In Arts & Entertainment

Luz San Miguel and Patrick Howell star in Milwaukee Ballet's "Dorian Gray." (PHOTO: milwaukeeballet.org)

Ballerina San Miguel keeps her toe shoes on despite big promotion

There is a brown taped line – maybe a quarter of an inch wide – along the front wall of the giant cream city brick rehearsal hall at the Milwaukee Ballet.

The line creates two spaces, one about four feet deep and the other many, many feet. The small space on one side of the line is reserved for the choreographer and other parts of the coaching staff.

The other side is for the dancers, the athletes, who follow direction and who put all the plans into place.

The two spaces are sacrosanct, especially where the bosses sit or stand.

Luz San Miguel, however, is now straddling that line, as which is both a wonderful thing and a terrible thing, depending on your viewpoint.

San Miguel has spent 11 years dazzling Milwaukee ballet audiences with her grace, beauty and power. If the company had a prima ballerina, it would be San Miguel. She has danced every role the ballet has demanded, from Juliet to Esmerelda to Giselle to Odile and Odette.

She is a breathtaking dancer and actor. She can be sweet and delicate to sultry and sensuous to fierce and ferocious. She has brought great acclaim to the ballet company.

And she is at a point, after decades of performance, where the good news and bad news comes in.

She has just been promoted to Ballet Mistress by artistic director Michael Pink. The Ballet Mistress, and Ballet Master, are critical positions in any company. They work directly with the dancers as they ramp up to a production, much like right now during the hectic moments before the world premiere of Pink's "Dorian Gray" at The Pabst Theater on Friday, Feb. 12.

The bad news is that San Miguel is eventually going to hang up her toe shoes and spend all her time making other dancers as great as they can be.

But for now, she has one foot on both sides of the line. She will dance the role of Sybil Vane in the ballet, which opens Friday and runs through Feb. 21. Watching her in rehearsal, you can see her giving all she has to both roles.

One minute she is stretching, practicing a step, looking in the wall of mirrors to make sure she has it right. The next, she is huddled with Denis Malinkine, the Ballet Master, discussing a rehearsal moment.

"I don't know," she replies, when asked how much longer she will dance. "But I'm not ready yet. I know that. I can't put a time on it."

Whenever it happens, the fact that she can move full-time into the Ballet Mistress role will make it easier. But it will never be easy as she has found a home in Milwaukee and with Pink.

Two years after Pink arrived in Milwaukee with his own unique brand of ballet, San Miguel auditioned and followed him.

"I wanted to dance for him," she said. "He tells such wonderful stories. Much of ballet is too … shallow. I wanted the kind of artistic experience he has in all of his work."

The big thing in contemporary ballet now is the lights and swizzle of movement and steps and flights through the air. Pink has a devotion to telling stories, and in San Miguel, he has a perfect leading lady. And she knows she has a lot to offer the newer dancers in the company.

"I think I can give to the 20-year-old dancer what I didn't get," she said. "I started with a large company at 18, and I had to figure it all out for myself. They pushed me out there and said, 'Do it or goodbye'. It was later when I met a ballet mistress who coached me and helped me become a better artist. And that's what I want to do here. I think I can offer the younger dancers a lot."

"I think a ballet teacher takes a piece of marble and shapes it at the beginning and makes it into a beautiful shape, and the Ballet Mistress comes along and makes it shine," she added. "I can help them discover what kind of an artist they are."

Nicole Teague is one of the leading artists at the ballet and the heir apparent to San Miguel.

"I have learned so much from her," said Teague, who will also dance Sibyl Vane in the production, of San Miguel. "She is so wonderful and so helpful."

Pink, who promoted San Miguel, said, "She's brilliant, she's a hard worker, and she's always a joy to have in the studio. She'll be a natural in her new role."

Seeing both of these women dance in this production should be a real treat.

"Dorian Gray," written by Oscar Wilde, is a marvelous novel about a young man who sells his soul to the devil so that he will never grow old. His life of hedonism and excess was a scandal when the book was published and not something you would normally expect to see a ballet company perform.

But Pink is nothing if not an adventurous risk taker and here he has taken on a twisted tale that will add to the Michael Pink canon which has received virtually universal praise around the world.

And at the heart of this production on opening night will be a Spanish dancer who has thrilled Milwaukee fans for 11 years and who hopefully will keep right on dancing for several more.

Information on showtimes and tickets for "Dorian Gray" is available here.


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