Pink ribbons were seen everywhere on Saturday night when The Milwaukee Ballet opened their holiday season with Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker. Each audience member received a bright pink ribbon when entering the theater to wave when Board President Dennis Buehler presented Pink (dressed in a black velvet suit jacket accented by a striking pink tie) to the audience in honor of his 10th Anniversary season. Waving the pink satin along with applause to show their appreciation, the audience gave their own thanks to the company’s popular Artistic Director.

When Pink arrived exactly ten years ago on the exact date of December 8, he described Milwaukee to the audience as snow covered and cold. Then he related to the enthusiastic crowd how much he enjoyed raising his growing family in this city, filled with a thriving arts community, and how each person contributed to this success. Only afterwards did The Nutcracker open to showcase Pink’s adaptation fined tuned to perfection.

The costumes and scenery immediately dazzle the audience from the first moments when Herr Drosselmeyer and his assistant Karl finish their gifts for Clara, Marie and Fritz for the holiday celebration to follow. On Saturday night, Marc Petrocci’s Fritz leaped across the stage to steal several scenes together with his younger sister, Clara, an equally energetic Nicole Teague. Karl, a magnificent David Hovhannisyan, pairs with older sister Marie, a delicate Valerie Harmon, to ignite the romance Pink instilled in the classic holiday tale. In Pink’s adaptation, Marie and Karl become the destined twosome to fall in love from the very first scenes.

Most impressive to close the first act will be the stunning pas de deux danced by Harmon and Hovhannisyan in simple white costumes, like the new fallen snow. In a dance with incredible lifts and pointe work, Pink has tweaked the choreography with exquisite elegance. When Ryan Martin’s Drosselmeyer again sprinkles sparkling dust over the foursome and opens The Snow Queen book cover, the beautiful royalty steps out, snow begins to fall, and the performance again finds perfection as Fritz and Clara frolic among the ballerina 'snowflakes.'

When the curtain rises in the second act to tiny angels fluttering across the stage and the grand carousel, the breathtaking scene bathed in a soft pink glow from the backdrop lighting captivates the audience. This year each number displays exceptional dancing. Susan Gartell’s Arabian performance quiets the crowd, while Teague handles a swirling red ribbon with agility when Clara accompanies the Chinese dragon. Petrocci again demonstrates his ability and stage presence when he adds the fourth member to the tricks of the three colorful Jacks. Hovhannisyan and Harmon light up the stage in solos and another romantic pas de deux. 

The Nutcracker’s choreography has become more complex and exciting to appreciate through the years. During this time, the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy has thrived  producing a host of accomplished youth performers that elevate the production, adding vibrant richness to the cast. These achievements only add to Pink’s legacy admired in his other full length ballets, Peter Pan and the recently premiered La Boehme, projects under constant revision as he did for The Nutcracker. As Pink stated that night, “Most of the children in the performance were just a twinkle in their parent’s eye when I arrived ten years ago.”

If one has missed attending The Nutcracker, 2012 will certainly be the year to buy a ticket and enjoy this lavish production. Even long time fans will find this year’s edition more enchanting than ever. After the memorable second act, the dancers arrived for their curtain call waving pink ribbons. In an evening twinkling with almost unmatched perfection, Michael Pink has grown immensely along with The Milwaukee Ballet. He deserves every ribbon waved that evening to celebrate his 10th Anniversary.

The Milwaukee Ballet along with the Joan, Jack and Victor Stein Foundation presents Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker through December 26 at the Marcus Center. For information and tickets, please call: 414.902.2103 or click the MKE Ballet link to the left.   By Peggy Sue Dunigan, who has attended The Nutcracker for more than twenty years and seen numerous adaptations. 




How would The Milwaukee Ballet’s The Nutcracker enchant the audience without those magnificent costumes? The company conjures the very magic the holiday tale relies upon with more than 150 costumes that casts an enduring spell on the audience. Artistic Director Michael Pink presents this musical gift of dance on the city's Uihlein Hall stage at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts every December. 

This begins at the Milwaukee Ballet Studios located on 6th and National, where drapers Harlan Ferstl and Sarah Keller continue to stitch dancers’ skirts and Fritz’s vest for the premiere on December 8. Fifteen years have passed since The Joan, Jack and Victor Stein Foundation donated one million dollars for a complete makeover of Milwaukee’s seasonal ballet classic. During those years and over 100 performances later, numerous costumes have needed serious repairs. Silks have split on party skirts, buttons have broken on evening shirts and mice heads have required draper’s dental work to replace any lost plastic teeth. 

Besides these repairs, after each season all the buttons and trims are removed on every costume before being dry-cleaned and then stored for the year. These trims all need to be replaced before the 15 performances begin in 2012. Then every December, all costumes are laundered by sponge or machine, while each pair of ballet tights and other washable clothing will be cleaned, even between matinees, to keep the ethereal costumes bright for the every single performance. 

The pastel colored tutus or romantic gowns remind the audience of actual sugar plums, the longer, frothy full skirts similar to the airiness of cotton candy. Or appreciate the gigantic pairing of long, white pantaloons and the huge voluminous skirt seen on Mother Ginger in Act II, a costume that hangs from the rehearsal studio’s ceiling because of the size. Glitter and sequins need to be reattached to these sparkling costumes every year so light can reflect their shimmer during the holidays. In 2012, Nita Soref together with Ann and Richard Teerlink (in the name of Francesca Louisa Drope and Mandela Josephine Drope) sponsored a new Sugar Plum Fairy costume that will glitter when set to one of Tchaikovsky’s best-known compositions. 

Those delicate dancer's toes require gentle care, too. Seventy pairs of pointe shoes for the women and 30 pair of ballet slippers used in the production require Wardrobe Mistress Mary Belle Potter to be on her own toes. Often each pair requires four to seven months to custom order, being made to exact specifications for one ballerina. Keeping costumes clean and the dancers dressed for the performances, which includes costume changes, has occupied her time for 4o years. After this season, Potter will be retiring, yet return as a performance dresser for the 2013-2014 season. 

In the ballet studio’s rehearsal hall, ballerinas practice with their costumes on, a breathtaking sight even without the live music, production backdrop or complete corps, refining the steps until opening night. Also at this time, The Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker Costume Drive remains open as well, with sponsors needed for Marie’s Party Dress, a host of Mouse Infantry suits, the Arabian costume and five pairs of Children’s Party Shoes. 

While Ferstl has worked for the Ballet as a draper since 2002, he has handled these precious costumes at least “1000” times and claims 15 years ago they were made with quality, stitched to last and continue to conjure holiday ballet magic. “But to the children in the show, the new dancers, “ he explained, “They’re excited to wear them and then they become new to us each year through their eyes.” 

The Milwaukee Ballet presents The Nutcracker at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts December 8 through 26. For information or tickets please call 414.902.2103 or click the Milwaukee Ballet link to the left.              by Peggy Sue Dunigan 



Contemporary ballet enthralled the audience on Saturday evening. While some dance patrons prefer only the full length, traditional ballet, they miss the experience of applauding new works from around the world. The Milwaukee Ballet under Michael Pink’s artistic direction presented three exceptional choreographers that had the dancer’s exchanging toe shoes for ballet slippers during several selections, where both were used to great effect in the Spring Series.

Choreographer Matthew Neenan form BalletX brought The Last Glass to Milwaukee from Philadelphia. Music by Beirut, a six member contemporary musical ensemble, accompanied ten dancers in a rowdy city scene to reinterpret West Coast America, modern Paris, or a city carnival at night’s end.

In refreshing shades of blues, lavenders, and whites, the dancers' costumes embodied spring itself. The ballerinas’ soft, fluid tutus floated during the lifts and pirouettes, except for one dancer dressed in a lace camisole and pantaloons for romantic contrast. She alone waited and sought a partner throughout the composition, an interesting, evocative narrative inhabiting this enchanting piece. 

During the first intermission, the curtains remained opened to reveal feathers cascading on the stage floor, a prelude to the dance. The acclaimed work titled Extremely Close by resident choreographer and dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Alejandro Cerrudo found its inspiration in the music of Philip Glass and Dustin O’Halloran.

Four couples dressed in black leotards contrasted the feathery white down and movable fabric panels pushed over the stage by the dancers during the performance. Often times Jason Fassl’s lighting designs softened the dancer’s silhouettes, their shadows reflected on the white screens. The sophisticated selection produced a contemplative mood, especially when the last dancer lying on the stage was swept with the feathers off the floor by a swathe of black cloth in the finale. 

To finish the evening, Lila York’s Celts discovered a lighthearted grace in the fast paced and lithesome footwork, both on pointe and in slippers for the Milwaukee Ballet corps. Sometimes 27 dancers appeared in highly coordinated patterns on the stage, often further translated into a classical dance repertoire. Traditional Irish music complemented costumes colored in hues that evoked wood nymphs and worn by the corps who performed flawlessly with several striking pas de deuxs during the performance.

The Celts' vibrant melodies made the audience’s toes tap quietly and presented a complex and entusiastic finish to the performance in honor of Milwaukee’s early spring. Come May, the city can look forward to a reprise of Peter Pan and a journey to Neverland. The full-length ballet returns to the Uihlein Hall stage by popular demand on March 10-13 and tickets are selling quickly.

In the year ahead, the 2012-2013 season excites the ballet fan with an original production of La Bohème and Swan Lake. In between these two productions, the Genesis competition and Spring Series, along with the holiday season’s The Nutcracker, will provide another year where ballet soars to new heights in Milwaukee. Be sure to purchase tickets for the company's entertaining flight. 

For more information on The Milwaukee Ballet’s Peter Pan coming in May, or a subscription for the 2012-2013 season, call 414,902.2103 or click the link to the left.            by Peggy Sue Dunigan.











Contemporary dance returned to the Pabst Theater this February with stunning choreography. The Milwaukee Ballet debuted three world premieres at their weekend Winter Series, too striking to have missed. These impressive additions to the art form’s repertoire certainly secures the ballet’s future, in Milwaukee and internationally, while enriching audiences in grand style.

The curtain opened on Saturday night to Brock Clawson’s Crossing Ashland, a three-part piece that appeared to speak to the interconnections one makes or misses walking on a city street. People in contemporary dress strutted by each other at the back of the stage, behind the dancers, missing that important eye contact, which imparts an evocative, loose narrative to Clawson’s work.

Clawson’s intricate and intertwined choreography flows together tightly, the dances nearly avoiding that personal touching. Neutral grey colored costumes mute the individual artists and perhaps echo any urban isolation while his mesmerizing paired dancers contrast the detachment displayed by those persons in the street scene behind them. Contemporary music underscored the six couples that completely dominated the stage until the performance ended when two city dwellers finally connected front and center.

In the second premiere Autumn Leaves, live music accompanied Petr Zahradnicek’s contribution that also featured Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Studio Artists and pianist Steven Ayers. Composer Gabriel Faure’s “Songs for Voice and Piano” inspired this mythological ballet story that reflects life transitions through numerous seasons and years.

Ballet partners shadowed each other’s movements, until one pair was separated, through fluid footwork and incorporating the more traditional pas de deux. All the dancers beckoning to a muse's whims, this one solo dancer who changed the seasons by touching a magically lit tree, and performed en Pointe, a pleasure to watch on stage. The intriguing lifts and departure of several dancers at stage right hinted at a story the audience could romantically relate to by enveloping one dancer's love and loss. 

However, Mauro de Candia’s Purple Fools parodied the performing arts world with dancers dressed in black satin ballet length gowns and elegant black suits with ties. High pompadour hairstyles invoked the harlequin or court jester on stage. The dancer’s 10 white chairs became the foil for this intricate, witty and wondrous combination of the comic and complex choreography that ballet can encompass. 

While both the audience and dancers laughed out loud (integral to the performance), white powder cascaded from the dancer’s pompadours to add another visual dimension on stage, the white fluff softly covering the floor. Smart, sophisticated and visually striking, Purple Fools demonstrated what the best contemporary ballet might be. A performance encouraging the audience to embrace challenging choreography and themes while transforming traditional ballet techniques. De Candia’s work presented conceptually brilliant and technically innovative ballet that delighted the audience. 

Milwaukee Ballet continues to move the artistic bar higher over each passing Winter Series. February 2012 will remain a highlight in the choreographic standards with thankfully more to come this year. The company convincingly portrays why ballet remains a necessary art form in expressing the wonder to body movement, the human form, lyrical voice, and contemporary music merged in stellar combinations. These combinations uplift the spirit and reminds the audience how exhilarating life might be.      

The Milwaukee Ballet presents The Spring Series the weekend of March 29 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Art and reprises the full length ballet Peter Pan beginning May 10. For information or tickets call: 414.902.2103 or click the link to the left.                                               by Peggy Sue Dunigan