Just a few short weeks. That's all they had.
Take three choreographers, add a company of unknown dancers, toss in some music and give all of them just three weeks to create a full ballet.
It’s a challenge for everyone involved and it all comes to a culmination this weekend as the biannual Genesis Choreographer Challenge, hosted by the Milwaukee Ballet, gets underway at The Pabst Theater on Thursday night.
Competing for cash prizes as well as the prestige that goes along with the competition are George Williamson from the United Kingdom, Mariana Oliveira from Los Angeles and Enrico Morelli from Italy.
The opening performance Thursday at 7:30 p.m. kicks off four days of shows for these three accomplished young choreographers.
Each choreographer selected eight dancers, pulling the names of four women and four men out of a hat. And then they were off and running (or dancing). A full scale of rehearsals were held, costumes designed and fitted, lights hung and breaths held, waiting to see these visions come alive on the big stage.
No matter what artistic venture you're in, the time between the end of rehearsals and opening night is a time full of anxiety. No matter how much preparation has gone into a performance, you don’t know anything until the curtains open.
But if preparation is any indicator (and it usually is), Milwaukee audiences are in for some real treats. I’ve watched rehearsals, both in the beginning and the end, and I was moved by the work these three have created.
Each choreographer was asked to provide some notes about their dance for the program. Here’s the way each described their work.
"'I like the people who know how to feel the wind on their skin, to smell it, to capture its soul. Those who have their flesh in contact with the one of the world. Because there is where the truth is, where there’s sweetness, sensibility, there is where there is still love.' (–Alda Merini)
"It’s a fast-moving society. To exist you must keep at pace. It’s a life that must be shouted. It would be nice to slow it down, to simply whisper it."
"Pagliacci is a tragicomedy based on Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera. The piece follows the journey of a clown character’s descent into madness, exposing the artist’s humanity beneath the mask."
"We all started this journey unfamiliar with one another, and I wanted to create a ballet that reflected that; the sense of strangers coming together to embark upon a journey. I’m seeking to create a world with my dancers and not just movement in space. The world we create on stage is a place inhabited by creatures threading themselves into reality. I wanted the ballet to be a reflection of the specific dancers I have been given, born from our identities as individuals and as a group of unfamiliars; this ballet is our creation.
"During this process, I have been exploring the concept of journeys taken in time and the idea that a path can be taken many times over, creating movement on the dancers that link together in quite complex ways. Through these combinations, I hope to show their journey as something ongoing, something infinite, a voyage which can be repeated and rejuvenated. Timelessness is therefore at the center of this creation. These are human experiences repeated for eternity but never quite the same. In addition, the themes of attachment and loss are integral to the piece, as well as the notion of difference and change. This is a piece born from our journey as strangers, developing our own language and a new world in which we speak it."
Watching all three of these artists work I was struck by how they each have a unique approach to their task.
Oliveira is a woman who is very clear about what she wants. Counting off – 5,6,7,8 – she puts her corps of dancers through their paces over and over until they get it right.
Williamson has a penetrating gaze as he watches his dancers. He goes through the steps, showing what he wants and how he wants to get it.
Morelli is more flamboyant than the other two, but eagerly moves center stage to demonstrate. He is a toucher, helping dancers frame the picture he wants.
Genesis runs through Sunday and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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