Two worlds of ballet met Thursday night and the crash was resounding, as the Milwaukee Ballet staged a classic from yesterday and a glimpse into what the future of ballet will look like.
The company staged the venerable "La Sylphide," a two-act romance, after opening the program with "Sans Pleurer" (Without Crying), a work by Timothy O’Donnell, the young choreographer in residence at the Milwaukee Ballet.
The program began with "Sans Pleurer," which O’Donnell said was born out of two questions that were puzzles: "Why are men raised to suppress their emotions, and what are the long-term effects on their lives?"
The ballet company has a corps of strong male dancers, and the nine men who danced this ballet showed that they well-deserve their own ballet. The set was all black, boxes and doors that reminded every man in the place of a locker room where men gather.
The men wore navy blue suits, no shirts, and bright red linings that flashed on stage with a power all their own. And O’Donnell put the men through their paces, dancing together at some times and in their own little worlds at others. It was demonstrably a masculine program, complete with the complexities of what it means to be a man – strutting, cringing with doubt and full of uncertainties.
Garrett Glassman led the pack of men but was joined in pas de deux by Barry Molina and other dancers.
It was fascinating to see this look at what the new generation of choreographers can come up with and the stories they want to tell. It was a powerful and moving performance.
After an intermission, the audience, smaller than any I’ve seen at a ballet in recent years, returned to a staging of the famous Danish ballet that is among the oldest in the world that still get performances.
A sylph is a slender, graceful woman, often a supernatural being that inhabits the air.
This sylph was Luz San Miguel on opening night (the role will be danced by Nicole Teague-Howell on Friday and Sunday). To say that San Miguel was a slender and graceful woman is an understatement.
The story concerns James (David Hovhannisyan), who is supposed to be getting married to Effie (Alana Griffith). The wedding plans seem to be proceeding smoothly until James sets sight on La Sylphide.
Their flirtation, his pursuit and her gentle avoidance continue throughout both acts of the ballet. It’s so interesting watching San Miguel and Hovhannisyan dance around each other. With all the passes and glances of love and curiosity, they never touch. Each time he moves to an embrace, she holds a gentle palm to his chest, keeping him at bay.
It is one of the most romantic ballets you will ever see. It’s like watching two young lovers stumble toward their first kiss, each hoping to consummate it, but each remaining in their own special realm.
This famous version of "La Sylphide" was choreographed by August Bournoville in 1836 and the Milwaukee production was guided by Dinna Bjorn, the Danish repetiteur who is the world’s leading expert on Bournoville.
It is one of the most fascinating styles of ballet I’ve ever seen. The traditional flow of arms and legs with giant leaps are all missing, replaced with precise and determined steps and gestures. It’s a difficult style to dance but the Milwaukee company proved well up to the task.
The ending of the ballet is tragic. San Miguel finally relents, and she allows herself to be embraced by Hovhannisyan. But that touch spells the death knell for her. Supernatural women who live in the air can’t continue after they have been held and touched by mortals.
The sadness of her death, and the carrying out by a quintet of white tulle-clad dancers, is too much for James and he collapses at the feet of the witch who has been the engineer of this tragedy.
A word must be said about Rachel Malehorn, who plays the witch, Madge, the conductor of this emotional drama. With a bad leg and a cane, it’s amazing how she still shows that dance can take a lot of forms. She is absolutely spellbinding, and this weekend marks her retirement after 11 years with the ballet company. This farewell performance just emphasizes how much this company, and ballet audiences, will miss her.
These two ballets are the kind of program that challenges common beliefs about what ballet may be, and it’s a program that deserves a much larger crowd than the one it had on opening night.
"La Sylphide" and "Sans Pleurer" run 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.
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 OnMilwaukee.com 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.