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A Review of 'Spring Series'
The Milwaukee Ballet celebrates the season with three wildly different dances.


                                        Amy Seiwert's "In Passing." Photo by Mark Frohna

What does Spring mean to you? A sobering reminder of the changing seasons, the passage of time? The budding of bright romance? The first step on the way to sultry summer nights to come? The three pieces on the Milwaukee Ballet’s “Spring Series,” which opened last Thursday night for a weekend run at the Marcus Center, weren’t created specifically for the season, but they captured the moment with a variety of elegant movement and images.

In Amy Seiwert’s In Passing, the style is darkly elegant and the mood is elegiac.  Janel Meindersee enters the space in silence, trailing a long cape that eventually spans the width of the stage. David Grill’s superb lighting bathes the stage in a deep, unearthly blue, and Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds’ minimalist music adds to the introspective mood. It’s a dance of mostly duets, with slow, methodical partnering with intertwined limbs and rubber-jointed extensions. With Ryan Martin as a partner, Nicole Teague plants one leg and then slowly swivels the other leg and her torso as if they were the hands of a clock recording the passage of time. Along with the stately tenderness in almost every gesture, there’s also a sense of unearthliness. There are only a few moments in which the dancers are actually airborne, but they nonetheless seem weightless, floating above the ground like specters.

Vincente Nebrada created Our Waltzes in 1976, one of his first pieces as resident choreographer of the International Ballet of Caracas. It’s set to piano waltzes by Venezuelan composers Ramon Delgado Palacios and Teresa Carreño. Nebrada set other dances to the music of Carreño, who lived most of her life in America and Europe. And the music shows more of an allegiance to 19th-century composers like Louis Moreau Gottschalk, whom she met early in her career. Performed to live onstage piano music (beautifully played by Steven Ayers), the movement fits the music. There are little signs of traditional Latin dance styles. Instead, Nebrada offers a swirling, romantic la ronde for five couples, all clad in varying shades of peach and rose (the style reminded me a lot of Eliot Feld’s elegant neo-Classicism). In the early stages, the ensemble sweeps on and off stage, leaving a lingering soloist or couple to articulate a few gestures before the ensemble sails in once again. Later, there are extended pas de deux, and the dance becomes a lovely exercise in the way partnering expresses different qualities of desire and emotion. As the dance goes on, the duets betray more passion and ardor, each ending with a traditional—but very Latin—cadence in which the couple floats to the floor in a passionate embrace.

After the sunlit pastoral roundelays of Our Waltzes, Matthew Neenan offered a U-turn into a smoky, bluesy, film-noir neighborhood where dancers got to really strut their stuff. His Something Borrowed started with Alexandre Ferreira’s acrobatic solo flourish, which set the tone of macho one-upmanship that continued through the piece. The music was the tongue-in-cheek retro swing of Pink Martini, and the movement followed suit with femme-fatale flirtiness, and go-for-broke acrobatics. On style, music and mood along, this could have been simply a jazz rehash—Solid Gold dancers with a ballet pedigree. But Neenan thinks inventively. Even when he’s deploying more familiar jazz tropes, he adds a little extra to make it his own—lifts, for example, that take on an angular edge because the liftee keeps her legs stiffly splayed and her feet flexed. Or when David Hovhannisyan gives Susan Gartell an “airplane ride” spin, one of her legs twitches with energy as her feet go round and round. “Something Borrowed”?  Sure. A little Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, Twyla Tharp a la Sinatra Songs, even a little boy band hip hop. But like any great choreographer, Neenan left his mark and made it all his own.

The program repeats at the Marcus Center Friday through Sunday.

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