[personal profile] sinister_sigils
On Sunday afternoon, April 9th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Milwaukee Ballet’s program.
This included a new ballet, “Sans Pleurer” (“Without Crying”), which was a new one-act ballet for male dancers by Timothy O’Donnell. The ballet explores the “boys don’t cry” idea, and the difficulties men have expressing feelings.

The ballet, which depicts a man’s inner life, begins with a young boy dressed in a school uniform, sitting downstage, crying. An adult dancer comes down to him, makes him stand up, put on his school jacket, and ushers him off. He is gradually joined by other dancers who may or may not all be aspects of his personality manifest. The dances in pairs, trios, or larger groups express anger, aggression, depression, and other emotions, generally all done in uniformity. From time to time, on or the other dancer would fall out, or break ranks, often by taking off the jacket, leaving them literally baring souls, as they are shirtless under the jackets. One of the impressive parts of the ballet was the number of subtle but firm ways in which the “deviants” were corrected, and made to put the jackets back on and join back in the dance. As the dance goes on, it becomes more agitated, until there is a general casting off of jackets. The central figure, muffling his face in the coat, weeps madly, while all the others rush to surround him. Whether they are at the last supporting him, or restraining him, is left to the viewer.

We found “Sans Pleurer” both aesthetically and emotionally powerful. The Ballet’s male dancers exhibited not only power, strength, and skill, but also grace and fluidity not often called for in male roles. The evocation of male emotion was cleverly done. Some bits involved dancing with boxes, which we dubbed “mental blocks” or perhaps the boxes one put ones feelings in. It appeared that the dancers had no choice but to lug them around, like Marley’s Ghost and his strongboxes: if a box was laid down, it had to be picked up again; no one would take, or show interest in, someone else’s box.

In the notes, the choreographer’s question was posed: “Why are men raised to suppress their emotions?” We had a couple of answers. It’s not just received culture, but that is a factor. After all, strong admirable men like the characters played by John Wayne, Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart don’t cry. James Bond doesn’t cry. Neither do John McClane, Indiana Jones, Dominic Toretto, or any other hero you can name.

But there’s more to it than that. The culture of youth is full of shallow cruelty. If you are teased or bullied, and you cry, you will be mocked. If you rage, you will be mocked. If you laugh, you will be mocked, insult added to injury. And if you fight back, verbally or physically, you will be roughed up, bully being careful to be sure of physical superiority, injury added to insult. Therefore, the safest path is to be inscrutable. It doesn’t save you from bullying, but gives them the fewest levers. Some of us learned this from direct experience. The bullies, their sycophants, and the “better you than me” bystanders from observation.

Well, you can see the piece was thought-provoking--.

The music by Ezio Bosso was actually musical, evocative, and listenable. Conductor Andrews Sills got a big, exciting sound from the small ensemble used for this piece.

La Sylphide

I had not seen “La Sylphide,” which is one of the famous pieces of the classical ballet repertoire, live, so was very interested to see how Milwaukee Ballet would handle it. In this case, they engaged the services of Dinna Bjorn as Repetiteur, who is one of the recognized specialists on the ballets of choreographer August Bournonville. Together, everyone did a lovely job.

The Sunday performance had Nicole Teague-Howell as La Sylphide, Randy Crespo as James, Jonathan Batista as Gurn, and Rachel Malehorn as Madge the witch. All of the dancers were excellent. We thought that Ms. Teague-Howell could have been more expressive in the first act, but she warmed up in the second act and made her role quite affecting. The big wedding dance number in the first act was the most intricate version of this scene we have seen, and very beautiful. Rachel Malehorn, in her final role for the Milwaukee Ballet, did a fine chewy acting job as the witch. Andrews Sill and the Ballet Orchestra gave a fine rendition of the dramatic score by Herman Severin Lovenskjold. Costumes provided by the Boston Ballet were very pretty and plausible-looking. All in all, a very enjoyable and satisfying performance.

Moral 1: Don’t be rude to the local witch.
Moral 2: If you are rude to the local witch, don’t expect her to actually help you later.
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