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Monday, March 23, 2009

Genesis Under Pressure

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One can only hope that Milwaukee Ballet hired a film crew to document the production of its latest offering, Genesis. It is not difficult to imagine the dramatic potential in taking a performance piece from sketchbook to stage in just three weeks, yet such was the gauntlet thrown down by Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink. From 30 submissions proposed by artists across the globe, Pink selected three finalists, each of whom had little more than a fortnight to bring their vision to audiences at the Pabst Theater.

The trio of chosen choreographers is well suited to the task. Cameron McMillan's work has been performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the English National Ballet and London's Bonachela Dance Company. Timothy O'Donnell of the West Australian Ballet has won numerous accolades for his creations, and Maurice Causey, ballet master at the Netherlands Dance Theater, has won international acclaim for his productions with the Ballet Frankfurt, Royal Swedish Ballet and the Wiesbaden Opera Ballet.

The works will expand to fill the time allotted, but 21 days leaves very little time to break for coffee and cigarettes. The choreographers were whisked from the tarmac at Mitchell International to Milwaukee Ballet's rehearsal space, where they were presented with eight dancers (four men and four women). They then quite literally drew names from a hat to find out which dancers would represent them onstage.

That creates Genesis' biggest challenge. "I like to work theatrically," says Causey, who, like the other choreographers, ordinarily has the luxury of an audition process to fit the right dancers to the piece. "I had no idea what kind of people I'd be working with, what the quality of the dancers would be.

"Sometimes, classical training can be a hindrance," he adds. "I like to deconstruct the classical techniques."

There is an unfortunate trend in American culture to showcase performance art as competition rather than exhibition, spawned by a miserable slate of reality television programming. Michael Pink's tenure at Milwaukee Ballet has been a delight for audiences, however, so one can trust his instincts. The three pieces will be voted upon by both ticket-holders and a panel of judges, with the choreographer whose work is deemed most worthy being invited back to create a full-length ballet for the 2010 season. The real winner here is the audience, who will be afforded an opportunity to enjoy multiple works by three world-class artists working under the gun.

Runs March 26-29 at the Pabst Theater.