En Face

Summer Intensity

ClassPhoto: Jenn Mazza

Milwaukee Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program is two weeks underway. The studios are packed with 150 aspiring dancers from all over the world. The hallways are strewn with Vera Bradley quilted dance bags, and except for thirty minutes a day, the students are sweating it out in our four studios at the Jodi Peck Center, at our satellite branches and at UWM’s Sandberg dorms. These kids work hard. When we printed our new brochures and t-shirts with the phrase, “We put the INTENSE in Intensive” we were not kidding. I spent a half hour wandering around the building talking to the students about their experiences thus far and more than a few quoted this exact phrase.

Rosy-cheeked and lounged on our various couches, Marley floors and foam-squared basement, nearly all of the students agreed, they are dancing hard, pushing their own personal boundaries and young bodies to the limit.

Madeleine Surges said that a three or four week program isn’t enough. She wanted six weeks of dancing. “There is no chance to hide in the back. The teachers bring you forward and give you specific feedback.”

“The amount of dancing is exactly what I wanted. I want to be challenged but motivated. I’m getting real corrections for things I can keep working on and I’m really building stamina,” said Kelly Dornan.

Repeatedly the students say it’s hard, it’s demanding, and the teachers are amazing. They commented on how organized it was and working in the School office, I have to agree. Summer Intensive takes months of planning – from the 20-plus city audition tour that begins in January, to the negotiations with UWM, to the phone conversations with Six Flags – an incredible amount of work goes into this machine.

Phillipa Mills, a level five student from Australia (in the United States for the first time) says it was well worth the long journey. “I’m enjoying the challenge of working with all these different teachers. The whole environment is fantastic. Getting to do different styles of dance breaks up the ballet and gives us more to work on. We don’t have this kind of opportunity in Australia.”

Christian Griggs-Drane, a student in Men’s A, piped in. “I love working with Company member Timothy O’Donnell. His perspective on contemporary dance is so fresh and creative. Usually at a program like this, we’re doing regimented, recital-style ballet, but in his piece we are doing professional level contemporary dance.”

Another student, Emily Ryall, agreed. She said that a lot of summer programs just teach you about technique but, “Milwaukee Ballet’s program is showing us how to get ready to have a professional job. It seems like the goals of the Company and the School are really in line with each other.”

What a great compliment to our teachers and school staff!

Many of these kids come back year after year for all of these reasons. They start out at a certain level and leave six weeks later knowing they’ve made significant improvement. Stephanie Ruley commented that it seems even better this year. “Things have definitely stepped up a notch.”

I am interested to talk to some of our younger students. The day I poked around with a notebook and pen, they were all out at our Riverpoint branch. But from seeing the band-aids on the floor at the end of the day, a crumpled lunch bag here and there, the incessant chatter between classes – I can tell that the kids are making friends and taking their training seriously. The only complaint? “Lunch is only 30 minutes long!”

I’ll keep you posted about the progress of our young dancers as the program progresses. For now, the key word is INTENSE, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Alyson Chavez
Director of Community Outreach