Susan Gartell. Photo: Rachel Malehorn.
Timothy O’Donnell is leading a rehearsal in studio A. Back in studio B Dani Kuepper leads her own rehearsal. Petr Zahradnícek rushes into the box office to discuss his tickets to the show, and dashes off to UWM’s campus. Meanwhile, Simone Ferro rings the doorbell to the Jodi Peck Center, waiting for the staff to buzz her into the building.
This is the scene at Milwaukee Ballet’s Jodi Peck Center as we prepare to open FALL(ing), a collaboration between Present Music, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Department of Dance and Milwaukee Ballet. Here is the premise: UWM would offer two choreographers to work alongside two choreographers from Milwaukee Ballet, who would all create new pieces to music performed live by Present Music. UWM’s Simone Ferro and Danceworks Artistic Director Dani Kuepper (UWM alum) have been working with Milwaukee Ballet’s dancers for a few weeks, while Company Dancer Petr Zahradnícek has been on UWM’s campus rehearsing with students in their dance department. Timothy O’Donnell is working with his fellow Ballet Company dancers on his first premiere in Milwaukee since he presented Boléro-Let There Be Light in 2010.
This collaboration was birthed when Ferro approached Kevin Stalheim, artistic director of Present Music (and UWM alum) about her idea to create a 15 minute dance piece with live music. Stalheim countered, wanted expanding this concept into an entire evening of dance featuring five world premieres. Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink was instantly on board with the idea. It’s a natural fit for the Company, according to Pink, as Milwaukee Ballet originally performed in conjunction with the University. Ferro and Pink brainstormed and produced the theme of “Falling” and the idea of an explosion of something leading to deconstruction and finally back to construction. From there, Kevin Stalheim went to work, trying to find contemporary pieces of music that would fit the theme and inspire the choreographers.
The process has been fast and furious. Emails flew back and forth between Stalheim and the choreographers as they decided which pieces they were interested in, and which they could obtain the rights to. Stalheim notes he hasn’t yet met Timothy O’Donnell or seen any of the rehearsals with Milwaukee Ballet’s dancers. That’s because the Company was deeply involved in rehearsals for La Bohème earlier this month, and would squeeze in rehearsals with their respective choreographers. O’Donnell was serving double duty, serving as Marcello in La Bohème, and conceptualizing his world premiere in the evenings. He took the theme of Falling and applied it to one of classical ballet’s masterpieces, Swan Lake. The ballet is all about the three leads falling in love, he notes, and two of them eventually falling to their deaths. Petr Zahradnícek took the theme and applied it to a Confucius quote, "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." These choreographers will be joined by UWM Film Department alum Kellie Bronikowski and School of Architecture and Urban Planning Associate Professor James Shields. Though he will not be performing onstage, we must note that our Executive Director Dennis Buehler is also an alum of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They wrote this profile on him a few months ago.
Hear directly from the artists before the Saturday evening performance! A pre-show talk will begin at 7:15pm.
This collaboration is part of UWM’s Peck School of the Arts, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary through projects like FALL(ing). The show runs October 26-27 at the Zelazo Center for the Arts. Click here for more information.
Who Cares? We do!
Photo: Jenn Mazza.
The Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II dancers (MBII) have been hard at work since September 4 on their upcoming repertoire for their show this weekend at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center (SMPAC). While the focus of the show is on the athletic and romantic, Who Cares? by George Balanchine – the program also includes Paquita, two classical pas de deux and two contemporary pieces created by two of our own Company members (and MBII grads, Nicole Teague and Isaac Sharratt!). Getting permission to perform a Balanchine work was a landmark occasion for the MBII program and we couldn’t be more excited. For you balletomanes out there, you know that this is something – for our young dancers and for our audiences. For you newbies – George Balanchine is credited for essentially bringing ballet to American dancers; prior to his influence and the eventual founding of New York City Ballet, when you saw ballet in the States, you were watching touring European dancers.
Balanchine was a dancer in the Ballet Russes but he always wanted to come to America. After his own career dancing, he started his own company in 1933 called Les Ballet. While on tour in London, Balanchine met Lincoln Kirstein – the man who would eventually bring him to the United States, help him open School of American Ballet (SAB) in 1934, start his own company – New York City Ballet (NYCB), and change the meaning of ballet. After a series of different projects ranging from work in Hollywood, on Broadway, staging operettas, musical comedies, original TV ballet, to working with other fledgling dance companies, his dream was born and realized. The eventual creation of NYCB and SAB gave Balanchine and his benefactor what they wanted: a strong training school that fed into a strong company. He incorporated and paid tribute to his classical training but created something altogether new – ballet that could be acrobatic and still graceful, dynamic and sensual, jazzy, hip, showy, musical and fresh. He did not limit himself to the kind of music he used, but rather the opposite was true for Balanchine; the sky was the limit and he was called a “musician’s choreographer” because of his deep knowledge and passion for music.
All of this is exemplified in Who Cares?, a sassy yet tender piece set to George Gershwin’s rhapsodic music. In addition to this, as mentioned above, the repertoire will showcase the diversity of the dancers and their skills. With 19 dancers from all over the United States and Bulgaria, South Korea, Japan and Mexico, there is plenty to see and learn about our second company. They have already shown us that they are hardworking, disciplined, curious and fun to be around. We are excited to see what they bring to the stage as individual performers. These kinds of opportunities are the biggest and best we can give to our young artists – the chance to be the stars of their own show.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.southmilwaukeepac.org or by calling (414) 766-5049.
Director of Community Outreach