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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013

A Great Night for Dancers

Genesis of sublime, expressive contemporary ballet

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No pointe shoes appeared on the Pabst Theatre stage during “Genesis, the Milwaukee Ballet’s international competition for emerging ballet choreographers. The dances in the program were thoroughly contemporary in their use of movement. None told a story. Each had a strong aesthetic point of view and style. All were intelligently crafted, challenging and intensely engaging. It was a great night for the dancers. The demanding, complicated choreography served them well and vice versa.

They looked divine in Jason Fassl’s lighting and Mary Piering’s costumes.

I’m confident that this concert provided a look at what is happening in ballet today. Milwaukee Ballet’s “Spring Series” will broaden that view, and we are lucky to have two talented young choreographers in the company now, a nice gift from artistic director Michael Pink in his tenth year of leadership (a record-setting tenure). UW-Milwaukee’s dance department also provides increased opportunities to learn what kind of art can be made with bodies so sublimely expressive when classical conventions are ignored.

“Genesis” is a competition in that kind of creativity. Each choreographer had eight dancers—four women and four men, with the top-ranked dancers evenly divided—and 90 hours of rehearsal to create a dance from scratch. A panel of experts awarded first, second and third places and the audience voted after each performance. Since the winner will return to make a new work for the company next season, viewers are asked to consider whose work they would like to see more of. My answer is all of them, although I have a favorite based on personal taste.

The title of Lauren Edson’s I Hit the Ground mirrors the lyric repeated by Nancy Sinatra in “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” the last of the excellent songs that accompanied her alternately playful and rueful dance. A hand-over-mouth gesture suggesting shock/insight was a motif. The even-handed gender politics were refreshing.

James Gregg’s stylish Biorhythm, set to experimental music by Mikhail Karikis, included a beautiful, gripping adagio section featuring dancer Ryan Martin. The rest of the visually dazzling piece was danced with endearing bravado by a network of black-haired, black-eyed anonymous human animals.

Gabrielle Lamb’s Manifold was set to gorgeous music by Dustin O’Halloran and others. It offered witty, evocative surrealist imagery along with the mysterious but tender goings-on among a gentle, odd team of artists devoted to bringing something unusual and beautiful into the world. It won my heart and vote.

The judges awarded first place to Gabrielle Lamb and Lauren Edson won the audience award.