Daring ‘To The Pointe’ Opens Milwaukee Ballet’s 2020-21 Season in Style [REVIEW]

Milwaukee Ballet dancers in Pas De Quatre. Photo by Nathaniel Davauer.

Milwaukee Ballet
To The Pointe
On Demand Digital Stage Production
February 25 – March 7, 2021

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Coming on the heels of a year disrupted by pandemic, Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink made the bold decision to open the company’s 2020-21 season with a program of challenging classical ballet works. Not fearing dancer technique rust from the sporadic training schedules that have been the hallmark of dancer life under pandemic, Milwaukee Ballet’s dancers jumped into the technique deep end in To The Pointe, a production dense with pointe work and bravura choreography.

Filmed at the company’s Baumgartner Center for Dance, the on demand version of the production began with Jules Perrot’s quintessential classical ballet, Pas De Quatre (1845). Opening with one of ballet’s most recognizable tableaus, dancers Marie Harrison-Collins, twin sister Elizabeth Harrison, Lahna Vanderbush and Kristen Marshall costumed in white tutu dresses, flower headpieces and white COVID masks, were the picture of old-world femininity in ballet. The quartet performed Perrot’s choreography on pointe to music by Cesare Pugni with refinement and grace. Their buoyant arm movements and delicate footwork was captured nicely in camera work that respected the integrity of the ballet for a virtual audience’s viewing of it.

Highlighting the ballet were solos by the four women beginning with Harrison-Collins’ rapid-paced display of foot-beating petite jumps and grand leaps all wrapped in a controlled, demure package that belied the stamina needed for her inspired performance.

Next came Vanderbush with more airy footwork, turns and pirouettes, followed by Harrison in a solo filled with little runs, jumps and arms and hands that seemed to push at the air in front of her to gain momentum.

After a final solo by Marshall encompassing elements of the prior ones and danced with a captivating ease and elegance, Pas de Quatre concluded as it began with the four ladies settling into their divine opening tableau.

Milwaukee Ballet dancers in “Pas de Trois”. Photo by Nathaniel Davauer.

While not quite as together in their unison movement as Pas de Quatre’s cast, dancers Alana Griffith, Itzel Hernandez, and Barry Molina came at their “Pas de Trois” from Marius Petipa’s Swan Lake (1877) with a level of spirit and determination. 

Costumed in peasant garb, masks, and dancing to music by Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the ballet opened with Hernandez’s variation characterized by lots of leg lifts, kicks, and hops on pointe. She danced with confidence as did Molina who came next in a firecracker of a solo complete with big jumps and turns in the air. Before a coda bringing the trio back together to close the ballet, Griffith brought her own bit of loveliness to a solo rich with plucky footwork.

A reprise of company resident choreographer Timothy O’Donnell’s Chopin Etudes (2019) came next.

Milwaukee Ballet’s Lizzie Tripp and Davit Hovhannisyan in Chopin Etudes. Photo by Nathaniel Davauer.

Costumed in all black including the masks Davit Hovhannisyan and Lizzie Tripp wore, the pas de deux to music by Frederic Chopin, let loose a bevy of swirling and spinning movement in its dizzying first section. And while that was delightful, its second section was masterful. Performed to soft piano music, Hovhannisyan and Tripp poured themselves into luscious movement that was emotional, musical, and flowed with that type of ballet richness that delights audiences to their core. Tripp’s dancing was a dream and the pas de deux was soul healing medicine for our collective pandemic blues.

After a polished performance by Annia Hidalgo and Randy Crespo in Petipa’s “[Grand] Pas de Deux” from the ballet Le Corsaire (1856/1863), the program closed with the world-premiere of Pink’s Symphony.

Milwaukee Ballet dancers in Symphony. Photo by Nathaniel Davauer.

Set to music by Sergei Prokofiev, a cast of four women in sleek lavender costumes opened the ballet by launching into Pink’s neo-classical choreography for it with vigor. Soon a quartet of men joined them in a non-stop cavalcade of mask-puffing turns, jumps and pops up into arabesque poses that covered the stage. Choreographically familiar to other works in ballet’s lexicon, Symphony was none-the-less eye-catching and invigorating to watch. Perhaps created in part as Pink’s own challenge of his dancers’ technique, its cast answered the challenge by performing – as had the company throughout the production – at near top-of-their-game levels.  

Milwaukee Ballet’s To The Pointe continues at the Baumgartner Center for Dance, 128 N Jackson Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202 and On Demand through March 7, 2021. In-person tickets are $55-70, On Demand tickets for 72-hour access are $20 and VIP access tickets including bonus videos are $30. Call Milwaukee Ballet’s box office at 414-902-2103 or buy online at milwaukeeballet.org.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.