By Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter Published Aug 27, 2012 at 5:31 AM

Michael Pink knows that not every student who dances at the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, plays the flute in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra or performs at First Stage will make the performing arts their vocation.

But if even one of them wishes to try, he wants them to have that chance.

"Especially in ‘The Nutcracker’ where you have so many students in it - and we try to make sure that happens for as many as possible – and it’s extraordinary, from the little small angels all the way up to our party children, how you see them grow each year," he said.

"It’s a great thrill as a director to think, ‘Okay, the majority of the kids who come into our school are not seeking to be professional dancers. But if there are any who would like to do that then there is a clear path from being a three-year-old in our school to being a principal in our company.’"

He is proud of the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy’s educational outreach and apprenticeship programs that encourage talent in Milwaukee – and encourage it to stay here.

"You can make that same journey within the same organization," he said. "Our (Milwaukee Ballet Company) faculty contribute at many different levels (to the school) so they’re aware of what’s going on each step of the way."

That’s what makes the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy’s production of "Peter and the Wolf" – produced and performed in conjunction with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO)  and First Stage – a labor of love.

The collaborative production will premier on Sept. 7 for a run of four school performances and 12 public performances at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, 325 W. Walnut St.

The production features Pink’s original choreography as well as the musical conducting of MYSO’s Carter Simmons and the direction of John Maclay of First Stage. Students from all three organizations are participating.

"The students are very focused, very dedicated, all good dancers – 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds," said Pink. "That’s the age group of the MYSO players as well so when they get together in the room, that’s a genuine discovery. They get to see each other’s skill – each group admiring each other for what they do."

Based on Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 composition, nine actors – three who speak English, three who speak Spanish and three who communicate in American Sign Language – will tell the story of a young boy who catches a wolf with the help of forest animals. The role of Peter will be played by Barry Molina, a "lively and enthusiastic" apprentice at the Milwaukee Ballet Company who Pink asked to participate; the animals will be played by ballet students.

The three companies came together on the same production four years ago. It was such a success that most of the shows were sold out. Now, four years later and with the assistance of Nany Einhorn ("a great supporter of all these groups," said Pink) they are joining forces once more.

"It’s taken longer to return than we expected, so I’m delighted it’s finally coming back," said Pink. "It’s always great fun to revisit a piece you’ve done before, with new students. Fundamentally it’s the same production, tweaked, revisited in terms of staging and what they’re doing choreographically."

Pink found that, due to the Milwaukee Ballet students’ level of accomplishment, he didn’t have to tweak his choreography much.

"The beauty of choreographing is that it’s about the person in front of you. You work to their level," he said. "I’m very impressed with this group of students we have at the moment. They all move very well and they’re all very fast studies."

For their part, the students are enjoying the opportunity to come together with other youth in the area who have a love of the arts.

"It’s been really interesting for me because it’s really helped me develop my acting skills," said Claire Buehler, 15, who plays a cat. "I think that working with the First Stage students will push me to work harder because they’ll be so great at acting."

Buehler has performed in seven Milwaukee Ballet Company performances over the course of her 11-year stint with the school.

"I would love to be a professional dancer," she said. "I think this (performance) helps me in my development because the classes are more focused on technique and then when we get to do all the performances I get to really work on my artistry, and that’s what you really need to be a professional dancer."

Lizzie Tripp, 15, dances the role of the wolf and agrees that the production is pushing her as a performer.

"It’s different because it’s a lot of acting. You have to be a scary character," she said. Tripp has previously performed with Pink and the professional company in this May’s production of "Peter Pan."

Pink’s choreography is made up of "animal studies," he said. "It’s really trying to find movements. We’ll interpret who these animals are. The wolf is quite frightening and quite sinister but I also made him a pseudo-boxer so he goes in with his fists up. The cat as you imagine is very, very feline and sort of bristling all the time. We try to find steps that work for the music and the character."

For Pink, this production is "just a joy, on a personal level. I have a great admiration and love of all that goes on in the MYAC building."

Reaching out to the greater community and influencing possible future performers is imperative, he says. The Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy reaches over 25,000 children a year through their Relevè program teaching inner-city public school students to dance.

"Even if we influence a small percentage of those kids’ minds, if we give them something they will later use, it’s very worth it," he said.

For the performers of "Peter and the Wolf," the influence has already taken root.

"I miss out on a lot because of dance – friends and gatherings," said Tripp. "They’re always like, ‘Oh, want to hang out today?’ and you’re always like, ‘Oh, I can’t, I have dance.’ That happens like every single day. But I’m doing something I love. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to. I absolutely want to be a professional dancer."

Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter

Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.