 8 to 11 at The Pabst. Photo by Nathaniel Davauer/Milwaukee Ballet.

“MXE Milwaukee Mixed,” Feb 8 to 11 at The Pabst. Photo by Nathaniel Davauer/Milwaukee Ballet.

In a rather ambitious coupling, Milwaukee Ballet will team up five young choreographers with contemporary local musicians to create a unique evening of contemporary dance. The concert, which aims to create a potent  mix of kinetic energy, exhilarating music, and athletic dance, is entitled “MXE Milwaukee Mixed,” and will be staged at the Pabst Theater on Thursday through Sunday, February 8-11.

The Ballet’s artistic director Michael Pink said he’s energized by the collaborative spirit of this show. “It’s workable because it’s in bite-sized chunks,” he says. “It hasn’t been a headache as each performance is only about 10-12 minutes in length. They incorporate a lot of video work. The idea is to create a greater appreciation for the art form.”

The Ballet typically performs at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall, but its annual Pabst show has long been associated with the creation of new work, pushing artistic boundaries and a more intimate feeling. Pink likes the Pabst as a venue and says the acoustics are very good for this type of show. “We’re doing well with ticket sales,” he notes. “The Pabst is built on a strong following. I think audiences know they are going to get solid and intriguing art.”

Pink says he’s never seen this type of collaboration elsewhere. “Dance ensembles around the world do this type of thing but I’ve never seen it with a ballet company. I think it’s a great way for us to capitalize on the talent in the city. The dancers have worked collaboratively with the musicians and everyone has made a lot of new friends. There’s an air of excitement. A lot of the musical artists never envisioned their work being involved with a ballet. It’s good exposure for them.

As for Pink’s role, he says: “I’m totally hands-off. What I will do is offer a few comments for structure, let them know things they might want to think about. At times I’d suggest how something could be done differently. Sometimes they took my advice, sometimes they didn’t.”

Each choreographer selected a local artist to provide the soundtrack for their new ballet. Garrett Glassman chose string quartet Tontine Ensemble, Isaac Sharratt opted for the Americana sounds of The Vitrolum Republic, Nicole Teague-Howell chose electronica artist LUXI, and Petr Zahradnícek selected jazz ensemble the Bonifas Electric Band featuring Brian Lynch. O’Donnell chose a slightly different path, partnering with local spoken word artist Dasha Kelly.

Serving as the Milwaukee Ballet’s resident choreographers, O’Donnell and  Zahradnícek are adding a new work to their repertoire, while company dancers Glassman, Sharratt, and Teague-Howell will make their choreographic debut on the Ballet’s main stage. Four of the choreographers are resident dancers who will perform in the pieces, though not their own. “They will dance in each other’s project,” Pink notes.

While being a dancer is a necessary first step to becoming a choreographer, it doesn’t guarantee success.  “A lot of the hugely successful choreographers were not necessarily big star dancers,” Pink says. “It’s all in the experience. I think you can see early on when dancers have the ability to teach and choreograph.”

Pink said he had conversations with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s Jordan Lee, who is also his neighbor, and Lee helped them find musicians for the show. “He drew up a list of local artists. Some of the dancers were turned on by some of the artists suggested. Others went in their own direction in terms of influences. Lee says he’s enjoyed collaborating on a production that puts Milwaukee artists in the forefront.

Pink said there are no front curtains to the show. “You’ll see dancers warming up, chatting, things they normally do before a performance. Then they’ll slip into scenes with no boundaries.”

Breaking boundaries is nothing new for Pink.

“Some artistic directors are reluctant to change,” he notes. “They’re essentially institutional caretakers. That’s not what we are. You can only see Swan Lake so many times. “We keep things fresh and alive for our dancers. People get tired of seeing a carbon copy.”

Ultimately the goal is aesthetic beauty, he says, “the feeling you get when you walk into a garden and you say, ‘look at that flower.’ I’m no lover of American football, but there’s a certain grace to it. When the ball is thrown and you see a player run it down, dive for the ball then drop it over the goal line, it’s dramatic. Similar to what we do.”

Pink said this project has renewed his faith in dancing: “The best part is to see our dancers leap into choreography. It’s very gratifying and creates great opportunities. I think all this ties in with my belief that the identity of this company rests within its artists.”

Pink says the process of creating a season starts early on; the company’s summer programs allow people to show their talents early on. A lot of the dancers in the summer will eventually go on to teach. “As a company, we’re always looking for creative works,” he notes. “We’re always interested in exploring, adding to the mix. With Milwaukee Ballet II, our second company, we highlight the next generation of dancers. They represent the company in the community and have dedicated a year of their lives to ballet, training and performance.”

Glassman, Sharratt and Teague-Howell Nicole are all graduates of the Milwaukee Ballet II program. “Their success is a testament to the comprehensive training and opportunities our dancers receive both in the program, and in the Company,” Pink says. “I look forward to watching them further define their artistry as part of this experience.”

To order tickets, call 414-902-2103 or visit The 2017-18 season is presented by Donna and Donald Baumgartner, with operational support from the United Performing Arts Fund.

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