Milwaukee Ballet’s ‘Pure Dance’
Seven dancers, three dances at the Marcus Center
Two of the ballets in Pure Dance are brand new and were created with and for the company’s artists: one by their colleague Petr Zahradnicek, a Milwaukee Ballet dancer with a growing national reputation as a choreographer; the other by the esteemed Val Caniparoli, whose artistic home for more than 30 years has been the San Francisco Ballet. Simultaneously, they’ve personalized an existing ballet by choreographer Jerry Opdenaker, the founding director of a young experimental ballet company in Palm Beach, Fla.
I spoke with the dancers over two days. All were warm, articulate and deeply engaged with the creative and technical challenges of the work. Their focus, understandably, was directed toward that day’s rehearsal. On the first day, the relationship of movement to music in Caniparoli’s largely abstract piece was on their minds; the next day, it was the precise details of that movement and the challenge that, as Harmon says, “There are so many possible versions of it.”
Petrocci danced bits of Caniparoli’s work for me in a generous effort to clarify his process. He described the music as he moved, hearing it in his mind, and showed me that, yes, the movement embodies it, but that he tries “to imbue almost all movement with, I don’t want to say a thought, but an emotional thread.” The movement and imagined music clearly touched him, and through his artistry, I was touched. It is pure dance, outside of words.
“You’re not going to love every ballet you dance,” he says, “but you can love dancing, and give each work your full respect.”
As Malehorn states, “The goal is to take the audience to a place within themselves they’ve never been by taking yourself to one. The good thing about not having a story line is that it gives the audience a sense of authorship.”
McIntyre agrees. “It has a different meaning for each dancer and it will for each audience member,” he says, adding that the choreographer drew on each dancer’s strength, so “you feel very relevant.”
Malehorn describes Caniparoli’s extreme movements as an “over-fulfillment of ballet positions,” and Gartell elaborated by saying, “You can’t do the dance unless you have the technique, but you also have to let that go.” For Frain, the work has brought about a leap in self-knowledge.
Capitalizing on Friendship
Zahradnicek’s ballet has characters and an open-ended narrative. Patrick Howell plays a man at an airport who projects his concerns onto the people he sees there: businessmen, janitors, a distraught man, a pregnant woman.
The choreographer and dancers capitalized on their long friendship to make the parts organic for each individual. Malehorn and dancer Michael Linsmeier began work with Zahradnicek months ago to explore the possibilities of flashlights aimed on one another’s dancing bodies. This was the genesis of the ballet, and their pas de deux is a highlight, according to the others.
Frain, who plays a janitor, says the airport setting is a metaphor for “a place of mass confusion where people fail to notice one another; we don’t recognize how much we have in common.”
Gartell, who plays “an evil ex-girlfriend who stomped on the main character’s heart,” has had earlier dances choreographed for her by Zahradnicek. She believes this contains his best work and makes the fullest use of the unusual closeness of this family of dancers.
Or, as McCubbin jokes, “We know him, so we can bully him a little more.”
Opdenaker spent a long time casting the dancers in his Coeur de Basque, since they represent the artist’s spiritual process: storyteller, searchers and spiritual guides.
“It’s an examination of self,” Malehorn says.
Gartell adds, “The key is to find that place of genuineness.”
Harmon states, “The hardest thing at first was feeling grounded.” As McCubbin summarizes, “Our greatest achievement is to affect members of the audience in the way that we are meant to with eachdifferent piece.”