In the process of learning a piece or a full-length ballet, dancers learn more than just their steps. They must know the music intimately, and specifically “know the counts,” in order to master the choreography and transform it into something artistic. From the very beginning of a dancer’s training, they are learning how to match movement and music in a way that both seem made for each other. Ballet teachers dictate a combination of movements to their students and communicate to the accompanist that they want a quick jig, a sassy tango or a long, slow adagio, and dancers must perform their technical exercises as much to the music as for the exercise itself. Being a dancer requires more than simply twirling.
In our last production of the season, Michael Pink’s world premiere of "Mirror Mirror" – this was ultimately the case. The complex score was composed new for this work by Philip Feeney – a longtime collaborator of Pink’s. His cinematic music is not easy. According to MBII dancer Alana Griffith, who was in the corps of the wedding scene, “This wasn’t just straight, easy counting. There might be an eight, then a two, then a six. I was counting the whole time, even up through the last performance. This is a different experience for me because I don’t usually count, I just feel the music. It’s exciting when it’s not just straight forward.”
Mirror Mirror makes a good metaphor for the skill set we hope to provide for the MBII dancers as they spend their time with us. In this latest ballet, as in all of Michael’s work – the dancers are responsible for more than just the steps. They are moving set pieces safely and as a team. The costumes become props as the dancers dress onstage, going through major character transformation underneath a spotlight. Building a character is as much a part of creating a role as figuring out the lifts in a pas de deux. All of these things are applicable to the MBII experience: the importance of working as a team, allowing themselves to be vulnerable infront of people as they change and grow as artists, and doing more than just knowing their counts, but finding meaning in their art as they figure out their next steps. 5-6-7-8-future!
As I write this, we’re less than 48 hours away from the end of the MBII season, a 38-week season during in which 20 young dancers have come so far. In honor of their "Graduation Celebration" (fondly titled “That’s It!” for a phrase Director Rolando Yanes uses all the time to mean, “You got it!”) I thought I’d count off a few of their accomplishments. Cue music; perhaps Rossini’s "William Tell Overture," or "Flight of the Bumblebee," or even better, any section of a Philip Feeney/Michael Pink hero vs. villain scene…
We started the season after Labor Day, with 20 dancers, as stated above. These young artists were, at the time, ages 17-24, eight of whom are international from four countries: Brazil, France, Japan and Mexico. The other 12 were from all over the United States (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina – none actually from Wisconsin). We are completing the year with 17 of them dancing in Friday’s Graduation Celebration: two are out with injuries and one had to end the program early.
Together – this worldly, dynamic, wacky, silly and dramatic group of dancers have accomplished a hell of a lot! Beginning with a performance at the Oconomowoc Fall Festival, just 11 days after they started, the MBIIs have participated in 85 outreach activities – including 25 Ballet Storytimes and 17 performances of “The Corps of 4 in ‘Dr. Injury Returns!’” They performed with the Company in "Romeo & Juliet," "The Nutcracker," Mirror Mirror and were featured for the first time on stage at The Pabst in the "Winter Series" with a piece called "At World’s End," choreographed by Company Dancer and Choreographer-in-Residence Timothy O’Donnell. They danced with students of Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy in "Assemblé," "The Nutcracker Suite," "Alice in Wonderland" and one (José Soares) will be in the upcoming "The Don Quixote Suite." They charmed the children at The Nutcracker Tea and dazzled our donors and VIPs at The Ballet Ball. They rocked out at an event for the Denim Bar at the Iron Horse Hotel (an event we designated “Dance for Pants”) and at NEWaukee’s Young Professionals Week event at the Grain Exchange called “Naked Ballet” (NEWaukee named that one) to the music of local band The Fatty Acids.
In all they probably loaded and unloaded a SIVA truck with the rolls of marley dance flooring, sound equipment, pipe and drape curtains, a set, a gondola full of costumes, or some combination thereof over 50 times. They drove hundreds of miles from Racine to Kenosha, and to every neighborhood in Milwaukee, including once a terrible snowstorm and bumper-to-bumper traffic, and then set a record for setting up the superhero show in a mere 10 minutes managing to start the show on time.
Just last Thursday, they did their final performance of "Another Show" – a piece created for them by our other choreographer-in-residence, Petr Zahradnícek. Originally this 14 minute piece was performed at our mainstage show at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center to a compilation of seven Cole Porter songs, arranged and played live by our principal accompanist Dan Boudewyns. The first five minutes of it became the perfect take-out piece for our workshop Ballet To-Go and by season’s end after another and another, we did 23 Another Shows, including onstage at the Riverside Theatre, at the Milwaukee Art Museum, at eight schools, for the Elm Grove Women’s Group, in the lobby of a bank, for a construction company and at seven senior centers. Whew!!!
Just like doing a ballet is more than learning the steps, the MBII program itself, is more than just a training program. Dancers come from all over the world to hone their ballet technique, to get incredible performing opportunities on their own and with the Company, and they learn to advocate for their art form for audiences of all kinds all over southeastern Wisconsin. The dancers live and learn as a group and, together, they face crazy schedules, injuries, the polar vortex and small paychecks – growing and changing immensely from their first day. They stretch, they study, they train, they learn their counts, they lift each other up, they fall, they get back up again.
We wish the very best to the dancers of the 2013-14 Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program. All of them – Kazuya, Hinano, Tony, Corey, Carlos, Ryoko, Garrett, Alana, Marie, Andrea, Andrew, Israel, Makiko, Kaylee, Caroline, José, Meredith, Molly, Katie and Ellis – have bright and exciting futures. Some of them know what their next steps are and some of them are still figuring that out. We hope to send them onstage with a new set of tools and skills that will help to make them more of an asset to whatever role they take. This is a talented, feisty, strong group of young artists. May they have music in their heads, know their counts and take big, daring leaps into their futures. Here they go!
Director of Community Outreach