BWW Preview: MKE Ballet and Michael Pink Elevate Ballet Culture in World Premiere of Wilde's DORIAN GRAY
If as Oscar Wilde wrote, "Beauty is a form of genius, indeed a higher form of genius, and needs no explanation," the Milwaukee Ballet and Michael PInk affirm this statement with a resounding performance of their World Premiere ballet Dorian Gray. Based on Wilde's late 19th century novella, Pink and his "dream team,"--Lighting Designer David Grill, Composer Philip Feeney and Costume/Scenic Designer Todd Edward Ivins--sparked magical genius in the first full length ballet staged in the Historic Pabst Theater. Ivins spoke the essence of the moment when he stated, "A historic occasion in a historic theater.'"
From the first minutes when the curtains open, Ivins' monumental theatrical drape constructed of sweeping chiffon spans the stage ceiling and romanticizes the space. Each set design remains kinetic, and fluidly moves from scene to scene, which energizes the performance with continual momentum. This includes the huge picture frame revealing Dorian Gray's portrait, a portrait painted by his artist friend Basil Hallward that grows old instead of Gray's physical body. His wish for eternal youth granted when Gray succumbs to the philosophy of pursuing only pleasure offered by Lord Henry Wotton.
While Dorian experiences this wish come true, he slides into the darker conditions of the human existence, a Hellenistic and hedonistic lifestyle proposed by Lord Henry. Portrayed by an actor, this character speaks throughout the production and seamlessly integrates the story into the dance. Actor James Zager reiterates Wilde's temptations and words to Dorian, which transitions the audience into the following scene and exposes Gray's motivations.
Early in his experiences, Dorian encounters his Sybil, a beautiful, Shakespearean actress, and falls completely in love. When he leaves her without regret a short while later, her pure, true love haunts him his entire life through his selfishness. Throughout the performance, Ivins' mirrors represent this self-absorbed society where "manners matter more than morals," the selfishness over selflessness, common perhaps in the 21st century where conspicuous and powerful technology might be preferred before any moral compass.
In the two weekends performing at the Pabst, MKE Ballet stages dual casts for Dorian Gray, where each dancer provides variances on the the novella's interpretation. On opening night, Patrick Howell exuded sensuality and athletic prowess to reveal Dorian's complete seduction into corruption---magnificent in solo stage dances incorporating the picture frame or brilliant in several pas de deux with his Sybil, an enchanting Luz San Miguel. Pink's exquisite choreography features complex lifts and pirouettes, stirring the imagination when combining classical technique with contemporary movement. Performed under Grill's dazzling lights, the production ravishes the audiences' senses.
Zager also imbues a demonic component to Lord Henry, while Davit Hovahannisyan dances Basil the painter. In a second act role, Annia Hidalgo revels in her Duchess of Monmouth, a performance based on acrobatic, graceful sexual affection alongside Howell and realized atop a white table, which fascinates the audience. Two prostitutes, Valerie Harmon and Itzel Hernandez sensationalize Dorian Gray's debauchery in colorful, stylized costumes when Gray sinks into his complete obsession for pleasure, although submerging any regret or remorse.
Feeney's evocative, lyrical score accompanies every ballet movement under the direction of Pasquale Laurino and a accomplished ten piece orchestra, a sublime luxury for this performance and the audience. Saxophones power several scenes in the second act, their jazz themes relating to the early 1920's, when Dorian's life becomes destructive. Ivins' elegant costume designs span these decades, especially when he includes women's thigh high stockings topped with lace or satin garters peeking out from under the skirts to hint at a secret sensuality.
While Dorian Gray's life and lifestyle may ultimately be heartbreaking, this stunning, scintillating ballet revisits Wilde's sardonic view of society's duplicity. Pink and his dream team, in collaboration with the accomplished ballet company, envisioned a relevant, revealing and riveting production reminiscent of the world's great classical ballet legacy. Who else or what other company in America, much less around the globe, continues to produce dance in the master storytelling tradition? Ballet tradition that will expand the art's impeccable repertoire though this once in a lifetime, rarified world premiere event meant to be experienced through the senses.
Dorian Gray shimmers as another jewel complementing Pink's previous World Premieres, an ethereal and triumphant ballet evening delving into humanity's darkest and sometimes depraved psyche. Wilde expresses to modern audiences that perhaps, romance, passion, pleasure and most importantly love, need to be cherished instead of played with. Otherwise anyone might be tempted to sell their soul to the 21st century's demonic forces. Yet, for two glorious weekends at the gracious Pabst Theater, celebrate Pink, his gifted dream team technical designers, and these accomplished company dancers. Immerse oneself in Pink's incredible Dorian Gray, which presents one incomparable, unforgettable evening that transforms an audience's soul to remind them beauty extols true genius.
Milwaukee Ballet presents Michael Pink's World Premiere Dorian Gray at the Historic Pabst Theater through February 21. The 2016-2017 season announcement happens on February 29. For further information on pre-show discussions, donations to the New Works fund, performance schedule or tickets, please call: Pabst Theater Box Office or 414.286.3205 www.milwaukeeballet.org.