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Big Time Delivery: 'Spring Series' - 'The Last Glass'; 'Extremely Close' and 'Celts'

 Ryan Martin and Nicole Teague. Photo: Mark Frohna.
Last Thursday the dancers did an open dress rehearsal of the Spring Series.  What can I say about it but WOW!  I haven’t had the opportunity to watch much rehearsal so I went in not knowing anything about the pieces beyond one makes people cry, one has feathers and is gorgeous and one is Irish.  If you enjoyed the diversity and dynamism of Winter Series, you are going to adore the Spring Series.

Pay attention to the casting – not only are there some really nice surprises (for example Kara Bruzina and Isaac Sharratt in The Last Glass and our newest Company member Mengjun Chen in Extremely Close to name a few.)  If you want to see some serious stamina, watch Marc Petrocci, Rachel Malehorn, Courtney Kramer and Alexandre Ferreira throughout the entire show.  I had the pleasure of having brunch with Marc on Sunday and I asked him how difficult it was to do the Thursday run-through with a mere ten minutes in between each piece.

“That’s actually what I wanted,” he explained.  “When you’re doing the show, 20 minute intermissions never feel like that – they go so fast.  I’ll essentially have time to run upstairs to the dressing room, towel off, change costumes and go right into the next piece.”

Makes me tired just thinking about it!  If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know that Marc suffered a serious injury in January of 2011 and even though you saw him as Fritz in The Nutcracker and in Brock Clawson’s piece, Crossing Ashland, he is undoubtedly back and in perhaps finer form than ever before. There is an impressive, intelligent freedom and release in his dancing – it’s incredibly exciting.

All three pieces on the program have been done before on other companies (and here at Milwaukee Ballet in the case of Celts.) The show will open with Matthew Neenan’s The Last Glass with music by Beirut. The characters and situations will be recognizable to you – a widow, a recovering addict, an abusive relationship and a couple trying at another go. The music and the costumes are both relatable and twisted– enough to tell you that something isn’t quite right in this world. The band sounds like a group of street performers and the carnival-like feel to it foreshadows the darkside of this emotional playground.

I spoke with Kara Bruzina about the section she’s featured in, Sunday Smile, with David Hovhannisyan. What a lovely pairing and how nice to see Kara in this featured role.  She’s a widow – stuck between mourning and moving on. She says that she absolutely pulls from personal experience and people-watching to find the heartbreaking depth this part requires.  While it’s severe and heavy she says, “It kind of feels good actually, to pour all of your emotions into something.  It’s exhausting but cathartic.”  The same can be said for watching her – it is indeed cathartic, and so well done.

Our most recent addition to the Company is the beautifully lithe and technically commanding Mengjun Chen, who was just promoted into the Company from The Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program.  (Woohoo!)  You’ll see him in Extremely Close and Celts.  I spoke with him Sunday afternoon, after chatting about ABT’s Giselle, which the MBIIs and I took a field trip to see in Chicago on Saturday night. Of Alejandro Cerrudo’s Extremely Close, he said, “I love this piece. The choreography is so fluid and the movement and the music are meshed so well together.  I feel this is a pure contemporary piece – not just a contemporary work with ballet technique. It’s hard but it’s so beautiful!”

When I asked him how his first month in the Company was going he couldn’t have been more energized.  “This is one of my most important dreams come true!  I never thought this would happen.  I was told for so long when I was training all the reasons I couldn’t do this – I wasn’t tall enough or I didn’t have the right body.  So being here - this is for real!”  I was with Mengjun when he signed his contract (at Glorioso’s on Brady Street.  Of course, we took pictures.)  A lady sitting next to us commented, “Now, isn’t he the cutest?!”  He sure is!

The first two pieces pull you in forcefully and completely.  After the intensity of The Last Glass and the zen-like, ethereal beauty of Extremely Close, you’ll be glad to be able to let loose, tap your feet and celebrate the Irish when you see Lila York’s Celts.  I wanted to talk to Ryan Martin who dances the role of the Green Man – I didn’t know he had such a history with this ballet and this part in particular.

“I have a hidden demon with this ballet.  This is the show that broke my foot!”

Ryan was on tour in Portugal with Tulsa Ballet when this happened (during a show!)  I wondered if recreating this role freaked him out, given the injury.  “Actually, no.  It makes me more aware.  It gives me a second chance, some redemption.  It’s like I can control the ballet instead of letting it control me.  I mean that in a humble sense.  I can be cautious now while still giving it everything I’ve got.  This is an infectious piece – the music adds an extra adrenaline kick.  It’s one of my favorite ballets outside of pure classicism.  It’s so intricate and interesting.”

As you’ll see, this piece, which pays tribute to Irish dancing, is hard.  If this show doesn’t make you see what kind of shape these dancers are in, nothing will.  The fast pace and the level of physicality takes brains and brawn on the dancers’ part.  Barry Molina (in the corps, men’s dance and understudying Green Man) said he’s learned a lot from the “ballet-ified” Celtic dance.  The movement is so quick, he explained, “You have to put it in your muscle memory correctly.  You have to understand it intellectually it AND put it in your body the right way.”

Ryan agrees.  “The opening is draining for everyone, even the corps.  If the green guy doesn’t deliver, it doesn’t work.”

Then he knocked on wood.  Don’t worry, Ryan and the entire Company will absolutely deliver.  Big time.

Spring Series opens Thursday, March 29th and runs through April 1st at the Marcus Center.  Click here to buy your tickets online, or call The Ballet's Box Office at (414) 902-2103.

Alyson Chavez
Director of Education