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Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink dances for the first time in 25 years, to celebrate 40 years of The Nutcracker.

Visions of sugar plums have been dancing through the heads, and hearts, of local Milwaukee Ballet audiences for 40 years. To celebrate the landmark anniversary, artistic director Michael Pink is playing the toymaker Drosselmeyer in the company’s production of The Nutcracker this year, for a one-night only command performance on December 22nd.  

Pink shared his thoughts about the show, and his long career in Milwaukee.

Tell us a bit about this version of The Nutcracker.

This version of the production is coming up on 19 years – the sets and costumes are 19 years old. So it’s well past its “sell-by date,” but it still looks spectacular.

Why do you think audiences keep coming back year after year?

I think it’s tradition. Adults remember seeing the show as kids, and want to show it to their children and grandchildren, to make it part of their annual Christmas celebration.

Also, there’s no question that Tchaikovsky wrote a wonderfully economic score, wall to wall. The orchestration is regarded highly by other composers. Though, when it premiered in 1892 in Moscow, it was thought of as trite.

What brought you to Milwaukee Ballet?

I came here in 2002. I’d been choreographing and directing at various places but was looking for a place where I could bring my family. I was considering two other companies, both larger, but Milwaukee felt right. I saw enormous potential, in the company and in the city, because there were so many high-quality arts organizations.

I got my first job at 17, in London, and started touring around the world. Initially coming here just felt like another stop on the tour. And yet, here we are. We’re still here.

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How long has it been since you’ve performed?

It’s been 25+ years since I’ve danced in anything onstage. And it’ll be the first time I’ve performed in one of our productions here.

What prompted the decision?

My wife wanted my children to see me onstage. And December 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the company’s first performance of The Nutcracker.

How do you feel about the performance? Are you nervous, or excited?

Well, maybe I’ll be nervous the night of the performance, but I’ve always lamented not being onstage more. It’ll be a great honor to share the stage with the company.

And, I’ll admit, a little part of me is wondering how much I’ll be able to do. I had foot surgery a year and a half ago, and my left foot doesn’t work the way it used to. So I’ll have to use my acting skills a little to compensate.

Are you rehearsing regularly too?

I did a run-through early on, so I could walk my way through the part. But I keep asking “When is my real rehearsal going to be?” And people keep saying “On the 22nd at 7:30 p.m. in the evening.”

But seriously, I think there’s going to be so much love and support onstage, so I’m not too worried.

What else are you looking forward to working on with the ballet in the coming year?

I’m looking forward to Beauty and the Beast. It’ll be another world premiere for the company. It’s always exiting to do something new.

And the Pabst series, MXE Mixed, will hopefully bring in new audiences as well as our loyal supporters. We want the whole place to feel boundless and completely open.

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