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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 with 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 dancers 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 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.
At the end of a seemingly successful decade, fire struck the home of Milwaukee Ballet. Though the building was almost completely destroyed by fire, the Carley Development Corporation restored the building to appear as it did in the 1800s as Tivoli Palm Garden, a popular beer garden operated by Schlitz. This historic building on the corner of 5th Street and National Avenue became the Jodi Peck Center, which was Milwaukee Ballet’s home for 30 years.
American Ballet Theatre’s Ted Kivitt, who was a guest star in Milwaukee Ballet’s first full-length ballet, returned as artistic director, a position he held from 1980-1987, with assistance from his Ballet Master, Basil Thompson from 1986-1987.
As Milwaukee Ballet entered a new decade, it began to explore opportunities for long-term growth. After a successful decade introducing more than 40 ballets, Milwaukee Ballet signed an historic agreement with the Pennsylvania Ballet creating a single joint-venture company of dancers, artistic direction, production staff and repertoire. The Pennsylvania Milwaukee Ballet, which required dancers to travel between Philadelphia and Milwaukee, became the only classical ballet company in the United States to offer 52 weeks of work to its dancers. Though an artistic success, the Pennsylvania Milwaukee Ballet dissolved at the end of the 1988-89 season.
Milwaukee Ballet gained new momentum as it entered the 1990s. Dane LaFontsee became artistic director (1990-1995), followed by another tenure from Basil Thompson (1995-2000). During this decade Milwaukee audiences were introduced to such pieces as Bruce Wells’ Romeo & Juliet, George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and Lisa de Ribere’s Harvest Moon. And in an effort to commission at least one world premiere every year, Milwaukee Ballet continued to welcome guest choreographers such as Kathryn Posin and Peter Anastos into its studios.
Simon Dow became artistic director in 2000, instituting the Company’s famous international choreographic competition, Genesis.
Michael Pink took the helm in 2002, bringing with him a unique style of ballet deeply rooted in storytelling, dance drama. Pink made the Company a “home for new work”, presenting more than 50 world premieres under his tenure, including his full-length adaptations of Peter Pan, Mirror Mirror, La Bohème, Dorian Gray and Beauty and the Beast. As our longest serving artistic director, Pink was also instrumental in the creation of the Baumgartner Center for Dance, the 52,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that opened September 2019, in celebration of the organization’s 50th Anniversary.
Under Pink’s tenure, MBSA (under Director Rolando Yanes) became the only professional dance school in the Midwest to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD), and Milwaukee Ballet implemented an award-winning Community Engagement Department, led by Alyson Chavez.
Michael Pink is the longest serving artistic director in Milwaukee Ballet’s history. Since arriving in 2002, he has demonstrated his commitment to the future of dance through new work, education, and collaboration. His artistic vision for Milwaukee Ballet continues to excite and challenge.Learn More