En Face

Triple Play: Dancers on the Three Choreographers of 'Three'

Milwaukee Ballet’s Three – Marcus Center, March 31-April 3, 2011
Three Perspectives of Dance

I’ve always loved a night at a ballet triple bill. You come in, not always knowing what to expect; you leave being able to add three more works to your own viewing repertoire. You’re guaranteed to like at least one of them, and in a Company like Milwaukee Ballet, you get to see your favorite dancers in two, if not three, roles. For a ballet company, a triple bill is put on the season’s offerings for many reasons – they’re less expensive to produce (these are often called “lights and tights” ballets – i.e. no sets); new choreographers (to us and the audience at large) can be brought in; smaller but important works can become part of our rep (like Fancy Free or next season’s Celts); but more importantly – these are the shows that allow the dancers real artistic growth. While The Nutcracker is challenging in many ways, it’s not necessarily the vehicle that will take a dancer to new artistic heights. Working with three choreographers who are usually doing more contemporary, stylized movement, will. In a triple bill you may suddenly see a dancer blast into the spotlight and really connect with the work they’re doing when they’re featured in a smaller cast of dancers (think about Justin Genna in Mauro de Candia’s Something I Had in Mind or Rachel Malehorn in Gustav’s Rooster).

This show is a perfect example of what a triple bill can offer dancers and audiences. Rachel summed it up for me, “These three works together represent a trinity of the facets of dancing we need to have within us at all times… Ramblin’ Suite is fun and is really for the audience; the “it’s showtime!” kind of thing. Darrell’s piece FREQUENCIES LIT is fierce and intense and sexy and shows the athletic, explosive side of dance. Petr’s Broad Waters is reflective, simple and meaningful. They round each other out, and they’ll show you who we are as dancers on many levels.”

I interviewed Valerie Harmon, Rachel Malehorn and Joshua Reynolds and asked them to give me one word that represented the respective pieces for them; I asked about the process of working with these choreographers and what you, the audience, should know as you watch… Here’s THREE in their words.

Alyson Chavez
Director of Education

Valerie Harmon on Darrell Grand Moultrie’s FREQUENCIES LIT
valerie harmon
FREQUENCIES LIT in one word? Exciting!

Darrell is FUN to work with. His choreography is really challenging, and he demands that we’re giving 100% all of the time, but his energy makes you want to give that 100%. He is very intuitive about our personalities. From the first day, he saw our strengths, weaknesses, insecurities and motivations, and he’s been able to reach in and pull the maximum potential out of each of us. It’s amazing when someone can walk into a room and be perceptive enough to pick up the little things about every single person in there.

The audience should really enjoy it and look for all the quirky movement details. They will see the fierce individuality of each dancer but then how effective we are as a group when we work together efficiently.

This is also one of my very favorite costumes I’ve ever worn at Milwaukee Ballet. I told Mary Belle (Milwaukee Ballet’s Wardrobe Mistress) if my costume goes missing she’ll know where to find it! (These new costumes, and all of them in the show, were built by our own costume department under the direction of Mary Piering.)

Rachel Malehorn on Petr Zahradnícek’s Broad Waters
rachel malehorn
Hmmmmm… one word… It’d have to be “sensitive”. But in all interpretations of the word – choreographically and emotionally. The music is sparse and so are all the movements, so one little thing means a lot. In order to dance it and watch it, you have to be sensitive.

(I asked Rachel what it’s like to be one of Petr’s muses; if you’ve followed Petr’s choreographic career, you’ve also followed Rachel’s dancing since she’s always featured in his work.) I first worked with Petr when I was 18 as a summer student, and I think that was the first piece he’s choreographed! I like working with him because he is definitely a choreographer who, instead of forcing movement onto someone, brings the movement out of the dancer. He gets a sense of who you are and how you like to move, and his choreography clarifies that innate movement in you. He also lets the music really inform his work. He doesn’t set his work to counts or beats, but to words and music. Sometime this is difficult in the cleaning process (once a piece is done, the choreographer or ballet master must clean it up – get people together, clarify exact counts and intricacies so a piece is really together and ready for performance). But in the end this is what makes it so good to dance and watch – it’s like the choreography is flowing directly out of the music.

The audience should read the program notes and take those in and then watch Broad Waters with the same feeling as you have when you’re floating on your back in the water, just listening to your own breath. Thoughts move in and out of your head, but you don’t have to act on them, you just need to experience them.

Joshua Reynolds on Diane Coburn Bruning’s Ramblin’ Suite
josh reynolds
My one word would have to be entertaining; this piece is always entertaining.

(Josh has done this piece many times before with Atlanta Ballet. I asked him how it’s been different this time around.) It’s gone really well here, we got it together pretty quickly – this piece is really difficult, and Diane always changes and adds new things. This time she really went off what she saw in our personalities on the very first day. The first solo, for example, is really macho and flirty; it’s kind of tempting the audience. So of course, she picked David. She uses Nicole (Teague) in a solo that needs a small girl who can move quickly but with a strong personality – it’s a huge part even though it’s just that one solo.

The audience always says Ramblin’ Suite is one of their favorites because it looks like the dancers are having so much fun. And we are. This piece is so demanding and difficult that once everything comes together you have to give into it and ride it out, make a little noise and have fun with it!