Bright and early this morning, just three days before the end of the Milwaukee Ballet II season, we were on the road again, this time to Kenosha. Our work is never done – and believe me, we are tired. The MBII season started right after Labor Day and has continued until this coming Friday, with only a break at Thanksgiving and after Nutcracker (no Company layoffs or Academy Spring Break for them!) Today, our community outreach work took us to EBSOLA School to do two Action/Reaction workshops with 4th and 5th grade classes. Perhaps this doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but I’d say, given the incredible work load we’ve handed to our young MBII dancers – I can continue to repeat myself: these are some of the hardest working artists in show business. The season ends for our talented trainees on Friday, with their Graduation Celebration, and the week is packed with rehearsals, outreach activities, and an additional private performance.
On Sunday afternoon, we completed our mainstage season with the high-flying success, “Swan Lake.” Our MBII ladies, in particular, were pushed to beautiful limits in the corps of 16 swans. They, along with our four MBII gentlemen, fit seamlessly into the production – between them, showcasing their lithe swan arms and precision ensemble work, witty character acting and robust double tours. Our “second company” has worked hard to stand alongside the professional dancers in the Company and on Friday, we celebrate their success with an in-studio performance.
This season has been filled to the rim. They have continued to hone their ballet technique, in their own ballet classes each morning with Director Rolando Yanes, Associate Director Mireille Favarel, and Principal Teacher Karl von Rabenau. They have rehearsed and performed their own repertoire from tricky Balanchine to the physically demanding contemporary work created by a host of visiting choreographers. They have run from MBII rehearsal to Company rehearsal and out the door at the end of the day to a part time job at a local restaurant or to a babysitting gig. They have loaded a SIVA van or truck over 50 times – in the snow, in the rain, at 7:00 in the morning. They have transformed themselves into real live superheroes who bring the magic of theatre right into a child’s life for the first time. They have worked nights, weekends, Saturday mornings, at malls, in cramped quarters, on terrible floors, in badly lit gymnasiums. They respond to my late night texts reminding them to bring pointe shoes to a storytime workshop at the library and continue to volunteer to the random requests we throw their way: paint yourself gold for a private dinner, greet people in costume during lunchtime at an arts fundraiser, dance in the middle of a mall and do it with pride (and a bit of a sense of humor!)
I deeply respect each and every one of these fascinating, quirky, intense, dedicated and passionate young pros-in-the-making. I will get gushy for a moment and say that working with them is the best part of my job as the Director of Community Outreach. This has been a year in which this department has made huge strides but it hasn’t been without its obstacles and heartbreak (after all – it is a ballet company). The MBIIs started out in September as a group of 19 dancers and we will graduate 16. We’ve experienced people parting ways with us, some horrendous injuries, and a retirement at the tender age of 23. But we’ve also laughed so hard we’ve cried, gotten closer over long car-ride conversations and at all day outreaches, and have set up a Superhero show in 15 minutes in negative 10 degree weather and still done a damn good show! These kids, as I call them, are awesome.
I wish them all my love for their futures and I hate this time of year. The MBIIs are in a real make-it or break-it reality right now. They have spent the past few months preparing audition videos and résumés to try and join the ranks of professional companies all around the country. Some can afford to travel and go to auditions; others hope a director will see something that sparks in their DVDs or YouTube clips. They have already found out if they have been asked to return to MBII next season and the answer is not “yes” for everyone. Ballet is really, really hard and being a professional dancer is harder. It is a time where they must balance maintaining their professionalism and having real, understandable moments of confusion and doubt. Spending the bulk of your youth doing something that only allows for a small percentage of people to “make it” can be overwhelming. I watch this process every year and am continuously impressed, astounded, saddened, humbled and inspired by their spirits.
So, back to this morning. It was early, it was foggy; but we got to our destination and played “the shape melt-down”, “the mirroring game”, “strike a pose” and the “choreography 1, 2, 3” games with over 100 children. We went from there to Congregation Sinai – a temple in Fox Point, where we will perform at a luncheon tomorrow afternoon for 150 senior citizens. We set up our floor and sound system and went on our merry way. The boys had their last partnering class with the Milwaukee Ballet Academy tonight. On Friday, the MBIIs will take their last class as a collective and they will perform their Graduation Celebration at noon. And then after the show, when they take their bows, and we host a nice lunch – we still have to tear down the bleachers, fold up the curtains, and put the lights downstairs.
I am lucky to work with young people like this. One hears a lot about apathy in “kids these days,” but for our MBII dancers – year in and year out – that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I see how hard they work and how much they want it. To them! To their dreams coming true! They are such a part of the Milwaukee Ballet experience and we wish them luck and success as they go forth into their next adventures. Come see why I love them so much!
Director of Community Outreach
The Graduation Celebration is Friday, May 24, at noon in Studio A of the Jodi Peck Center
Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12