By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Jan 22, 2017 at 11:03 AM

The national and international reputation that Michael Pink has built with the Milwaukee Ballet gets yet another punch when the biennial Genesis International Choreographic Competition comes to The Pabst Theater stage.

It’s hard to overstate how unique and prestigious this competition, started by Pink in 2002, is in the world of ballet.

It might be a bit of a stretch to say that the eyes of the ballet world will be on Milwaukee for the competition, but it’s not all that much of a stretch.

"There are a fair number of competitions," said Carla Escoda, the respected ballet writer for The Huffington Post. "But they are usually local or ‘niche’ competitions, like the Oregon Ballet theatre for mid-career female choreographers, or for choreographers of color.

"The Genesis competition is unusual in that it is global in scope, not narrowly ‘niche.’"

The three finalists in Genesis this year are eloquent testimony to the global scope of the competition. There is a Brazilian, an Italian and a Brit making up the field of three choreographers who will vie for the prize.

The Genesis showcase debuts Thursday, Feb. 16 and runs through Sunday, Feb. 19. But the process for the three artists and their troops begins much earlier, and I intend to watch the process up close and bring readers regular updates until the final prize announcement.

When Milwaukee has an event of such worldwide significance in its midst, it’s fitting and proper that the artistic community – the broader community as well – rally with a show of support.

The three week sprint to the finish begins on Jan. 23, when the three choreographers will hold a blind draft of dancers from the Milwaukee company by drawing names out of a hat. That’s followed by a meeting with their teams, and they are off and running, creating a new ballet.

"Genesis gives young artists the opportunity to have their work seen on a major United States stage, helping them find their feet in the incredibly competitive dance world," Pink said, in a press release. "Genesis offers audiences a chance to witness a new work, a part of our company’s commitment to producing innovative world premieres in Milwaukee."

Each of the three finalists come to Milwaukee with impressive credits.

Enrico Morelli (Italy) has won numerous awards throughout his country and received the Silver Medal of the President of the Italian Republic. Mariana Oliveira (USA) was born in Brazil and trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dance before founding Union Project Dance Company in New York. George Williamson (United Kingdom) has created works for the English National Ballet and presented a ballet for the Queen’s Coronation Festival.

The future of the world of dance is dependent, in large measure, on the development of new choreographers, but it’s a dicey proposition fraught with difficulty. Companies are hesitant to give opportunities to new and untested choreographers since so many of them operate on tight budgets. Hiring choreographers who are more likely to guarantee sales is an understandable practice.

The shelf life of a ballet dancer is measured in years, not decades, and can best be compared to the life of any professional athlete. And while most choreographers come from the ranks of dancers, it’s rare that a young choreographer gets any kind of opportunity to practice his or her art at a high level.

Timothy O’Donnell is the winner of the 2009 Genesis competition and is both the choreographer-in-residence and a dancer with the Milwaukee company.

"The Genesis rehearsal process was one of the first times I had six uninterrupted hours each day with professional dancers in a large studio," O’Donnell said, in a release. "It was invaluable to have the full support of the artistic team to aid me during the creation process."

For Pink, who is a gracious and helpful host to the young choreographers, Genesis plays a vital role in world of the Milwaukee Ballet and the ballet world beyond the city.

"New work is the lifeblood of our art form," he said. "The world is changing, and dance must evolve with it if we are to remain relevant. New works and new processes and new experiences push the art form forward. Developing new work is a vital component of our company’s identity. I’m proud to offer exciting new artists the opportunity to stretch their creativity and collaborate with us. Genesis remains popular with our audiences, which tells me that they’re eager for these new experiences."

The competition also acts as a challenge and new experience for members of the company. Dancer Garrett Glassman said the Genesis competition played a big role in his decision to come to Milwaukee from

"For me, Genesis is about more than just quenching my thirst for contemporary movement," he said. "It is an opportunity to collaborate with and observe the process of other choreographers. There is always something to be learned from someone else’s experience, and with that, I hope to further develop my own choreographic voice."

Rachel Malehorn, an 11-year veteran of the company has danced in several of the Genesis competitions.

"My favorite aspect of Genesis is the fact that we know nothing before we begin working with the choreographer," she said. "There are no expectations. For me, it’s like wandering into a dark room and slowly turning on a light to see what’s there."

One of the main benefits for these youthful competitors is a chance to work with Pink and his company. He has a reputation as one of the finest storytellers in the world and has created memorable ballets that have garnered worldwide critical acclaim.

The combination of this staff, this professional company of dancers and the young choreographers engaged in a competition for prize money and prestige. It’s a competition that is well worth ballet fans seeing.

Information on showtimes and tickets is available here.  

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

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.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.