Saturday, Jan. 24, Milwaukee Ballet’s second company, Milwaukee Ballet II, performed a series of contemporary and traditional pieces at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center at 2 and 7:30 p.m.. The showcase was the only MBII mainstage performance of the season and highlighted both ensemble and featured dancers.
Milwaukee Ballet II consists of male and female trainees from 18 to 22 years-old, who come from across the globe to develop their craft. Three distinct featured pieces during the event included a new contemporary piece, “…And Then It Rained” from Milwaukee Ballet Choreographer-in-Residence Timothy O’Donnell, a romantic classical piece from “Chopiniana”, and world premiere from former Milwaukee Ballet Company Dancer Adam Sterr, “Winter’s Fences”.
The evening began a bit slow and choppy with the featured “Chopiniana” piece, as there were some issues with synchronization and expressiveness. Dancers often appeared primarily focused on technique which, at times, reflected as labored movements to the audience. The exception in expressiveness within this piece was Ryoka Chiba, who held an ethereal, graceful appearance during her solos. Despite some areas for improvement within the dance, the style of the piece and presence of a grande piano on stage exposed the audience to the distinct style of classical romantic ballet.
The pieces only improved as the night progressed and the company showed incredible strength, agility, and versatility as they quickly went from classical to contemporary pieces. “Greener Grasses,” followed “Chopiniana” (featuring Mark David Bloodgood, Gustavo Candelas, Acée Laird, and Min-Tuan Nguyen) and provided a light comical touch to a more contemporary piece. Contemporary dances, in general, stood out amongst the many pieces, as the dancers seemed to find their stride and confidence in the movements, facial expressions, and attitude.
Sterr’s world premiere, “Winter’s Fences”, featured a string quartet on stage, which proved to be an innovative and exciting addition to the evening. The audience, comprising of both young and old ballet admirers, were audibly impressed by this impressive new piece.
While contemporary pieces proved the strongest, the more classical “Ramonda” was very impressive, led by Itzel Hernandez. The piece demands incredible swiftness, agility, form, and attitude, which Hernandez delivered throughout the dance. Throughout the evening, she showed incredible potential and stood out among her peers as a dancer to watch as her career progresses.
A definite highlight in the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center event was the “Sylvia” Grand Pas de Deux featuring MBII dancer Marie Varlet with a special appearance by Milwaukee Ballet Company Dancer Mengjun Chen. Varlet paired very well with Chen and showed an advanced level of technique and style as she proved she can dance on the same level as the Milwaukee Ballet Company dancers. Chen was a delight to see as his years of experience became apparent alongside Varlet, who is certainly an up-and-coming dancer to watch.
The MBII South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center showcase concluded with a talkback with many of the dancers. They answered questions about injuries (which many of them danced through that very evening), school, their futures, and more, giving the audience unique insight into Milwaukee Ballet II.
There were some highs and lows throughout the course of the evening, but these incredible, young dancers showed impressive range and versatility as they spanned periods and styles of ballet over a short period of time. Any young troupe of dancers has a lot to learn in their craft, but Milwaukee Ballet II showed they have a lot of potential and a great deal to offer the world of ballet as they continue to progress in their professional journey.