Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Madison Ballet Brings "Bare" to the Bartell

Reikersdorfer and Johnson rehearse Palladio  © SKepecs 2017
by Susan Kepecs
What does the word “bare” mean to you?  I asked Madison Ballet artistic director W. Earle Smith that question the other day.  It’s what he named the company’s upcoming repertory program, which you can catch Feb. 3-4 at the Bartell.  “I picked it because it’s such a broad term,” Smith said.  “I wanted to let the audience interpret what the title means.  It could refer to the simplicity of pure movement, without the trappings of a story production.  It could refer to the spare costuming we use in repertory works – what Balanchine called “leotard ballets.”  To me personally, it’s about the bare essentials of dance – the baring of our artistic souls.”
On the two-hour program are five works.  One is by Jacqueline Stewart, director of Jaxon Movement Arts, an urban, avant-garde company based in Chicago and New York, who’s set her angular, outside-the-box un-ballets on Madison Ballet twice before.  I haven’t yet seen her contribution, a piece called “Somewhere Between Grit and Grace,” but the unbeatable Shannon Quirk, whose contemporary chops are as stunning as her balletic ones, is the lead.
Two works on the program are by Smith – the pas de deux from his 2011 “Palladio” (a pure neoclassical work), and “Groovy” – the spring finale from the company’s 2013-14 season.  He’s done considerable reworking of both, he says.  “Groovy,” a hippie piece done to a score from the ‘60s, runs the gamut, from solos to full ensemble dances. Three brand-new sections were added for Bare, though I haven’t yet seen them. 
I did get to witness a rehearsal of the “Palladio” pas – much revised and set this time on a pair of very gifted dancers, Annika Reikersdorfer and Shea Johnson.  It’s a lovely, lushly musical neoclassical work, and Smith is a master at bringing out musical nuance in his dancers.  In rehearsal, he was looking for more arc in one particular traveling step.  “It goes ‘shoom!,’ he says, “and then slow it down a little.”
I also watched guest choreographer and current UW-Madison Dance Department chair set his piece, “Re-Place,” on Kelanie Murphy, Jackson Warring, Andrew Erickson, Mia Sanchez, and Catherine Rogers.  Yu, a postmodernist at heart, has worked with Madison Ballet twice before – but but “Re-Place” is a much better fit for this company than his previous works.  It’s a staccato, allegro work of unusual variety – the dancers often move as individuals within groups, instead of in unison or mirroring patterns.  Like Smith, Yu’s a master coach, and it’s a treat to watch him coax his quirky, dynamic movements out of these ballet-trained dancers. 
Erickson, Murphy, Warring, Sanchez
rehearse Re-Place © SKepecs 2017

“Go!” Yu commands.  “Ta, and ta, and ta, and – freeze!  Now, you shoot out!” He demonstrates, and the dancers shoot forward in a decidedly unballetic but extremely graceful move.  
Johnson and Quirk working on a pas de deux from
Limelight  ©SKepecs 2017
And Johnson, a former Arizona Ballet principal who joined Madison Ballet last year, created “Limelight” (the title refers to the music Charlie Chaplin composed for his own eponymous movie, an arrangement of which serves as Johnson’s score) for the company.  It’s his first serious piece of choreography, he says.  But “Limelight,” even in preliminary run-through, is a substantive new-wave neoclassical work, filled with movement, light, humor, and stylistic references to Balanchine, Robbins, Bournonville, and, perhaps obliquely, Twyla Tharp.   

If this is Johnson’s first turn as a dancemaker, it’s also the first time Madison Ballet has  premiered a work by a company member.  “I was very impressed with Shea’s ability to be fanciful without being saccharine,” Smith says.  “It’s a really fun piece.”  

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