Milwaukee Ballet and the Modern Quest for Beauty

Nicole Teague and Ryan Martin of Milwaukee Ballet in rehearsal (Photo: Petr Zahradnicek)

Nicole Teague and Ryan Martin of Milwaukee Ballet in rehearsal (Photo: Petr Zahradnicek)


Gatecrashing a rehearsal for Milwaukee Ballet’s current triple bill at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Ballet to the People was reminded of what Roger Scruton said at a recent conference on contemporary art:

You should be able to go to art with the burden of your life.

Scruton has been waging war against the ugly, the pretentious, and the incomprehensible in modern art — not without controversy. The modern ballet landscape is ripe for Scruton’s baleful scrutiny, littered with meaningless displays of angst and gymnastics. But Scruton wouldn’t need the heavy artillery should he venture to Milwaukee, for few ballet companies manage as well as Milwaukee’s does to breathe new life into classic warhorses and to commission engaging, thought-provoking new work.

Over the past decade Artistic Director Michael Pink has built an ensemble that deliberately eschews the cookie-cutter look of traditional ballet companies; these are dancers of striking individuality.

Amy Seiwert’s new piece for the company, set to a brooding score by Ólafur Arnalds – former drummer for a hardcore Icelandic metal band, now a much-in-demand minimalist composer – is as suspenseful and quietly terrifying as Broadchurch, the award-winning television series to which Arnalds contributed the monumental soundtrack.

Costume designs by Christine Darch for Amy Seiwert's IN PASSING  premiering this week at the Marcus Center (Image courtesy Milwaukee Ballet)

Costume designs by Christine Darch for Matthew Neenan’s world première for Milwaukee Ballet this week at the Marcus Center (Image courtesy Milwaukee Ballet)


The other world première in this program, by Matthew Neenan, sweeps us up in the swellegant retro chic of Pink Martini. With sly humor and a touch of pathos, Neenan draws a dramatic arc across a selection of their songs in English, French and Croatian — variously shot through with Latin rhythms, a big band sound, and echoes of the world-weary Edith Piaf. In one of many whimsical moments, the ensemble shuffles and struts with deadpan expressions as the adorable Courtney Kramer illuminates “Hang on, Little Tomato,” a trippy tune with 1930s’ pop undertones, inspired by an old Hunt’s Ketchup commercial (“just hang on, hang on to the vine.”)

If plotless ballet is just not your thing, Milwaukee Ballet has you covered – right through their 2014-15 season. The company may well become a household name across the nation as of April 18th when Michael Pink’s high-octane Peter Pan will be broadcast on national public television, with the dashing Marc Petrocci in the title role.


Just around the corner in May, Pink unveils a darkly thrilling riff on the legend of Snow White. With couture costumes inspired by the outrageous Alexander McQueen and a lush new cinematic score by Philip Feeney performed live by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, Mirror Mirror focuses on the smouldering conflict between two beautiful women.

Fall brings the absurdist tale of Don Quixote, and next spring Michael Pink’s stunning resetting of Giselle in 1940’s occupied Europe, for which Pink retains Adolph Adam’s beloved score and most of the classical choreography, refocusing the theme of betrayal and revenge in the context of one of the most brutal periods in history.

– Only THREE more performances left of Milwaukee Ballet’s ‘Spring Series’ at the Marcus Center: click here for tickets. –

– And for more about the marvelous dancers in this company and their upcoming season: check out our feature in the Huffington Post. –

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