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Cinnamon Rolls and The Van of Silence: MBIIs Share Memories before Graduation

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Here we are again, in the midst of Spirit Week for the dancers of The Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program (MBIIs) – preparing for our Graduation Celebration on Friday.  It does feel a bit like high school, in a good way. Parents are coming into town, the dancers are packing for the move home is starting to happen, sentimental videos and photos are popping up on Facebook with a higher frequency than usual.  At the end of ballet class today, principal faculty member, Karl von Rabenau, thanked the MBIIs for all their hard work and gave them some good advice, “Don’t forget this year.  It may very well be the hardest year you’ll ever have in your career.  Draw on it and learn from it.”  Then he had them line up from red to white (it was Rainbow Day) to take an adorable group photo before they scattered into the dressing rooms to prep for a run-through of the “Grad Show”.

I wanted them to share a memory of their year here in MBII for this week’s blog.  When I asked them that, they all got very quiet and some just started laughing.  ThrillerBoth are good signs – it means there have been good times, and they’ve been through a lot together.  It’s been full of so many things: our Main Stage show at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center and the diverse studio shows on their own turf here at the Jodi Peck Center. There was The Nutcracker and present exchanges, a field trip to see Flamenco Vivo perform and a surprise party for Mengjun Chen. You can’t forget the month long tour of Billy’s Dancing Dairy Farm that covered 500 miles or the Alvin Ailey II master class. Peter Pan was an adventure, pulling ropes, being ninjas, Lost Boys and Braves. There were countless outreaches and coffees at Alterra afterwards…  8 boys, 10 girls; 12 of them lived in the UWM dorms and had regular cookie nights and kitchen dance parties, 7 of them are from other countries including Australia, Brazil, China, France, Japan and The Philippines, 3 of them will officially graduate, 3 will return, one was promoted into the Company (Mengjun Chen) and all of them have made impressive strides on their own paths toward reaching their goals.  Here’s what they shared…

True to form, Parker Brasser-Vos is always articulate.  Here’s what he shared:  “Collaborating with Thom (Dancy) to perform as the element ‘Earth’ in Apocalypto, The Ball 2012, was a highlight. The challenging men’s work, partnering another male dancer and high energy environment that went with the theme gave us a chance to express a different side of our dancing.  Also, I’m so excited about the Grad Show. We get the opportunity to push the professional rep and be coached to do the pieces well. We’re driven to reach excellency very early.” Well said, Parker!  He’ll be back in MBII next year with us to continue on his path toward excellence.

Michael Agudelo, one of our cute and charming Billy McMichaels this season, said he “loved the ‘Billy Farm’ tour!” Michael will join Ballet Minnesota in 2012-13.

Rie Aoki, who is going to Colombia Classical Ballet next season, was a fierce Esmeralda during our MBII rep shows this season, no matter the venue or the floor – she delivered!  Her memory?  “Dancing Snow [from The Nutcracker] 18 times!!!”

Thom Dancy might have the worst senioritis of all, but it’s okay.  Thom had a stellar year, setting an incredible original work on the MBIIs called Not Afraid of Inconvenience.  He “fondly” remembers “driving to Fond du Lac… when I was supposed to be in Sheboygan for a Dairy Farm show.” Well, perhaps driving isn’t his forte. You can see his original dance project in action this summer, NomadicLIMBS and onstage at Minnesota Dance Theatre in the fall.

Alaina Keller, a graduate of Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, treasures “becoming such good friends with people this year!”  She deserves a shout out for her lovely work in Brent Whitney’s Darkest Before.

Sam Neale, who is heading to Minnesota Ballet next season said that he appreciated “all the great opportunities to perform this year… cause that’s what we live for!” Sam is a shining example of how far the MBII program can push and take a dancer – we wish him all the best!

Emily Reed, joining Minnesota Ballet as well, loved “getting to perform with the Company.”  Emily is an incredible dancer – we’ll miss her commitment, talent and leadership.

Asami Takahashi and Vanessa Caldas-Vieira both loved reminiscing about our Thriller Flash Mob – a promotion we did for Dracula.  The MBIIs performed Michael Jackson’s classic at The Ale House, on the street in the Third Ward and in the lobby at the Intercontinental Hotel to big crowds dressed in vampire chic.  Asami is returning to Japan this summer and Vanessa is doing three summer programs in San Diego, Oklahoma City and Montgomery.

Kevin Hamilton (one of my best helpers and co-pilots in the passenger van this year), will return to MBII in the fall.  He liked “getting closer to people from all over the world.” He lived in the most international room this year with Remi Lartigue (from France) and Mengjun Chen (from China) at the UWM dorms this year.

Ali Lake “liked driving in the van while singing along to Connor and Michael’s songs.”  The van, or “Van of Silence” (Nicole Larson’s favorite memory) was our trusty mode of transportation to all of our school shows.  Check out Connor and Michael’s band Pitcat… very entertaining stuff!  Ali will be a trainee at Sarasota Ballet next season and Nicole is headed to Ballet San Jose.

Lauren Treat, who got a great mention in The Shepherd Express for her incredible portrayal of Nana in Peter Pan, Passaid, “I appreciated that MBII had their own rep as well as Company rep so we were never left without something to do.” Lauren will join her twin sister Colby at Carolina Ballet in the fall.

Chiharu Yamamoto will join MBII grads Stéphano Candreva and Erica Alvarado at City Ballet of San Diego next year. She loved “everything we worked on as a group – like Dairy Farm and our MBII shows.” We will miss Chiharu and her gorgeous dancing.

Bea Castañeda loved “lunches in the lounge.” She can have more of them since she’ll be back here in MBII in 2012-13 – such a treat for us!

As for Connor (JaLaConnie – as we call him) Frain?  He’ll always remember “the cinnamon rolls.”  Whatever that means… that’s Connie for you!  Connor is joining three of his fellow MBIIs at Minnesota Ballet next season!

Come see these talented, hard-working artists in their Graduation Celebration this Friday (May 25) at noon here at the Jodi Peck Center (504 W. National Avenue). Tickets are $15 per person ($5 for kids 12 and under), and you canachavez [at] milwaukeeballet [dot] org ( e-mail me) to purchase them before the show.

They picked the rep; they will let us see inside their souls before they’re flying off to new heights and adventures.

Alyson Chavez
Director of Community Outreach