In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Milwaukee Ballet dancers create a climate of beauty and humor in Genesis 2017 at The Pabst Theater. (PHOTO: Mark Frohna)

Dancers, choreographers create magic for the Genesis 2017 competition

It is altogether fitting and proper that Genesis 2017 was unveiled in the breathtaking beauty of the venerable Pabst Theater, as the 120-year-old structure came face to face with three brilliant young choreographers staging a program that heralded a healthy future for the world of ballet.

Sponsored by Michael Pink and his Milwaukee Ballet Company, the biannual Genesis brings three young choreographers to Milwaukee, assigns them members from the ballet company, gives them three weeks to design and rehearse a 20-minute program, and then put it on stage.

The programs are judged by a panel of three experts, as well as audience members who have the ability to vote for their favorite on the Milwaukee Ballet website. The winner picked by the judges gets a cash prize and the chance to design a full ballet for Milwaukee, while the audience favorite also wins a cash prize.

An almost capacity crowd of veteran spectators and first-timers settled into their seats well before the curtain, and the sense of anticipation was palpable. Finally, the curtain rose on the first program of the evening, "Pagliacci," choreographed by the charming and diligent Mariana Oliveira, originally from Brazil but now living in Los Angeles.

The story told by the dancers – comprised of four males and four females dressed in black with black beanies and bright red clown noses attached to their faces – was the descent of a clown from his world of play to a world of madness. The program featured a strong flavor of Charlie Chaplin, complete with the music from the Chaplin film "The Circus" and from the movement of Oliveira's company.

Pierrot (Isaac Sharratt) is the clown, full of joy and happy with his future – especially his campaign to win the heart of the delicate sparkle in his eye, Columbina (Annia Hidalgo). They dance, and the kiss he wants becomes as evasive as a butterfly on a windy summer day.

Eventually, with a flower joining them, she gives him the kiss, and from that point, his world begins to spin out of control. His end is a tortured one, driven to and past a breaking point by the devils in his soul.

The pas de deux with Sharratt and Hidalgo sets the tone for the rest of the evening. He is powerful and intense while Hidalgo, once again, rides the wings of an angel as she is both alluring and repellent at the same time. Hidalgo is one of the strongest dancers in this company and has the ability, always, to fully inhabit the character she dances. Her every move, her every expression, demands attention from anyone watching, and she delivers desired delight at every turn.

George Williamson, who lives in London, came next with his program, "Wonderers," about the journeys we all take in our lives, the moments we are strangers and the moments those strangers become comfortable with each other.

Williamson used a combination of music – some from Sibelius and Rachmaninoff to electronic music created by Edmund Shaw – and the variety matched the variety of the dancers, who drifted from different areas of life into the orbit of one another, sent by seemingly random decisions.

But the moments together were incredibly special.

The pas de deux with Alana Griffith and Barry Molina was a beauty to behold. The percussive music, over and over, catapulted the dancers to seemingly higher and higher heights – and an increasingly intricate series of movements that brought audible gasps from the audience when they finished.

But the Williamson touch was only beginning.

Barry Molina and Garrett Glassman danced their own pas de deux with a blend of grace, beauty and power that you rarely see on a stage. Two men dancing together is a rarity, but these two dancers absolutely killed it.

Finally, it was time for the program created by Italian Enrico Morelli, "The Noise of Whispers," a commentary on the noise of our world and how much better life might be with more whispering than shouting.

Morelli's piece struck a contemporary chord given the absurdity of the current state of politics in the United States. The word we all hear so often is chaos, and there was a chaotic feel to Morelli's work which seemed centered around a newcomer to the company this season.

Lizzie Tripp graduated to the big company after several years in the Ballet II program (kind of like a minor league baseball team). She was mesmerizing in her performance, long and lithe and sure afoot. Her moments with Davit Hovhannisyan were a virtual master class in pair dancing. His power and charisma mixed with her gentle beauty to create the kind of magic you only see in the world of dance.

The music played a prominent role in Morelli's piece, never more so than when we heard a mournful tone from either a string bass or cello combined with a stream of whispers in Italian. It was a moving experience.

No review of this program would be complete without mention of Mary Piering and her ballet costume shop, as well as Jason Fassl's brilliant lighting.

Piering and her shop had but three weeks to create costumes that helped to carry and clarify the stories being told on stage. It was a big job, but the costumes were wonderful frameworks for the dancers.

Meanwhile, Fassl is one of the busiest and most skilled lighting designers in the state, and I've marveled often at how his designs can so often tell a story of a production all by themselves.

He outdid himself this time.

With an array of spotlights combined with blue and floating candles, he created an atmosphere that was almost like being at a magic show. Dancers disappeared into the background and then reappeared in the light, all done with the magical touch of Fassl. It is worth the price of admission just to see this modest genius at work.

Genesis 2017 runs through Sunday and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.

The Companies

Morelli - Marize Fumero, Luz San Miguel, Lizzie Tripp, Lahna Vanderbush, Jonathan Batista, David Hovhannisyan, Erik Johnson, Alexander Negron.

Oliveira - Annia Hidalgo, Itzel Hernandez, Ariel Soto, Rachel Malehorn, Isaac Sharratt, Parker Brasser-Vos, Quinby Kasch, Josiah Cook.

Williamson - Marie Collins, Alana Griffith, Janel Meindersee, Nicole Teague-Howell, Randy Crespo, Garrett Glassman, Patrick Howell, Barry Molina.

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