Sunday, April 7, 2013

Madison Ballet's "Exposed" Pays Homage to Pure Dance

                                   W. Earle Smith, right, rehearses Balanchine's "Valse-Fantaisie" with Marguerite
                                    Luksik and Brian Roethlisberger.    © SKepecs 2013
by Susan Kepecs
The weekend after next – April 19-20, at the Bartell Theatre – you get to see dancers, exposed!  Madison Ballet’s dancers, to be precise, performing works from the company’s repertory.  No story, no elaborate production, no period costumes – just pure ballet. 
       Why is the Overture resident company swapping the snazzy performing arts palace for the funky little 200-seat Bartell for this show? 
       Two reasons, says Madison Ballet artistic director W. Earle Smith.  “Cost, and the intimacy of that theater.  Doing a repertory program in Overture is very expensive and you have to do a one-up – load-in and tech rehearsal on day one and perform on day two.  It really takes away from what artists do.  The theater should feel like your home.  At the Bartell we’re able to go in for multiple days – we can enjoy our stay there and spend the time it takes to mount a repertory evening properly.
        “The other thing is that the smaller, more cost-effective theater allows me to challenge myself and the dancers, and that’s what I’m doing.  I’m taking risks choreographically.  And I chose the title – “Exposed” – because the intimacy of the Bartell really exposes the dancers to the audience.  You’ll be able to hear them breathe, see the sweat flinging off their bodies.”
       The program opens with a momentous event – Madison Ballet’s first-ever performance of a Balanchine work, “Valse-Fantaisie.”  “’Valse’ exposes dance in its purest form,” says Smith.  Marguerite Luksik and Brian Roethslisberger have the principal roles in this nine-minute pas de six, which Balanchine choreographed in 1967. “It’s classic corps and principal work,” Smith says.  “The corps does a ton of dancing, which is typical of Balanchine ballets.  Doing “Valse” is huge for us.  I’ve been chomping at the bit to do a Balanchine ballet, but I waited until I was sure the company was ready.”
       The Balanchine Trust determines which companies can be licensed to perform the twentieth-century master’s ballets based on two factors: the director’s credentials and the company’s capability.  “This year, we’re ready,” says Smith.
        Also on the program is UW-Madison dance prof Marlene Skog’s 2010 piece “Swan.”  Skog says “Swan” is a metaphor for life’s resiliency, strength to survive and the inteligence to defy an ultimate danger.  “The image of the swan is symbolic and ageless.”
       We’re most familiar with Mikhail Fokine’s 1905 “Dying Swan,” choreographed to Camille Saint-Saën’s cello solo from “Carnival of the Animals” for the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, says Skog.  “But my dance was a response to the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill.  Sea life was being destroyed and beautiful birds, covered with thick oil slicks, were gasping for air, trying to breathe.  For me these gripping images were the true dying swan of contemporary times.  The dance was my response.”
        Skog commissioned the score, a deconstructed version of Saint-Saën’s, from Madison violinist / composer Carol Carlson.  “Swans,” a pas de deux, was danced by Luksik with Madison Ballet apprentice Cody Olson last fall, in Skog’s own contemporary ballet repertory program, “Facets,” at Lathrop.  Luksik’s style tends toward fast-pulsed and classical; in next weekend’s performance the limber, very contemporary Shannon Quirk replaces Luksik, so even if you’ve seen this piece before, the dynamic will be new.
        Two Smith premieres round out the bill.  One is called “Adagio de Quatres.” Since nothing in ballet is more difficult than a well-executed adagio, this 26-minute work’s a real exposé.  It’s composed of solos to four adagios by modern classical composers: Viktor Yampolsky’s “Vocalese for Cello and Piano,” danced by Katy Frederick; Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” danced by Luksik; the adagio from Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” danced by Rachelle Butler, and the adagio from Claudio Scimone’s Oboe Concerto, danced by Quirk.
        The finale, for the full company, is called “Street.”  “It’s a fusion of neoclassical ballet and urban street dancing,” says Smith, whose previous marriages of neoclassical ballet with jazz and rock n’ roll are familiar to Madison audiences.  “It’s very experimental. The score’s a compilation that starts with a Brandenburg concerto and then goes kinda hip and rhythmic – it reminds me of buskers in New York playing violins in the subway stations.  My vocabulary’s got a streak of urban dance anyway – it’s in the syncopation, and the whole rap and rock thing.  People will relate to it.”  

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