Photo: Jenn Mazza
If you’ve ever questioned whether or not dancers are athletes, the start of the season should give you a lot of evidence to support that indeed, these artists are also professional athletes. For all three groups within the organization – Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program and Milwaukee Ballet Company dancers – the first two months of the 2012-13 season have been a marathon of sorts. La Bohème, FALL(ing), George Balanchine’s Who Cares? at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center… and we’re not done yet! The Company dancers are hard at work with their self-run dancer benefit, Behind the Curtain, a fundraiser in which proceeds go to the dancer fund which assists them when transitioning into new careers. The school and MBII will hit the two month mark of their season on Sunday and will celebrate with the show, Assemblé, a ballet term that means ‘to join together.’ For the dancers and staff alike, the last three weeks have been a real exercise in time management, perseverance, flexibility and commitment to excellence – all qualities one could attribute to any winning sports team.
I talked to Company Dancer Isaac Sharratt who has been working double duty as both dancer and choreographer for the events that have opened the season. This weekend three of his works will be on display: For the Death of a Friend (a piece he is setting on himself and fellow dancer Janel Meindersee), By 3 (a piece he has set on the Academy II ladies) and South of the Blazer (a piece he co-choreographed with Company member Nicole Teague). Isaac has been given many opportunities to create work on his peers, on the MBII dancers and on the students of Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy over the past few seasons. I wondered what his process included.
“I have to find music that moves me in some way. I have occasionally used classical music but a lot of what I use is rarely classical, or what you’d expect for ballet. I’ve recently made pieces to MIA, Beirut, Postal Service, Apocolyptica, Ralph Stanley… the music speaks to me and I go from there. I come into the studio with a clear beginning and an ending – I need a destination. The rest is created on the spot, in the studio,” says Isaac while we’re loading SIVA van with a portable dance floor, sound system, ballet barre and costumes. In addition to all of this performing and choreographing, he and dancers Susan Gartell and Rachel Malehorn are doing workshops at eight schools this week for the ACE program (an outreach program run by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.)
I’ve mentioned before in a number of my blogs that Michael Pink is so supportive of these endeavors – he wants the dancers to dig deep and be creative. He wants the dancers to explore all of their passions, whether through photography, painting, a punk rock band or poetry - he wants them to go for it. Isaac has taken this encouragement and truly run with it. His style has a look and feel to it but is incredibly diverse at the same time. He agrees that while he’s always enjoyed choreographing, “since I’ve been here, I’ve really found my own voice for it.”
Isaac is conscious of who he is working with and what they will bring to the work; sometimes he seeks to draw out a new side of a dancer or give them a difficult challenge. Last weekend at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, his work Morte premiered. This piece for four men was a real emotional test for the dancers with music from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. On Sunday, the Academy girls will dance in By 3, a group piece that allows them to do a more contemporary work than they might be used to, which is good for these aspiring dancers.
The first three weeks of the season are a testament to all of the things Milwaukee Ballet is about: new works, collaboration, opportunity, versatility, the continued mastery of technique and skill, education and outreach and certainly athleticism. For the dancers, it’s been a stretch of endurance but also a chance to do more of what they live for – being on stage! So come support your favorite team on Saturday night at Behind the Curtain, or Sunday afternoon (post Packer game!) at Assemblé. Seeing the dancers on their home turf gives you a rare opportunity to see these agile artists truly up close - muscles, lines, make-up and physical prowess... The Company dancers have all chosen their own repertoire and Academy and MBII dancers will be doing a mix of classical and contemporary work including Isaac’s pieces as mentioned above, Paquita, an excerpt of La Bayadère and the last chance to see the MBIIs do George Balanchine’s Who Cares?
Director of Community Outreach
(Isaac Sharratt headshot: Jessica Kaminski.)