When I first started working at the ballet, vandalism was kind of a problem in Milwaukee Ballet School. I remember the incident clearly – many of us working in the School & Education office were called into the girls’ dressing room to view the evidence; written in purple marker on the dressing room wall, enclosed in a heart, the telltale words that no doubt many have uttered, “I love Marc Petrocci.” Next to it in blue ballpoint, “Me too!” I knew then that Marc was someone very special.
If you’ve seen Marc dance, you know he’s dreamy and virtuosic, utterly serious about what he’s doing but fun and full of balletic fireworks. If you haven’t met him in person, you actually know more about him than you might realize: the absolute commitment, dedication, love, humor and talent Marc has on stage are traits totally inseparable from Marc the person. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more genuine, amazing human being. Marc is the real deal. While watching him in Peter Pan, I had countless conversations with people who were convinced that if he really wanted to, Marc could probably fly without all those wires attached.
On January 18, Marc was in rehearsal for Lucas Jervies’ Smile, part of the Genesis International Choreographic Competition. It was the end of a long day, but Marc always gives 150% so he was about to run part of a solo they’d been rehearsing all day. In the midst of a pretty easy step (a sort of counterbalance fall to the floor) his right knee rotated and the lower part of his leg didn’t and he tore the medial meniscus of his right knee. This kind of situation can happen at any time for a dancer; many factors can be at play, fatigue, overuse, overcompensation for another injury in a different part of the body. Injuries are part of life for any professional athlete. For Marc though, except for a few sprained ankles and an old “muscular back thing”, Marc is usually ready to dance at all times. He’s been recovering for 6 months and we’ve all missed him! But he’s on the mend, so in anticipation of his return in the fall, Marc and I had a lengthy conversation about his recovery, what he’s been up to this summer and what he’s looking forward to in 2011-12. Here’s some of the highlights of our chat. (Marc's words are in italics.)
How has this injury affected you emotionally?
It’s the first time in my life that I’ve been scared I couldn’t dance again. I had to really confront these thoughts, you know, ‘Wow!? If I had to stop today, how would I feel?’ I try to stay positive and in addition to my close friends the words of so many people have been instrumental in getting me into a good frame of mind. People like Julianne (Kepley, Leading Artist) told me, ‘In time it will heal. You just have to be patient. It will be foreign to you and you have to be ready for that.’
Tell me about the physical therapy you’re doing and where you’re at today with it:There are times when I felt like I was literally going back to square one. But now, Chris and I (Chris Melkovitz, Marc’s Physical Therapist, and part of the Personal Enhancement Program team at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin) are opening the gates and really pushing. I’m finally getting into ballet alignment and actually doing a tendu! I can maintain turnout on my right leg. I’ve been working with Chris since day one; I was seeing him three times a week and now it’s twice a week. I can carry more load on my leg and so my body needs time to build muscle and not fatigue it so that’s why we’ve gone to twice a week. I see Dr. Raasch every six weeks and he’s very optimistic. I’m about to start a Pilates regimen with Jayne Pink as well. (Dr. William Raasch has operated on and cared for many of the ballet’s artists from Director of Milwaukee Ballet School Rolando Yanes to Assistant Stage Manager and former Company Dancer Douglas McCubbin.)
What silly things have you been doing to occupy your time?
(He laughs a bit...) Yeah, I’ve had time. This is the most time I’ve ever not danced – prior to this it’s been maybe 2-3 weeks max, since I was 9 years old and I’m 26 now. I’ve done some normal summer stuff – I went to Summerfest to see Maroon 5 but I wasn’t going up on the bleachers like I normally would have. I stayed back by the beer tent, which was fine!
I’ve been devouring books – some poignant and others flops! I’ve read all of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books by Rick Riordan (there are five!) and both of the books in his Kane Chronicles. My mom gave me Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and that really helped me keep the appropriate perspective. It really shows you that you ain’t seen nothin’. He never lost hope and he did what he could while he could in any way possible. I mean it’s something I could totally latch onto while I was just sitting at home. I knew I had to take this time, broaden my horizons and see what else, besides dance, is Marc Petrocci?
Molly (Marc’s girlfriend) and I took a trip to DC and that was the first time I could walk about in any extended duration. We did a ‘Monument by Moonlight’ tour and it started at dusk. Our fourth or fifth stop was at the Iwo Jima Memorial and by then it was almost pitch black outside. The statue is bronze and it was lit with soft amber, the soldiers looked eerily lifelike, as if they were covered in mud. It’s like when you watch dance lit in sidelights and you can see all the crevices and shadows. It was like that – the detail in their eyes was so poignant and so memorable.
You’re still in school, right?
Yes, I continued to be in school at UWM. I took my second semester Italian course. I’m currently taking a Linguistics course with Petr actually! (Company Dancer Petr Zahradnícek) and we are in a class that has a near-perfect sample of multicultural and gendered students so it’s really interesting.
What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming season?
The first day of class – however I can participate in that. Dracula! Just relishing the fact that I’ll be onstage. You know, I’m really taking every day as it comes and that’s been my mentality so far. That said, over a year ago I experienced the highlight of my career thus far with Peter Pan and I will be living every day in anticipation of that, while respecting my boundaries and also pushing toward it.
Near the end of our conversation, I asked Marc if there was anything else he wanted to say – and I must include it...
One of the greatest joys for me in retrospect was such a gift. For the first time I was going to watch the shows without knowing anything about them. You know, you always know the choreography and the process but I was as close to just being an audience member as I’ve ever been. I really got to appreciate – on a whole new level – the gifts of my co-workers. As a dancer you appreciate working with them on a collaboration, but really getting to watch them dance, I was blown away by the depth and just how individually gifted each one of them is.
I can tell you that he means every word and this is SO Marc. His pure honesty, the care and love he has for everything he encounters, his bona fide zest for life and how he lives it is refreshing and contagious. There’s a huge void in the studios without him there – enough to prompt me to want to write “I miss Marc Petrocci” on a wall somewhere. Personally, I can’t wait to poke my head into Studio A and see him standing at the barre.
Oh, and one more thing – Marc gave me the title of this blog, “Sto stando meglio”. It means, “I’m getting better” in Italian. Hurray! In no time, we’ll see him flying across the stage again!
Director of Education