Last Monday, our new group of dancers in the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II program reported for duty for the 2010-11 season. When class started at 9:00 a.m., 16 young dancers from around the globe were at the barre and ready to go in their formal ballet uniforms (black and pink for girls, black and white for boys.) Our crew actually numbers 19, but Bea from The Phillipines flew in on Monday morning – ordered by her doctor to wait a day to fly after getting her wisdom teeth removed; Stéphano is still in Brazil where he will dance in a show that will pay his way here and Evan, a Milwaukee Ballet School graduate, is performing in Swan Lake in Germany!
A two week head start on the Company gives the Milwaukee Ballet II (MBII) dancers a chance to acclimate themselves and get into shape as a group – and believe me, they are getting into shape. The class schedule has been rigorous – ballet class from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m., an hour for pointe class/men’s class and another hour of partnering. (The three boys who are here certainly got a workout without the other two to help partner 14 girls!) Director Rolando Yanes, Associate Director Mireille Favarel and principal teacher Karl vonRabenau spend the remainder of the day rehearsing some of the repertoire we’ll do throughout the season – right now La Vivandière, the Swan Lake pas de trois and the Diana and Acteon pas de deux. Going from one ballet maintenance class a day since the time the summer program let out to this schedule is hard on the body and you could see these tired little dancers dragging their ballet bags out of here by the day’s end.
Beyond continuing their strict training regiment, performing their own repertoire and dancing with the Company (this season in Esmeralda, The Nutcracker and Coppélia) the MBIIs are the stars of our Community Outreach Program. Education Assistant and Relevé Coordinator Lori Flanigan and I run programs that serve over 25,000 people a year – from kids to senior citizens, in libraries, businesses, nursing homes and elementary schools. The MBII dancers bring the ballet to life for audiences who don’t know anything about the art form and to those balletomanes who just can’t get enough tutus and tights. This week we wanted the MBIIs to get a sense of all the things their season would entail so we began our workshop training by discussing our outreach philosophy and by rehearsing the workshops themselves. On Tuesday, I got a call from the Aurora Zilber Family Hospice in Wauwatosa that suddenly made all this conceptual talk about the importance of outreach come to life.
The resident chaplain, Tamara, called on behalf of a patient named Robert. She explained how Robert used to dance and teach in Chicago and how he had expressed a wish to see ballet one last time. She was hoping that we could make this happen for him. When I went down to talk to the MBIIs as a group I had a pair of dancers in mind who could quickly put a pas de deux together they did many times last season – however, in this case, I wanted whoever would be performing to decide on their own to do it – this wasn’t going to be a typical outreach situation. Lucky for me, and really for Robert, Barry Molina and Erica Alvarado shot their hands up right away to perform the Satanella pas they did last year.
On Friday morning we drove out to the hospice. The staff showed us to the family room – a square space about 12’ by 12’, not really ideal for a Petipa pas de deux, but none of us cared. We met Robert and the sparkle in his eyes made anything else we might have worried about disappear. Barry and Erica are an adorable pair and Robert agreed. Their performance was beautiful and Robert gave them solo applause many times throughout the pas. A few other patients, staff and families circled the tiny floor that became an intimate stage. Afterwards there was quite a photo shoot (paparazzi I told Robert!) and we had a chance to chat further. Robert held my hand as he talked about his own modern dance training, how he has a room in his house dedicated to his favorite company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and how he especially loved the outreach residencies he used to at high schools. Was this kismet or what? Barry and Erica have a year of outreach under their belts and I couldn’t have been prouder as an education director – it didn’t matter what the floor was like or that there was a chandelier hanging down that they needed to watch for during their lifts – they wanted to dance for another dancer and they were exceptional.
I know it’s going to be a fantastic season with this group of young dancers – their hard work in the studio is already evident and this first outreach set the pace and the spirit for the year to come. We always tell our audiences that ballet is indeed alive and well and relevant in today’s world. This is so tangibly seen in everything the MBIIs do. They are young artists who come to work every day to pursue an incredibly difficult dream. From the steps they are learning in the studio to the beauty they gave to Robert, these dancers have been quite impressive. Inspiring stuff, all in a week’s work.