Summer Intensive Blog – Week 5
If you have not seen A Chorus Line, your assignment is to rent it immediately! Or, just come on down to the studios—this week, in a perfect real live mash-up, Leslie Woodies is teaching Musical Theatre and Michael Pink is teaching the Milwaukee Ballet II audition class all week. It just so happens that A Chorus Line is my favorite musical, so perhaps I’m projecting a little when I’m watching the audition class singing “God I hope I get it, I hope I get it! How many people does he neeeeeed?”
Musical Theatre is something new to Milwaukee Ballet’s Summer Intensive program but what a crash-boom-bang-heckuva fun class this looks like! Leslie Woodies, who herself transitioned from being a ballet dancer to a musical theatre extraordinaire (and imagine my excitement in reading her bio—she was “Cassie” in Michael Bennett’s Pulitzer Prize winning New York Shakespeare’s Festival Production of A Chorus Line among many other accolades!) has wrapped up the last two weeks of Style Classes. The piece Leslie has put together for Emergence (Tech Levels 3 & 4) is her homage Sing Sing Sing from Bob Fosse’s musical Dancin’, and she says it’s a compilation of everything she’s learned in her own career. This is no easy feat for these students. Leslie is full of fascinating gems of information that she openly shares with the students—she explains that the energy that exists in this kind of performing is exactly why she changed directions in her professional life. She talks to the students about how they need to show the force and effort it takes to do this kind of movement, “You’ve been taught in ballet to hide the effort. This isn’t La Sylphide.” I’m hooked. I love hearing her paint a picture of how she wants the movement to look: “Contract like someone’s really punching you in the stomach!”, “Show me that it’s heavy!”, “Hug your belly like it really hurts!”, “Use your shoulder like you’re saying ‘Scuse me’!”, “You should slip through the air like a hot knife through butter…”
I love the sound of a group clap in a dance studio and in fact, the whole class is punctuated with Leslie’s dance vernacular, “Pop! Hah! Boom-bow-bow-bow! Badayum, badayum!” Some of the students really shine—Christina could be ready for Broadway; Rei, from Japan, has got those aerodynamic turns; Thom is kicking and snapping and shimmy-shamming like he means it; little Yayoi, also from Japan, is doing a four pose section exactly as Leslie described and Carly knows just how to cock her head with the perfect balance of flirtation and attitude. This is going to bring the house down at Emergence!
The scene is much more serious the next morning in Studio A. Levels 4 and 5 have been split into the kids who are auditioning for Milwaukee Ballet II and the kids who aren’t yet old enough. All week, Artistic Director Michael Pink is teaching the audition class while Director of Milwaukee Ballet II, Rolando Yanes, and Associate Director, Mireille Favarel, sit, scribble notes and whisper to each other about who is ready to make the cut. This season we only have four paid spots and four to six honorary unpaid positions open for the program. There are thirty-three dancers in Michael’s class. It’s intense.
Milwaukee Ballet II is a treasured entity here at Milwaukee Ballet. These young dancers usually range in age from 18-22; they have graduated from high school and finished their formal ballet training but are still in a world between student and professional. They will dance with the Company next year in Esmeralda, The Nutcracker and Coppélia as well as doing their own repertoire (including our first out-of-state tour!) and work in the outreach program teaching nearly 30,000 people about the art form of ballet.
While in A Chorus Line, the dancers are at the theatre all day for an emotional, physically demanding audition for a spot in the chorus. Our young dancers will see Michael every morning this week. Rolando and Mireille will see the students under pressure for a total of seven-and-a-half hours during which they can watch their technique and personalities come out. Tomorrow we will deliver their formal letters of acceptance (or not) and they have the weekend to decide if Milwaukee Ballet is the next step in their burgeoning careers. As I sit and hum “I Hope I Get It” to myself I can see all the lyrics on the faces of the dancers, “I’ve got to get this job!” Their focus and determination is something teenagers everywhere could learn a thing or two from. I can’t wait to see who makes it.
You still have time to buy tickets to Emergence, next Friday, July 30 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. Shows are at 4:30pm and 7pm. Call 262-781-9470 for tickets and information.
A quick but important P.S… This week the dance world lost an amazing and beautiful icon. Denise Jefferson, the Director of the Alvin Ailey School, died on Saturday of ovarian cancer. Rolando Yanes, Renee Griswold and I were lucky enough to have met her at the National Association of Schools of Dance conferences we’ve gone to for the past three years. We learned so much from her about how to build our programs to make Milwaukee Ballet School even better. Just being in her presence was an honor. Denise ran a fierce school and she was such a warm, intelligent and classy woman. She will be dearly missed.
Director of Education