I’m going to teach you how to do a “relevé” (reh-luh-VAY), a basic but important ballet step. Stand up tall, straighten your knees and put your feet in first position – heels together toes pointed out. Your feet should make as straight a line as they can, without causing you to bend your knees or fall over - sometimes we tell kids that they could fit a big slice of pizza in between their feet in this position. Now maintain your balance and rise up onto the balls of your feet. Bring your arms overhead in a circle, framing your face (your arms are now in fifth position) and find your balance… Hold it! You are doing a relevé – which means “to rise”.
The term Relevé strikes an emotional chord with us here at the Ballet. It is the name of our inner-city dance program wherein we offer ballet classes to students at three MPS schools – ALBA, Allen-Field and Dover Street Elementary Schools. This program, fully funded by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, allows us to provide ballet instruction to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders who might never have the chance otherwise to enroll in regular Milwaukee Ballet School classes. They come to the studio once a week, during the school day, from October until May. They take their ballet classes in a real studio, and as an added bonus – from their perched point upstairs, they can peer into Studio A and see the professionals hard at work. It is exciting (and sometimes hilarious) to watch them watch the Company. “Whoa, look at how fast he’s turning!” “Oooh, that girl is pretty” and “What is he wearing???!”, are common murmurs amongst the crowd of little faces catching a peek in the window. The program provides the kids with their own pair of ballet shoes (black for boys and pink for girls) and proper ballet clothing for the year (shorts and t-shirts for boys and leotards and tights for the girls.) In addition to ballet classes for 25 weeks, Relevé students saw Billy’s Dancing Dairy Farm (our traveling Ballet-in-a-Box production), came to see The Nutcracker and will see Coppélia in a few weeks.
We are in Recital Week for our Relevé schools and it’s one of our favorite times of year in the education department. Education Assistant and Relevé Coordinator Lori Flanigan has been putting the final polish onto her dances for these schools. This week in their all-school recitals, the students will show demonstrations of ballet technique (answering questions I pose to them like, “What is a tendu?” or “Can you demonstrate the five positions of the feet?”). Each grade level will perform the dance they’ve learned showcasing their understanding of the technique, the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II dancers will perform for them, they will receive certificates of completion – and some of them, scholarships to study ballet this summer! From our office, we can always hear Lori when she’s teaching Relevé in Studio C – she claps, she cheers, she counts to the music, she tells them to repeat a sequence until they get it right. Lori doesn’t sugar-coat her class for these students – she teaches the same way she would her most advanced students and you can see that the students really are learning. While to an outsider, she may sound intense, her laughter is also something you can hear coming down the hallway. The kids love her.
She came in last week, after each school’s final rehearsal, and told me to make sure and bring Kleenex to the shows. Watching the Relevé recitals makes you feel like you’re in a movie – the kids get so nervous about performing for their peers (especially the boys) but the music swells, they crack a little smile (we KNOW they like it even if they don’t always admit it) and then they come through. Our tears are those of utter joy, pride and love! Boys doing ballet at a school on 7th and Lapham?! Yes!!!
Lori’s dances are complicated with interchanging lines and shifting formations – not everything is in unison; the kids have to know what they’re doing, they can’t just look to their neighbor to figure out what comes next. This year – she’s even included some partnering for her 5th graders at Allen-Field. (Get the Kleenex! The girl being partnered is the only one Lori ever had to kick out of class for being disrespectful – two years later she will be on full scholarship for the summer ballet program – and until she graduates from high school if she wants to continue dancing!) You sit in the audience, watching adorable groups of kids – students who primarily speak Spanish and who live in one of Milwaukee’s most dangerous neighborhoods (at Allen-Field) or kids often labeled as troublemakers (at Dover) and yet, when they’re dancing – they’re just kids, joyously jeté-ing across a gym floor.
Relevé means “to rise” and that’s what this program does – in so many ways. It raises the kids’ self-esteem, it raises their knowledge of and access to the arts, it raises up the community they live in by integrating Milwaukee Ballet into neighborhoods across the city in lasting partnerships and it most certainly raises us up as we learn from these young children. Regardless of politics, it goes without saying that children need the arts – they need the beauty and power of them in their lives. These children deserve to dance and they do – so wonderfully! It shouldn’t matter where you live, where you go to school or what language you speak – we should all be so lucky to pirouette and plié.
Director of Education
Our Relevé recitals are not open to the public. To find out more about this program, to donate to it or to learn more about our Community Outreach Programs, go to the Community Outreach section of the website or contact Alyson Chavez, Director of Education – (414) 902-2120 or at Achavez [at] milwaukeeballet [dot] org