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Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

Milwaukee Ballet in Colombia

Local company captures attention at international festival

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Santiago de Cali is Colombia’s third-largest city and the dance capital of that South American country.It is the home of the National Ballet of Colombia and its professional dance academy. In June, Cali hosted the fourth International Ballet Festival, a weeklong event featuring performances by 17 companies from 12 countries. The Milwaukee Ballet was one of three companies chosen to represent the United States. The others were River North Chicago Dance Company and Diablo Ballet, from Walnut Creek, Calif.

Dance plays a vital role in South American cultures. The government-sponsored festival, which is completely free to the public, offers Olympics-style opening and closing ceremonies in the city’s bullring—Team USA Milwaukee Ballet tracksuits were sponsored by Andrea and Anthony Bryant—as well as discussions, workshops and multiple performances by each company. Other presenting companies included the Australian Ballet, the Hong Kong Ballet, Germany’s Ballet Magdeburg, the Czech Republic’s Bohemia Ballet, Spain’s National Flamenco Ensemble, Japan’s Ena Ballet, the National Ballets of Chile and Cuba and major companies from Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia.

The Milwaukee Ballet is not well known outside of the United States, but Artistic Director Michael Pink’s story ballets have had great success in England, Australia, New Zealand and cities in this country. Juan Carlos Peñuela of Cali, the festival’s ballet master, seeking companies to invite, visited Milwaukee in 2008 to see Pink’s work and teach classes with the dancers. He returned several times, and was impressed enough to submit the ballet’s name to the Festival Committee, which made its choices after viewing tapes of work from many competing companies. The U.S. Consulate provided support for the participating American companies.

Rich and Rare Opportunity

The festival provides a rich and rare opportunity for dancers and choreographers from many parts of the world to see and draw inspiration from the work. It was Michael Pink’s first visit.

“Despite the economic and political climate of the country, it is inspiring to see such a high value placed on dance that it is made available free of charge to its citizens,” he says. “And to see and be seen by dancers from around the world, to have the dancers sitting and talking together, to feel the connectedness of world dance and dancers, is inspiring.”

Milwaukee Ballet leading artists Luz San Miguel, Darren Christian McIntyre and Douglas McCubbin presented excerpts from two of Pink’s large ballets, Dracula and Esmeralda. The latter, based on Victor Hugo’s story of the hunchback of Notre Dame and with a score by Peter Pan composer Philip Feeney, will open the Milwaukee season this fall.The former is one of Pink’s most popular shows in and outside this country. McIntyre also performed his solo piece Amadeus, inspired by the Peter Shaffer play and film, set to Mozart’s music.

All agreed that it was valuable exposure for the company. “We would certainly be at the high end to be invited back,” McIntyre says.“We made a very strong impression and people now want to see more of Michael’s work, and several choreographers decided to enter our ‘Genesis’ international choreographic competition.”

The Cali performances also marked McCubbin’s retirement from professional dancing. This fall, he’ll begin a new role with Milwaukee Ballet as assistant operations manager. A native of Melbourne, Australia, Pink invited him here from the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2004. Now he’s a U.S. citizen. McCubbin has danced the role of Dracula hundreds of times in three countries. His work has taken my breath away, but that will have to be another article.

According to McCubbin, “The Milwaukee Ballet is one of the fastest-growing companies in America right now. Peter Pan sold out completely before it opened; people were outside every night scalping tickets, holding signs begging for tickets. I would challenge anyone to show me another company in the USA right now where that happens.”

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