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Davit Hovhannisyan and Itzel Hernandez star in "Scheherazade" in the Milwaukee Ballet opener. (PHOTO: Tom Davenport)

Contrasting one-acts on tap for season opener from Milwaukee Ballet

The Shaker religious sect may be all but obsolete today, but the Milwaukee Ballet will bring its heyday to life when it opens its season Oct. 20.

"Angels in the Architecture" will be paired with a classic, Kathryn Posin's "Scheherazade," in a double bill of one-act pieces featuring both beauty and compelling stories at their heart.

"Angels," which opens the show, is a ballet choreographed by Mark Godden, telling the story of the odd Shaker religious zealots that flourished in the 18th and 19th century. The sect had simplicity of life at its core, and it was reflected in the furniture members made. Many examples of Shaker furniture, such as the ladderback chair, are in museums today.

Godden created "Angels" when he was resident choreographer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and found, in the story of the Shakers, a tale he could tell with the kind of simplicity that marked the sect.

The piece is set to "Appalachian Spring" by Aaron Copland, a seminal piece of American music that was commissioned for a Martha Graham ballet in 1944. While her ballet focused on a young couple and their life together, Godden's piece focuses on the simplicity of the Shakers and how belief shaped life.

A review of a performance for the Charlotte Ballet described the simplicity of the piece.

"The dancers behave mischievously, meditatively and even exuberantly, finding individual joys while still adhering to the rules of the religious community," the review said. "Sometimes they hoist Shaker brooms or chairs in front of their faces, as if to say, 'We are the things we leave behind.' Quiet drama builds in intensity to the end, especially when we realize the sect has all but died out."

The 30-minute piece will kick off a season filled with both the familiar and the new to Milwaukee.

"Mark Godden's work is so well crafted with such a mature quality," said artistic director Michael Pink. "It's extraordinarily beautiful in its simplistic style, and the music elevates it even higher."

Following "Angels" will be a repeat of the popular "Scheherazade" commissioned in 2003 by longtime ballet backer Katie Heil. The ballet was also staged in 2006 so this is number three – and serves as a contrast to "Angels."

Rich in costume and choreography, "Scheherazade" tells the tale of "One Thousand and One Nights," the story of the queen who saved her life, day by day, and story by story. She tells the tales of Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and a series of stories for one thousand and one nights, until her death sentence is withdrawn.

The music of Rimsky-Korsakov is one of the best-known scores in classic ballet, and the Milwaukee company will dance in the most dazzling array of costumes you may ever see.

There are 53 costumes for 30 roles, and 300 different types of fabric were used to create the costumes. It took seven work days to create each costume and five months to create all the costumes.

Kathryn Posin is a world-class choreographer who started her association with Milwaukee Ballet in 1990 when she created "Of Rage and Remembrance."

"As a young dancer, I leaped in joy and terror to the rhythms of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade in my living room," Posin said. "Though my movements caused frequent collisions with coffee tables and vases, these interruptions did not distract me from the thoughts of the stories my mother had once read to me. Monsters and princesses often crowded the way into the dance with me. Most particularly, the beauty of the violin inspired my longing for far away enchantment in some imaginary land."

Information on tickets and showtimes for the ballet program is available here.


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