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Raven’s Wings: Dancer Raven Nielsen Retires from The Ballet

Raven NielsenPhoto: Jessica Kaminski

“I remember Raven always went to the same spot at the barre in Studio C.  As a young dancer, she projected a feminine quality in her movement and was a model student,” Phyllis Coffey recounted to me.

From the beginning, Raven Nielsen must have known she was destined to be on the stage.  Her focused work ethic and beautiful technique were evident from the moment she had her first class with Phyllis Coffey (now Branch Manager of our Riverpoint branch) 26 years ago.  Next to Wardrobe Mistress Mary Belle Potter and Costume Manager Mary Piering, Raven has been at Milwaukee Ballet the longest and we will miss her so much! She has decided to retire from dancing and spread her wings to new places and new things after being in the Company for 13 years.

Milwaukee Ballet is family and home to Raven, who started ballet after beginning with gymnastics – lucky us!  She remembers watching the professional dancers onstage as a little kid (among them – Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy and Milwaukee Ballet II artistic faculty members Rolando Yanes, Mireille Favarel and Karl vonRabenau) and knowing that she wanted to be up there, under the lights, like them.  She was a go-to-girl and appeared as the little duck that walked backwards in Margo Sappington’s Virgin Forest and the little fairy in Bruce Wells’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  When he came here in 2008 to re-stage it, she asked him if he remembered her.  “Oh my god, it is you!” he exclaimed!

Raven says that while the years may blur together after spending so many of them here, it is the people, the connections, the friendships that mean the most. The vast knowledge she gained from her teachers – Basil Thompson, Fiona Fuerstner and Jeanette Makaroff (to name but a few) – who helped her continue the evolution of her own dancing, to all of the choreographers and dance partners she’s worked with, have given her so much. You can hear theThe Nutcracker passion in her voice when she says she danced hard and has always loved it.

For as long as I’ve been here, Raven, Susan Gartell and Courtney Kramer have shared a dressing room at the end of the hall at the Marcus Center. Famous for being the most fun (and perhaps the messiest!), she says Mary Belle once asked her if she wanted to move up “to the big girl’s dressing room” (the first and biggest on the girls’ floor.) “Hell no!” she responded. “I’ve been in every single room in that building, but there’s no way I would leave that one.” 

Susan Gartell remembers meeting Raven vividly. “Raven was the very first person in the Company to talk to me, ten years ago when I was a shy little girl in the summer program. She was so friendly and outgoing and ever since then, she’s been my favorite member in the Company.  For ten years, I’ve been blessed and lucky enough to share the stage with her, grow and learn with her and slowly become what I hope, is her peer. She’s always remained my favorite in my heart and it’s a joy to call her my friend and peer. I wish her all the best and all the luck in her new endeavors.”

As we bid adieu to Raven, I think we’re all giving her a standing ovation and throwing roses onto the stage. She has been a force here – as a dancer and as a role model. Her smile and laugh have saved many a tough rehearsal or long day. She will no doubt soar and succeed in her new adventures and we wish her the best as she takes flight into her exciting future.

Alyson Chavez
Director of Community Outreach

(Photo from The Nutcracker: Dancers Raven Nielsen and David Hovhannisyan. Photo: Rick Brodzeller)