William Shatner doesn't come across as the epitome of passion, but ballet choreographer Margo Sappington disagrees. She fell in love with his 2004 album "Has Been" and decided that she had to create a ballet around it. What she came up with was "Common People" for the Milwaukee Ballet's "Premieres of Passionate Dance," opening Feb. 15.
"This CD came out in 2004 and I heard about it, probably on NPR. William Shatner did a CD, 'The Transformed Man' in the '70s," Sappington says. "There was no music, all reciting. Everyone seemed to think it was strange and odd and weird. He did classical readings, like from 'Hamlet,' but also did reciting of 'Mr. Tambourine Man' and 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.'"
She, like most people, would associate Shatner with his "Star Trek" character Captain Kirk, but after listening to "Has Been" and "The Transformed Man," she realized that there was more to him. Shatner collaborated with Ben Folds to create a musical spoken word album that surprised critics and listeners.
"So this CD ('Has Been') came out in 2004 and I ran out and bought it and I loved it," she says. "It's autobiographical and the way he thinks is so witty and so honest. It's funny and quirky and witty and so I listened to it over and over. And I thought 'I need to do a piece to this.' It's wild. The musical choices fit the words so well. Ben Folds and Bill Shatner had to be so in tune when they did this."
Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink approached Sappington about creating a new piece and she told him to go and listen to "Has Been." He liked what he heard and now Milwaukee is privy to a world premiere performance.
A cover version of Pulp's "Common People," which inspired the ballet, is the most popular track on "Has Been." Sappington also uses several other tracks, including "Familiar Love," "Together," "Ideal Woman" and "I Can't Get Behind That," to create a 30-minute ballet.
"I've done quite a lot with pop music and rock music. So this one, the difference is I haven't choreographed to spoken word as much, but there is a lot of music," Sappington says. "It needs a lot more concentration on the words from the audience. (The ballet is) not an illustration of the words. It will be a collaboration, the audience needs to engage more than their eyesight."
But Sappington thinks that many people are afraid of the ballet because they tend to think they need to understand it in order to enjoy it.
"I think ballet is an important part of our culture. It's as entertaining as anything else," she says. "People are afraid of it. You don't have to know anything about ballet to see it. This particular program has a great diversity of music, It will expand peoples' point of view about ballet. Something interesting, Bill Shatner did an interview where he said, 'Everyone should come to the ballet, not just for the entertainment aspect but pride."
She agrees with Shatner. She thinks that people need to be proud of the Milwaukee Ballet for everything that they do.
Sappington's "Common People," joins two other Milwaukee premiere pieces, Trey McIntyre's "Second Before the Ground" and George Balanchine's "Agon."
"Just come and enjoy the beauty of it. It's beautiful, it's an expressive part of our human condition," Sappington says.
Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Heather moved to Milwaukee to earn a B.A. in journalism from Marquette University. With a tongue-twisting last name like Leszczewicz, it's best to go into a career where people don't need to say your name often.
However, she's still sticking to some of her Illinoisan ways (she won't reform when it comes to things like pop, water fountain or ATM), though she's grown to enjoy her time in the Brew City.
Although her journalism career is still budding, Heather has had the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime interviews with celebrities like actor Vince Vaughn and actress Charlize Theron, director Cameron Crowe and singers Ben Kweller and Isaac Hanson of '90s brother boy band Hanson.
Heather's a self-proclaimed workaholic but loves her entertainment. She's a real television and movie fanatic, book nerd, music junkie, coffee addict and pop culture aficionado.