Style Classes in the Summer Intensive Program – Weeks 3 and 4
They’re still dancing… four weeks into it and the students are still downstairs in Studio A stomping, clapping, jumping, twirling, rolling and soaring! And it’s not all ballet either. One of the highlights of the Summer Intensive Program are the Style Classes – this summer, African, Modern, Spanish and Musical Theatre are featured each week giving the students a chance to learn new movement, hear new music and challenge their own limits as dancers. Ballet becomes incredibly consuming the more advanced a dancer gets – but in today’s world, the more dynamic a dancer is, the better off they’ll be. While we are a classical ballet company, as you witnessed last season, our repertoire ranges from the grand pas de deux of Cinderella or The Nutcracker to the physical prowess of Timothy O’Donnell’s choreography in Bolero where dancers wriggled, writhed and ran throughout the piece to flying and swordfighting in Michael Pink’s Peter Pan. A well-versed dancer who can move in all kinds of ways is going to be more ready for the diversity of repertoire needed in today’s companies.
In the first week, students got to let their hair down (literally), take their shoes off and dance to the fantastic drumming of Yaya Kambaye, led by Roxy Kess, both formerly Ko-Thi Dance Company here in Milwaukee. For more than 15 years, African dance has been part of our style class offerings because of this Milwaukee gem of a Company. In addition, Director of Milwaukee Ballet School Rolando Yanes brings in teachers from all over the country (and world!) to work in the program, and this year he reached into his past to bring in some of his most talented friends he danced with in Cuba. There is a decidedly Latin flair within this year's program which adds to the international cast of characters already part of Milwaukee Ballet. In addition to our own faculty (Michael Pink – England, Denis Malinkine – Russia, Nadia Thompson – Australia, Tatiana Jouravel – Ukraine, Luz San Miguel – Spain, Monica Isla – Cuba) the two teachers I watched last week really brought the spice into the studios: Victor Alexander (who taught modern and formerly danced with our own Monica Isla) and Rolando Pacheco (who taught Spanish and formerly danced with Director Rolando Yanes).
While a modern dance class may be familiar to older ballet students, every teacher is different. Victor has danced all over the world from Cuba to Europe and now in Chicago, and his contemporary style is all his own. The rhythmic pulse of the band Balkan Beat Box flowed out of the studio while the students worked on a lengthy combination that included extremely physical rolls on the floor and turning jumps. The level of difficulty for even our Level 5 dancers was visible as they struggled to be on the beat and to move in a way that looked less labored than it really was. As the groups of girls and boys switched off intermittently, Victor stopped the group to remind them that they needed to start to find a feeling within themselves to motivate the steps; to stop merely counting and just to dance! I have heard this frequently from Milwaukee Ballet School and Milwaukee Ballet II Director, Rolando Yanes, “Dance! Feel the passion in what you are doing!” When the steps and the technique are there, the dancing, true emotion-filled movement needs to take over. The head needs to allow the heart to be the leader. This is a struggle for younger students and you see that hesitation to mess up or fumble a step, their nervousness at working with a new teacher, not knowing what each class will bring is evident in their eyes. After many rounds of repetition Victor reminded them that in addition to their own personalities, they needed to remember that men and women dance differently – he didn’t want them to all be the same. He told them that he wanted to see strength and femininity, power and beauty. The guys seemed to grasp this instantly – their interpretation in their next time around was bigger and much more powerful. The girls too brought a softer but more focused feel when they danced again.
Spanish class, while totally different in style, brought up many of the same issues. I sat in the corner of Studio A watching Tech 1 & 2 take class with Rolando Pacheco. The younger ones (ages 12-14) are so fun to watch, especially when they are doing something totally new. Getting through this age is hard enough but trying to figure out your own coordination as you grow and then learn a new style of dance that requires, yes here it comes again – the passion! – takes a lot of work! Spanish class was so interesting to watch because of the methodical way in which Pacheco added movement on top of movement; arms first, then footwork, then clapping out the rhythms, breaking down the turns and then putting it all together. Both Modern and Spanish movement require that the dancers do a lot of letting go – having spent 10 years working in a ballet company, I’ve noticed this can be very hard for them. In ballet, students are taught to really contain themselves, to look the same, to move uniformly – in order to learn such difficult and disciplined technique, there is no room for interpretation when you are still a student. The art form itself can seem like a quiet one and Pacheco asked me this as he came over to start the music, “Are they always so quiet? They need to let go!” They were slowly getting into it – they really seemed to enjoy the stomping (in character shoes now - girls in small heeled shoes while most of the boys wore their jazz shoes which are like a flexible leather dress shoe). When I peeked in on the Level 5 students taking Spanish class on Friday I could see that they were using what they’d learned in Modern with Victor and bringing it into Spanish class. The characteristics you expect when you think of fiery Spanish dancing were there – tilted heads, chests thrust out, snappy turns and fast footwork. ¡Olé!
This week – yet another new genre: Musical Theatre! Don’t forget that Emergence is on Friday, July 30 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. In addition to all of the ballet, you’ll see levels 1 and 2 in a Spanish dance, levels 3 and 4 doing Musical Theatre and the Level 5 dancers in African. What a worldly education for these dancers, right here in Milwaukee.
Director of Education