Young Dance Artists Arrive with ‘Momentum’

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 Young Dance Artists Arrive with ‘Momentum’


MAR. 02, 2023    8:45 A.M.



Millwaukee Ballet II ‘Momentum’

“Momentum” is the title of the annual showcase by Milwaukee Ballet’s Second Company, known as MBII. This year’s edition, seen on opening weekend, is amazing. These 21 dancers are just beginning their professional careers, but what they give the audience is a fully professional, heartfelt performance of superb world premieres and a classical masterpiece.

The show will be repeated this Saturday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the Baumgartner Center for Dance in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward. 

If you’re interested in the rich possibilities of contemporary ballet and/or love classical ballet with all its challenges and beauty, see this show. At least half of Milwaukee Ballet’s current main company came through MBIl and, budget permitting, audiences will have the pleasure of watching some of these dancers continue to grow in the years ahead.


Outstanding and Contemporary



I’ve been enjoying the annual MBII showcases for over a decade, but this was my favorite. The three outstanding contemporary pieces created with and for these dancers have everything to do with that.

One of the MBII dancers, Amanda Lewis, choreographed the opening piece for seven of her dancer-colleagues. Their fellowship and love were evident in the care and trust his performance required. Titled Unspoken, Lewis’ subject is the aftermath of domestic violence. We see its impact on a wounded woman who struggles to connect with other people, male and female, supportive or controlling. It’s impassioned, unrestrained physical theatre of a kind that only trained ballet dancers are capable of executing, and it’s free from empty demonstrations of technique. The tragedy explored in the piece is grounded in truth. 

Milwaukee violinist Allen Russell composed the powerful music. Standing in a downstage corner, he performed it live on violin, against a recorded violin and percussion accompaniment that I’ll bet was also played by him.


Grief and Rage



MBII rehearsal director Calvin Hilpert choreographed the second premiere, titled Grief and Rage. Here a central figure, this time male, must come to grips with a life-changing personal tragedy. It was made for three dancers: Katelyn Cecil, Jacqueline Sugianto, and Alexander Koulos. Each woman embodies an extreme state of grief or rage. Koulos must accept them as dance partners. A recorded voice-over gave us clues but the story is abstract enough that we can each remember how it was to face the hardest moments in our own lives, and to accept them as reality. Koulos is never less than humble in the women’s presence. Cecil and Sugiantom embody their respective emotional states with every bit of their being. The piece is painful and gorgeous. I was awed.

Light, Dark and In Between is the title of the third premiere. The choreographer is Kristopher Estes-Brown, a former MBII dancer who has choreographed other works for the company. He knows what life is like for these dancers. The piece includes 20 of them. They begin in unison, radiating energy, a uniformed gang, a hard-working crew. Little by little, we meet them individually in different combinations. It becomes a matter not only of what they can do, which is amazing, but of who they are, which is endearing. Estes-Brown also composed the electronic score, high energy at first and later a darker drone that builds at last to a joyous climax. For the dancers, a sense of freedom that comes, I think, with the knowledge that they’ve arrived as dance artists.


Aurora Wedding




The classical piece is the third act of The Sleeping Beauty, known as “Aurora’s Wedding.” A cartoon-like king and queen and some deadpan aristocrats at court observe the joyous bridal couple and their lively, magical friends: two beautiful bluebirds, two comic cats, and a trio of dazzling jewels. It’s all set to music by Tchaikovsky. The choreography has been handed down from the original 19thcentury Russian staging by Marius Petipa. It’s been restaged by MBII artistic director Mirielle Favarel and Hilpert. All the MBII dancers have roles. At the opening performance, the leads were Jacqueline Sugianto and Flynn Stelfox as Princess Aurora and her Prince Desire.

It’s meant to entertain. The women balanced on point, there’s the full range of leaps and spins and astonishing lifts. We, the audience, are the Russian court now, meant to enjoy and cheer the stunts. But live in the room, it’s much more than those words suggest. It’s not the stunts and the beauty that count. It’s the dancers giving their hearts to this art.