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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dance Along with the Common People

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For better or for worse, big-budget arts groups like the Milwaukee Rep and the Milwaukee Ballet are obligated to offer an annual repertoire of standards like A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, respectively. The guaranteed box-office returns enable them to finance the production of riskier pieces outside of the audience's comfort zone that may not sell as well.

Fortunately, Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink does an admirable job balancing the usual canon with groundbreaking, innovative fare. The aptly titled Live & Kicking offers Milwaukee three challenging pieces from American choreographers Val Caniparoli, Mark Godden and Margo Sappington.

Boldly going where they have gone once before, the Milwaukee Ballet revisits Sappington's Common People, set to William Shatner's spoken-word album Has Been, featuring the music of Ben Folds. The piece premiered in Milwaukee in 2007, and was documented in the feature-length film William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet. The involvement of pop-icon Shatner might lead some to dismiss the effort as kitsch, but throughout his storied career, Shatner has consistently had the last laugh. He may very well be our closest thing to a Renaissance man, having authored multiple science-fiction novels, earned two Emmy Awards for acting, and served as comical pitchman for an online travel Web site. His collaboration with Folds and Sappington is another feather in his large, diverse cap.

The highly regarded Caniparoli, a former dancer and choreographer with the San Francisco Ballet, is famous for working outside his classical roots, and his pas de deux, especially, have landed him widespread critical acclaim. His entry, Gustav's Rooster, is an abstract piece set to the music of Swedish rock band Hoven Droven.

The final piece is Plurabelle's to be (Heliotropes-turning towards the sun), a world premiere from Mark Godden, depicting a woman emerging from the shadows of stronger personalities, struggling for attention in a world that has ignored her.

Live & Kicking will be performed May 14-17 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

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