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Opening Day at the Ballet! - June 21, 2010 – Milwaukee Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program


There are only a few times a year when Milwaukee Ballet's Jodi Peck Center is quiet. There’s a little lull after The Nutcracker and a slightly longer one following the graduation celebration for Milwaukee Ballet II. No piano accompaniment streaming down the halls during morning class, no crashing above the marketing department’s ceiling as Milwaukee Ballet II dancers rehearse upstairs in Studio D, no 80’s rock during the daily lunchtime volleyball game in Studio A. While it’s nice for us on staff to have a break from Sugar Plum Fairy’s theme song every now and then, it’s actually kind of strange to see darkened studios and clean dressing rooms. But, as I said, it’s a rare occurrence. Milwaukee Ballet School runs a year-round operation, training dancers from age 3 to 93 during the school year and throughout the summer.

Today marks “Opening Day” of Milwaukee Ballet’s 2010 Summer Intensive Program and quiet it’s not! 136 kids (including 17 boys) from 23 states and four countries are storming the building to dance their little hearts out for the next five weeks. This is not your normal summer camp experience—these students are literally dancing all day. Imagine this, you are a 12-year-old in Technique Level 1; you spend your morning with Company member Luz San Miguel (Tinkerbell!) doing ballet class from 9:30-11am, pointe class from 11am-12pm, variations (famous ballet solos) until 1pm Kick your feet up, it’s lunch time. At 2pm it’s off to African dance class with teacher Roxy Kess and drummer Yaya Kambaye, both formerly of Ko-Thi Dance Company, and then you rehearse your Emergence choreography with Ballet Mistress Nadia Thompson from 3-4pm. Intense indeed.

For a budding ballerina or a soon-to-be premier danseur, this is part of the gig. Students who want the glory of being Albrecht or Giselle someday, make that decision at a relatively young age compared to the rest of us who may have changed majors five times in college. Ballet is a pretty short-lived career so the process of becoming a professional happens a lot faster as well. For these students, ballet might be the only extra-curricular activity they are involved in after school. At a certain point, training at a good ballet school will take five evenings and up to 20 hours a week. Summers are the time to really boost your next year of training. Some of our summer students are familiar with how everything works in Milwaukee, like Chris Kaiser, who is from New York and just finished his first year at Juilliard as a dance major. Others, like Milwaukee Ballet School graduate Marie Jeruc (you may have just seen her as Alice in the school’s Alice in Wonderland), spent last summer at Houston Ballet’s summer program but is here this year to do the program and audition for Milwaukee Ballet II.

The kids are ages 11-24—some will spend three weeks here and some are here for all six. Some are away from home for the first time and some are already in ballet boarding schools across the country and are used to being independent artists-in-training.

“A lot of these students are the big fish in their little ponds back at home, but when they come here they’re surrounded by other big fish! It’s an adjustment for them!” says Renee Griswold, Manager of Milwaukee Ballet School. Rest assured, our school staff (led by Director Rolando Yanes, Manager Renee Griswold and Registrar Kelly Knoke) sets everything up so that the kids learn a lot, bond a lot and have a heckuva lot of fun.

Most of the kids got here yesterday—by bus, by car and by plane. A group of Milwaukee Ballet staff and Balletomane volunteers greeted many of them at the airport and then took them to the UWM dorms where most of them set up camp for the summer. (Ironically our school year showcases typically fall on Mother’s Day and our Summer Intensive Program orientation is always on Father’s Day! Part of the deal when you have a ballet kid…) Beyond just dancing, the kids will go to the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World, Noah’s Ark, a Brewer’s Game, Six Flags and yes, they get the 4th of July off. This summer many of them will make lifelong friends, some may decide that ballet isn’t for them while others may get that first big role or start partnering for the first time. When parents come back to see Emergence at the end of July, you can hear the murmurs as they marvel at how much their children have grown.

Stay tuned—I’ll be blogging about the Summer Intensive Program all summer. From the teachers to the rehearsals, I’ll get you the inside scoop about these dedicated dancers and this fantastic program. In the meantime, mark your calendars for Emergence at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center in Brookfield on Friday, July 30 at 4:30 or 7:30 p.m.

I’m going to go watch class – these kids are awesome!

Alyson Chavez
Director of Education