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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Milwaukee Ballet's 'Three': A Showcase for Dancers

Dance Review

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Three was the straightforward title of the Milwaukee Ballet's spring program of three dances in three styles by three choreographers. More than anything, it demonstrated artistic director Michael Pink's devotion to his dancers, showcasing them individually and collectively in choreography that provided radically different opportunities to express their artistry. More a sensual pleasure than an incitement to thought, it was an entertaining display of grace, communal spirit and physical prowess.

David Grill's masterful lighting and Mary Piering and Bruce Bui's effectively understated costumes provided all the trappings necessary. As talented as the men of the company are, this program featured especially strong dancing by the women, always represented as self-propelled, full-blood- ed individuals rather than ideals in need of male support or a cadre of interchangeable robots. That's one of the obvious advantages of contemporary over classical ballet, of course, even for a company as forward-looking as this one, and it's one reason to support this kind of program. Another is that without fresh challenges, dancers and audiences can fall asleep.

Frequencies Lit,
a world premiere by Darrell Grand Moultrie with 14 company dancers, combined African dance and classical ballet styles to great effect: a hot hip-hop punk playfulness and rough elegance that was genuinely uplifting. There were many cool ideas, sharp solos and sensational partnering. Julianne Kepley's work in this piece made the audience gasp.

So did the opening of Petr Zahradnicek's Broad Waters, with its shimmering light, fluttering ground cloths, the sound of rushing rapids and dancers convincingly immersed in imaginary water. I honor Pink's understandable commitment to this fine company dancer's development as a choreographer and I am drawn to aspects of his work, especially its tenderness, but I'm waiting for greater clarity of intention. The symbolism in this piece—set to choral music by Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki—was too elusive. The work offered well-danced passages of liquid loveliness and a bath in the color blue.

Diane Coburn Bruning's Ramblin' Suite opened with a display of bare-chested male athleticism and a kick-ass solo by the handsome, impeccable David Hovhannisyan. It took me a moment, though, to understand that the traditional Southern manners and gender divisions were deliberate. The music by the Red Clay Ramblers was a high-spirited mix of folk styles, and the choreography borrowed patterns from square dancing and the tricky footwork of Irish jigs. Nicole Teague was all fun-loving spunk in a fast, high-flying role supported by Matthew Frain and Joshua Reynolds. A grownup duet by Hovhannisyan and Raven Wales introduced a finale of dance fireworks that drew cheers and whistles from the audience as they joined in clapping to the music.