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The Land of Milk and Ballet: 'Billy's Dancing Dairy Farm'

dairy farmCompany Dancer Michael Linsmeier and MBII Barry Molina

Sometime last June, Lori Flanigan (Education Assistant and Relevé coordinator) and I had a most amazing brainstorm that started with a silly conversation about petting zoos. We started thinking about all of the brilliant animal characters the ballet has in its cache of costumes – little swans and soldier mice, a canary fairy and a bluebird, kitty cats and Nana the dog, feathered firebirds and of course those flamboyant lobsters… Animals and petting zoos led to barns, barns led to farms, and farming led us to our very own Company dancer Michael Linsmeier who grew up on a dairy farm outside of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. So what exactly do a dairy farm, a SIVA truck, Michael and ballet have in common? Billy’s Dancing Dairy Farm, our new Ballet-in-a-Box production which made its premiere at ALBA School in Milwaukee on the snow day and a week later at the Oconomowoc Arts Center for 700 middle school students who hooted, hollered and gave resounding cheers of “Bravo! Bravo!”

This show, which we are touring all month, has taken us all on a fantastic voyage. This idea, scribbled in a little notebook I carry around in my purse, came to life over the month of January. In a true Super Bowl winning effort, a team of Milwaukee Ballet creatives (including Costume Mistress Mary Belle Potter, Lori Flanigan, dancer/choreographer Petr Zahradnícek, teacher Mireille Favarel, Head Carpenter Rick Tatum, me and all 20 Milwaukee Ballet II dancers) came together to write, choreograph, costume and build a traveling production that educates and entertains. Ballet-in-a-Box is one of the main programs in our menu of community outreach offerings to schools, libraries, senior and community centers. Can’t come to the ballet? We bring it to you! Any Milwaukee Ballet II (MBII) dancer will leave the program with fond memories of SIVA trucks wherein we load 5 rolls of Marley flooring, our portable soundsystem, pipe and drape theatre wings, and this year – two gondolas full of costumes, a barn set and all the accoutrements that go along with it (you know – a crick, a cow and 6 bales of hay!)

All of our outreach programs are designed to bring ballet to life using the talents of the dancers – live, up close and personal. They are crafted to make an art form - one that can be too easily brushed off as antiquated, elitist, boring, girly and pink – real and relevant. With our new show, Lori and I wanted to accomplish many things; to highlight the role of boys doing ballet and to cover the basics of ballet from the physical benefits and the dedication it takes to study it to the styles of ballet from classical to contemporary repertoire. By telling a story inspired by Michael’s life on a dairy farm, the show also allowed us to incorporate facts about Wisconsin life and an industry that is vitally important to the state. We also found ways to incorporate some of the late Schomer Lichtner’s fanciful paintings of cows and ballerinas and all three choreographers found great music from Tchaikovsky to Yo Yo Ma. (My contribution to our music set? A bit of Billy Idol – I kid you not!)

The momentum that MBII Director Rolando Yanes and I have been building for the trainee program with the constant support of Michael Pink has come to fruition in so many ways this season – with the promise of it just continuing to roll ahead. The dancers are a hard working, focused, naturally talented and smart group of young men and women from all over the world (Australian, Brazilian, Japanese, Philippine and American – including two from Wisconsin!) The outreach programs are reaching further out to Racine, Waukesha, Mequon, to all corners of Milwaukee and, at the end of the month, to Indiana for our first out-of-state MBII tour. Two of the dancers in the program this year, Sam Neale and Jenna Sagraves, were in the Genesis: International Choreographic Competition; Chiharu Yamamoto won second place in the Youth American Grand Prix regional competition in Chicago and Erica Alvarado and Barry Molina just represented the Company in Cancún, Mexico at the Gala de Danza.

While sometimes the stories we see on the stage take us to fantasy lands we only dream of visiting, on the dairy farm, we tell a story that we see come to life in the studio each day – from Michael’s own journey to those of each of our young men in MBII. There’s Barry – who thought he might not stick with dancing last year, but has and wow – how he’s grown; Evan, a graduate of Milwaukee Ballet School, who spent the summer dancing in Germany. Parker, who surprised us just by showing up at Milwaukee Ballet hoping to enroll in the school. Sam, who spent last year working two jobs to save money to come dance here this season; Stéphano, a charming Brazilian who is fearless when it comes to partnering; and Thom, who only started dancing three years ago when he took a ballet class as part of his college opera training!

We’ll be on a barnstorming tour to 19 schools, libraries and senior centers throughout the months of March, April and May. Come see us on the farm on Saturday, April 9th at the Wauwatosa Public Library at 1:30 p.m. or the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend on Saturday, April 30 at 2:00 and 3:30 p.m. You can also see the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II dancers in Classical to Contemporary on Saturday, March 12th at 4:00 p.m. at the Jodi Peck Center in Studio A for $10. Call or email me for more information at (414) 902-2120 or achavez [at] milwaukeeballet [dot] org.

To the boys of ballet, to family-run dairy farms and to this great state of Wisconsin, where we get to celebrate all of it – sometimes all at once!

Alyson Chavez
Director of Education