Nearly a year after pandemic lock downs began, Milwaukee Ballet remains optimistic, strong and flexible. “It goes without saying, our organization has lost valuable income through loss of performances,” says artistic director Michael Pink. “We made some pretty tough choices, but I’m pleased to say we’re stable. No one could have predicted we’d be as secure as we are now.” The city’s premier ballet company presents a revised season this spring after a successful Nutcracker adaptation piloted reduced-capacity live performances in December.
Three possibilities are on tap for ballet fans of all kinds. In-person and at-home options begin this month, with a program of short classics called To the Pointe, running Feb. 25-28 and March 4-7 at the Baumgartner Center for Dance. From April 22-May 2, also at Baumgartner, Re.Gen reboots favorite works from past Genesis programs, the company’s biennial international choreography competition. A planned return to the Marcus Performing Arts Center is scheduled June 10-13 with Encore, which pulls favorite dances from the vault for what will be the company’s first main-stage production in well over a year.
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The line-up captures the Milwaukee Ballet’s two-pronged zeitgeist. It is a company that holds its own with the classics, but has a strong identity thanks to original works collected from Genesis projects past. Practicality may be the reason for the move from Milwaukee’s downtown venues to their Third Ward studio theater at the Baumgartner Center, but the close-up, salon-style atmosphere is ideal for To the Pointe and Re.Gen audiences — which on Feb. 10 increased from 10 people to 25% capacity.
To the Pointe includes treasured bits from the classical repertoire, Swan Lake and Le Corsaire, plus Jules Perrot’s evergreen Pas de Quatre. The latter, Pas de Quatre, was a showpiece for four superstar ballerinas of the Romantic period: Lucile Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito and Marie Taglioni. One hundred seventy-six years later (and subbing in Alana Griffith, Annia Hidalgo, Itzel Hernandez and Lizzie Tripp, or Elizabeth Harrison, Marie Harrison-Collins, Kristen Marshall and Lahna Vanderbush, depending on the cast) and Pas de Quartre is a rite of passage not often seen on stage. “There is nothing harder than classical ballet,” says Pink “and the dancers are looking fantastic.”
Resident choreographer Timothy O’Donnell has been steering many of the company’s efforts to provide at-home, on-demand options for balletomanes who’d prefer to stay home. That also means a “plan B” is in place if health recommendations change. O’Donnell is inspired by this new role (added to the 14 other hats he wears), and these creative projects are keeping morale high. “This is so much fun,” O’Donnell says. “It’s a whole different way of delivering live performance. A lot of the challenges that have been imposed have forced creativity that, if anything, have made my job more enjoyable.”
The push to stay positive is, in large part, motivated by Milwaukee Ballet’s desire to spread joy, however you want to experience it. “We’re still here. Even if it’s restrictive, having live options is great,” says O’Donnell. “So many friends of mine still won’t leave their homes. Digital options are paramount, even though there’s a level of magic in the theater.