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We Will Rock You: Ballet-in-a-Box and Beyond Boundaries

Alyson and GarrettAlyson Chavez and Garrett Glassman (as Dr. Injury)

My favorite part of our new Ballet-in-a-Box production comes about 8 minutes into the show; the legendary beat of Queen’s "We Will Rock You" begins and within three seconds the kids in the audience are patting their thighs and clapping on the beat. They are so into it that they are continually told to sit back down by their teachers – a compliment to us, since they are trying hard not to miss a single moment of the show. We premiered our new show about ballet superheroes, The Corps of 4 in “Dr. Injury Returns!” on January 23rd and the reviews have been very powerful and mighty.

“You and the dancers should feel so proud that you demonstrated the power of dance to some of those children for the VERY first time! Often only a parent gets to give ‘firsts’ to their children and I’m sure today’s performance will be etched in lots of little memories for a very long time. You are doing something special and worthy.” wrote Anne Metcalfe, parent of a University School student.

Ballet-in-a-Box is our touring school show program during which we bring original story ballets to schools, libraries and community centers complete with the marley floor, the curtains, the sound system, costumes, set and the entire group of Milwaukee Ballet II dancers. Toward the end of last season, we started brainstorming about a new show. For the past eight seasons we have premiered a new Ballet-in-a-Box production every two years. How could we top the story Billy McMichaels, a young boy who grows up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and becomes a professional dancer? We had to go big. We needed a way to promote health and wellness and physical activity; we needed to showcase our out-of-this-world dancers. Suddenly it clicked! Dancers defy gravity, they soar through the air, and by bringing the arts into the schools – they save the day, don’t they? Superheroes!

With not much more than a motto that came to me when we designed our new brochure, “The Arts are a Powerful Force!”, we set out to bring a cast of characters to life. When I started writing the script, I knew right away we had to bring back King Louis XIV (who originally appeared in our show about ballet history, The King Who Danced) as the god of the ballet superheroes. He would be the fearless leader of The Corps of 4 – KickStar, Major Jump, The Pirouette Threat and PowerLift. Together this quad would battle Dr. Injury and his evil minions, Lazy Daisy, The Distractor and Corsaire. We asked Petr Zahradnícek to work his magic on three dances, the infiltration, the battle and the victory celebration. Mireille Favarel choreographed our scenes in Danceopolis, where King Louis reigns supreme and dances in the clouds. My brother, an animator in L.A. and his colleague Jacob Abrams, created an animation that introduces the story. Mary Belle Potter and Krista Allenstein put together a fantastically cohesive set of costumes, incorporating my brother’s logos for Dr. Injury and the Corps of 4. And Company member Justin Genna handled audio production – recording the voiceover narration (performing a most glorious King Louis I might add!) which just might be the piece that makes the show work as well as it does. With dramatic music from both ballet history and superhero themes, the narration is funny and fast-paced. The show addresses everything we hoped – making smart choices, leading a healthy lifestyle, building self-confidence as well as introducing children to classical and contemporary ballet.

The dancers in the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program have been so committed to the show. As I write this blog, we have done 11 shows and have eight more to go. Each show day we drive our big truck and caravan to the school where we have to unpack and create our mini-theatre. There have been days so cold, the lock on the truck has frozen. There are tiny gyms with not-so-ideal lights and hard floors, and big auditoriums where we can spread out a bit. We’ve gone as far as Racine and will head to Sheboygan, and have gone to all of our partner Relevé and ResiDANCE schools. The dancers have created funny, dramatic and endearing characters. They’ve gotten the kids to proclaim loudly that indeed “the arts ARE a powerful force.” We were at a school last week where a gym teacher asked Kevin Hamilton, who plays Slam Dunk Danny, to come have a push-up contest with her students. She wanted them to see that if they worked on it, they too could have big muscles someday! I’ve said it many times, but the MBIIs are some of the hardest working artists around. They are talented and smart and they are relentless in the pursuit of their dreams. They work so hard for next to no money and their passion for what they do remains fervent. They really are superheroes!

If you saw the Genesis Choreographic Competition, you can agree that we have a Company full of super dancers. Performing at the Pabst gives an audience a closer glimpse into the range and vitality of our performing artists. If you missed the show or want to see the winning piece, Manifold choreographed by Gabrielle Lamb, we’ll reprise it this Saturday at the Oconomowoc Arts Center for our performance of Beyond Boundaries. This show will include classical work (Paquita, Spring Waters and the Black Swan pas de deux) and contemporary work as well. A few of the pieces will be choreographed by our own Company dancers, making the performance a special experience for them as well. You can ask the dancers about their pieces at a reception after the show if you upgrade to the VIP package. Click here for more ticketing information for Beyond Boundaries.

I’m off with the superhero MBII dancers to remind another school that “The Arts are a Powerful Force!”

Alyson Chavez
Director of Community Outreach