Milwaukee Ballet was founded by Roberta Boorse, who dreamed of a professional ballet company in Wisconsin’s largest city. Boorse was passionate and relentless in her pursuit, famously camping out at New York City’s American Ballet Theatre to request guest appearances with her new Company.
Boorse also worked locally to get the organization up on its feet. Following an enthusiastic conversation with Adolph Suppan, Dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Fine Arts, she recruited UWM’s Jury Gotschalks as the Company’s first artistic director, and Myron Nadel as its first resident choreographer. She engaged Lupe Serrano, an American Ballet Theatre dancer residing in the area, to teach weekly classes.
The curtain rose on rose on Milwaukee Ballet’s inaugural performance on April 24, 1970, at UWM’s School of Fine Arts. The audience was enraptured by excerpts from Polovetzian Dance, The Hill, and a pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Audiences were enchanted by stunning performances from guest stars Lupe Serrano and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Ted Kivitt.
As Milwaukee Ballet grew in popularity, it began to present works never before seen by Milwaukee audiences. Within its first year, the Company sold out Coppélia, its first three-act ballet starring Cynthia Gregory and Ted Kivitt of the American Ballet Theatre.
Throughout the 1970s, Milwaukee Ballet continued to thrive. In addition to experiencing the arrival of artistic director Jean-Paul Comelin, in 1974 Milwaukee Ballet opened Milwaukee Ballet School, the official school of Milwaukee Ballet. In 1977, Milwaukee Ballet began performing The Nutcracker, one of America’s most popular ballets, for the first time. It was also during this decade that Milwaukee Ballet began to showcase its talents to audiences across the country.