By Caitlin Elftman Arts & Entertainment Contributor Published Feb 11, 2019 at 6:56 PM

The urge to be creative always hits me the strongest around this time of year, when it’s much too cold to muster the strength to go outside and there’s only so many shows on Netflix you can binge. I always think maybe I'll take my knitting skills up a notch, or visit an arts and crafts store, buy some small canvases and paints, and see if inspiration strikes. For about a week or two, I am committed ... and then, just as quickly as my artistic side came out, it goes away.

It’s a bit shameful to admit that my creative side comes and goes in waves – but if anything, it makes me appreciate all the more those that are creative 24/7, 365 days a year. It always ceases to amaze me just how many ways there are for people to express their unique talents.

While I admire the unceasing spirit of modern artists, I simultaneously feel a little bit sorry for them. It must be so hard for them to find ways ways to stay relevant and part of a constantly shifting, non-stop cultural conversation. I wonder if they struggle with how they will make their voices heard and how they will make their messages stand out from the rest. I marvel at the techniques people use to put their stamp on the creative world, and I wonder at everything today’s artists do on a daily basis to be memorable and relevant to their audience.

This week, there is a performance that celebrates those artists who have never forgotten their passion, who have worked tirelessly to develop their gifts and who consistently stand out from an always-growing innovative crowd. From the first bite of dinner to when the curtain falls on an outstanding performance, this night on the town, perhaps more than any other, celebrates those who never sacrifice originality, and fight to have that originality appreciated and remembered.

Eat: Ardent

(PHOTO: Lori Fredrich)

There is no shortage of exceptional, one-of-a-kind options when it comes to choosing a place to dine in Brew City. There are so many restaurants whose idiosyncratic style is evident in every dish they prepare. But I would argue few are as delightfully innovative and truly artistic as Ardent.

The word "ardent" means  "expressing or characterized by warmth or passion, emotion, or desire; displaying or characterized by strong enthusiasm or devotion, fervent, zealous." If that’s not the perfect motto for a restaurant, I don’t know what is. Even before you are seated at your table, every diner immediately knows that they are about to eat at a restaurant where every dish is truly made with love. And that is something I, and many Milwaukee diners, are ardent supporters of.

Located in Milwaukee’s always trendy East Side neighborhood, Ardent masterfully blends meal and magic with their contemporary culinary style. While we all know of restaurants that can go overboard with experimenting with cooking chemistry, Ardent hits an ideal balance between playing with their food and dishes that are still recognizable as ACTUAL food. Ardent time and time again proves that sometimes, the most creative dishes are the ones that show the most restraint.

This philosophy is exemplified in the work of head chef and James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest nominee Justin Carlisle. It's clear that the culinary world is paying attention to Carlisle’s creative and delicious work, and Milwaukee is lucky to have a chef like this that is always willing to push boundaries while still giving diners what they need and crave. The team's vision is never sacrificed, their talent is always effortlessly on display, and people often remark how exceptional the experience of having interacted with them and their work was.

When it comes to ordering, Ardent takes away a lot of the guess work from you thanks to its always-changing chef’s tasting menu with an optional beverage pairing. The cost of the tasting menu is $95, while the beverage pairings are an additional $65. A splurge? Absolutely – but in this case, you get what you pay for.

If you’re like me, and you always look at a restaurant’s menu online before you dine there, a word of warning: Don’t read this menu on an empty stomach. It will make your stomach growl and your mouth drool. Simply reading the words "beef tartare" and "sunflower porridge" will cause your fingers dial the phone to immediately make a reservation at this Milwaukee hotspot – which I suppose there's been worse afflictions.

Ardent is a true Milwaukee staple for anyone with an appreciation for creative cuisine. It’s an escape from the routine of bland cooking – and an inspiration to get a little adventurous and creative in my own kitchen.

Play: Genesis 2019

(PHOTO: Milwaukee Ballet Facebook)

Because I am probably the least athletic person you could imagine, it has always fascinated me, perhaps more than any other art form, how those who have given their lives to dance can fully tell a story or express an emotion through their bodies.

From those whose creative vision drives the movement to those who execute it with effortless grace, whenever I am lucky enough to attend a performance where the choreography is the star, I can’t help but wonder how can something so beautiful and so moving be created in someone’s mind and perfectly executed into reality? How can something with such physical, impactful beauty be created out of thin air? These musings immediately bring to mind some universally familiar words: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep."

So begins the first book of the Bible: Genesis. But even if you aren’t familiar with the biblical creation story, you know that the word "genesis" signifies creating something extraordinary out of nothing. This is what the Milwaukee Ballet’s annual showcase competition, Genesis, strives to do every year: It allows up-and-coming choreographers, names you likely don't know yet, the chance to display their innovative work to a captivated audience.

While Milwaukee is certainly no stranger to exceptional talent in the dance world, it’s always refreshing to see the work of new artists so proudly displayed on such a grand stage. This year’s Genesis competition, running Feb. 14-17, promises to be no exception. Emerging choreographers featured this year include Cass Mortimer Eipper, a stand-out on the Australian dance scene; Aleix Mane, an award-winning dancer hailing from Spain; and Kenneth Tindall, an acclaimed Scottish performer and visionary. These finalists – who through their talent and drive, help all of us recognize beauty in the chaos – will vie for the prize of a commission which will be awarded by a panel of guest artistic directors.

It’s comforting to know that greatness can still be achieved in today’s always busy world. Brilliant dining experiences like Ardent and performances from the exceptional choreographers in Genesis 2019 are experiences that are truly transformative, putting a renewed sense of energy and purpose into our daily minds. It’s healthy to take a moment to pause in this hectic world and put your energy into witnessing, or tasting, something that’s truly once in a lifetime.

Tasting inventive food and watching young dancers achieve their greatest goals are the genesis of creativity on a personal scale too. While my takeaway from devouring the X at Ardent and watching Genesis 2019 might not be "quit my day job and go to culinary school or study ballet," it might at least inspire me to take up my knitting needles again – and hopefully with regularity.

Caitlin Elftman Arts & Entertainment Contributor
A proud Wisconsin native, Caitlin Elftman is always up for a night on the town in the Brew City. If you ever need someone to catch a play or a concert with, or a friend to check out the latest Milwaukee restaurant opening, she's your gal!

Caitlin is also a lover of international travel, makes a mean risotto and knows every Neil Diamond and Celine Dion song you could throw at her.