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Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011

Milwaukee Ballet II in South Milwaukee

World Premieres and Old School Showpieces

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A deep stage, good lighting and up-close seating made the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center an excellent venue for the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II in “Classical To Contemporary,” a program of seven dances in as many styles.  This was the first dance concert ever presented by the SMPAC, and an enthusiastic audience of several hundred cheered it warmly.

MB II is Milwaukee Ballet's professional training program, a company of accomplished 18-23 year olds from around the world at the brink of their careers. One hundred percent of past graduates have jobs in professional companies and 40% of the dancers in the current Milwaukee Ballet company came through MB II.

In his welcome speech, Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink noted that dancers today need both superb classical technique and a new plasticity of mind and body to adjust to the limitless demands of contemporary choreography.  Moreover, he said, “They have to be willing to bare their souls or why would we care?”

Soul bearing is easier said than done.  At the start of opening piece, Symphony, a world premiere by MB II director Rolando Yanes to music by Prokofiev, the dancers seemed nervous, focused on hitting their marks.  But a lovely, grounded second movement solo established a connection with the audience that seemed to everybody loosened up, and by the end I started to see each dancer as an individual soul and, indeed, to care.  I'd like to see Symphony again when the dancers have lived with it longer.

Lakefront Date
by Milwaukee Ballet choreographer and dancer Petr Zahradnicek was heaven.  Set to Bach sung by the oddly elegant Swingle Singers, the inventive watery choreography and heartfelt dancing captured the lakefront in summer.  I grinned and grinned.  Another highlight was Nadia Thompson's very fast, very flashy Grande Tarantella.  The dancers carried small tambourines slapped in rhythm to punctuate their own impressive leaps and spins.

Yanes' Tango Apasionado, simultaneously neoclassical and sultry to music by Astor Piazzola, featured many swoony, gorgeous passages.  Again, I sometimes wanted less-careful performances.  Yanes' choreography asks for a confidence these young artists are still developing.

Half Empty
by Victor Alexander Ramirez, another world premiere, is an appealing dance for eight men to compelling new music by Vann Tiersen.  Images of boyish angst are presented with humor and a gentle athleticism.  This performance, too, will grow from a very good start.

There were many outstanding performances.  Regrettably, I'll name only five.  Chiharu Yamamoto and Menguin Chen performed an impeccable Grand Pas Classique, a classical grand pas de deux with the standard male and female variations, elevating the textbook steps and stunts through their passionate commitment and personal radiance. Yamamoto, Emily Reed, Lauren Treat and Moka Maihara were endearing and knowingly silly in Pas de Quatre, a romantic era showpiece for divas, rife with mannerisms that the all-male drag troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo would adore.
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