It always happens over the long haul. When the established social, political and artistic order goes stale, places on the peripheries of the centers of power, having more flexibility, become hotbeds of innovation. So it is that when Japan displaced America in the automobile industry, Silicon Valley arose to replace Detroit as the country’s economic engine. And as the 21st century starts to reveal its character, mid-size cities may become the country's new cauldrons of creativity. Certainly, Madison is emerging at last from the shadow of that great nearby 20th century city where I was born and raised, Chicago. Definitively, the cow town with a university in “Wisc – where??” that I was somewhat embarassed about when I moved here four decades ago is gone.
Madison dominates the news cycle as the national leader in the new struggle for workers' rights, which is a whole damn lot to crow about. But since this is an arts blog, what I want to point out is the synergistic growth of our local arts organizations. We aren't Chicago, or New York, yet. But in particular, it’s worth noting that Madison Opera’s Threepenny Opera (Overture’s Isthmus Playhouse, Feb. 4-13) was so innovative and brilliant it sold out consistently. The company had to add extra performances. And I happen to know we’re about to be socked with another piece of local performing arts wizardry. In three weeks (on March 19-20, in Overture’s Capitol Theater), Madison Ballet performs a luscious production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by Peter Anastos, noted ballet historian and founder of that famous troupe of men on pointe, Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo.
As a balletomane and a dance reviewer, I couldn’t be more excited. When Madison Ballet was just a pre-professional studio company it put on Midsummer twice, in the old Civic Center, in 2002 and 2004. The production looked lovely on artistic director W. Earle Smith’s student dancers. It’s going to absolutely sparkle on Smith’s professional company, which wraps up its fourth season with this show. I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been watching Madison Ballet’s progress carefully, and writing about it regularly. In the innovative spirit that’s enveloping our city, Smith’s managed to transcend the economic straitjacket of the times. Despite the very short seasons dictated by shrunken funds, he’s built a strong, cohesive company with a recognizable, Balanchine-based style. The upcoming production of Midsummer should put Madison Ballet on the national map. Watch this space for further updates, and my review.