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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Michael Pink (right) demonstrates the correct move in rehearsal for the Milwaukee Ballet's "Mirror Mirror." (PHOTO: Timothy O'Donnell)

In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Pink watches on as Susan Gartell and Ryan Martin rehearse. (PHOTO: Timothy O'Donnell)

Milwaukee Ballet's "Mirror Mirror" offers an original look at Snow White


It's a rare moment when many people get a deep, prolonged look into the soul of just one man. Make no mistake about it: When the Milwaukee Ballet's production of "Mirror Mirror" hits the stage the weekend of May 15-18, it will offer a focused look into the deepest reaches of the soul of artistic director Michael Pink.

Pink, of course, is the artistic director of Milwaukee Ballet. He is also the creator, choreographer, heart and soul behind the world premiere of this ballet, the first version of which he drew up almost 15 years ago.

The ballet is a new telling the folk tale of Snow White. Forget what you know about those seven dwarfs and "Heigh Ho." This is a tale of beauty and two women who have it. One is the gorgeous Snow White, performed by Nicole Teague, and the other is her wicked stepmother Claudia, danced by Susan Gartell. Claudia is stunning, but evil and she works her sultry magic on every man who comes her way. Snow White is pure and finds her loves undermined at every turn by Claudia.

It's an exciting story, and watching Pink in rehearsal with his talented company is getting a marvelous glimpse into the art and heart of being a creator.

Pink is a tall man – taller than most dancers – and he has a face that would be comfortable on a president or a history professor or a fifth face on Mount Rushmore. He carries a pleasant air about him, but with his chiseled features, there is no mistaking that he is in full charge of this creation. Sure, there is plenty of help from Nadia Thompson, the Ballet Mistress, and Denis Malinkine, the Ballet Master.

But this is Pink's show.

In practice, he moves gracefully in a black t-shirt with a dancer on it, blue cargo pants and black ballet shoes. He watches and listens. He holds his head up, eyes riveted on the dancers, then tilts his head way to the side, another angle from which to see things. Then he is on his feet, moving forward, arms flapping or waving. He claps his hands and the music stops.

The dancers watch him carefully. He is very gentle with them. There is no whip in his hands, and you can tell by watching the dancers that they both like and respect this man. Their gaze is full of curiosity, admiration and faith.

There is a lift, a complicated lift that is proving troublesome. Alexandre Ferreira, who plays the prince Gustav, needs to lift Teague. Davit Hovhannisyan needs to mirror that lift with Luz San Miguel. Hovhannisyan and San Miguel are veteran dancers, and the difficulties do not belong to them. But Teague and Ferreira, he so very handsome and she so very winsome, are struggling a bit.

But Pink never points to the veterans and says "Watch how they do it." He wants them to find a way on their own. He stands, first in front of them and then beside them, showing them how he wants them to move. First what he wants Teague to do, then Ferreira.

Ferreira nods, and Teague brightens the entire room with her smile. They try again and again until finally, they have it. Pink claps his hands again.

"Yes," he says. "Look at that. Beautiful. Let's move on."

It's almost impossible to understand how incredibly detailed a Pink production is. He has a thick notebook next to him which includes the score, written by the internationally acclaimed Philip Feeney, who also wrote the score for the production of "Peter Pan" that was just nationally televised on PBS.

Facing each page of the score, in Pink's cramped handwriting, is his step-by-step guide of his vision.

And it truly is step-by-step. One tiny entry reads "left foot, right attitude." "Attitude" has nothing to do a personality trait. In the world of ballet, it is a single position, standing on one leg with the outstretched leg lifted and bent at nearly a 90-degree angle.

"A ballet is like a play," Pink said. "When a playwright writes a play, he uses words. In ballet, the steps are the words."

It is the steps that Pink uses to tell his story.

There is a moment when Teague and Hovhannisyan are together while the evil and threatening Claudia is across the stage. Pink quietly gives Hovhannisyan and Teague a simple direction, turning them ever so slightly, making it more obvious and dramatic that Teague is watching her stepmother.

It's a tiny, tiny change. In a play, it would be like changing the word "sad" with the word "sorrowful." But it is in those tiny changes that a magnificent story gets told. After watching Pink and his dancers create in the middle of a rehearsal hall, when this ballet finally opens, it's going to be one magnificent story.

And it will also be a wonderful visit into the soul of a man who makes the word "creative" seem inadequate.


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