BWW Preview: Milwaukee Ballet's World Premiere Introduces Decadent, 'Wilde' DORIAN GRAY

BWW Preview: Milwaukee Ballet's World Premiere  Introduces Decadent, 'Wilde' DORIAN GRAY

Coming this February, Milwaukee Ballet and Artistic Director Michael Pink introduce their World Premiere ballet Dorian Gray. Based on the British 1980 novel by Oscar Wilde, Pink originally debuted another version of this story in Augsburg, Germany two years ago. This year in Milwaukee, PInk commissioned a new score by Philip Feeney, scenic and costume designs by Todd Edward Ivins, and returns Emmy award-winning Lighting Designer David Grill to envision the ominous story.. Grill will be at Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, February 7, and then "after lighting Coldplay will light the Milwaukee Ballet." This tour-de-force creative collaboration underscores fresh choreography by Pink to produce another full-length ballet performed for the first time in the Historic Pabst Theater over two full winter weekends.

Dancer Patrick Howell chats before a Milwaukee rehearsal, where he says he has been concentrating on the intense choreography designed for the ballet. Howell performed the title role of Dorian Gray in Germany, and then here, where Wilde's story delves deep into the dark side of man's desires and hearts, a tale based on pursuing only pleasure without any regards for the consequences. Gray falls under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, played by actor James Zager, and asks that he remain young while his portrait painted by an artist named Basil, grows old instead of his physical body. In essence, so the painting reveals his true character instead of his face. With Gray's desires granted, the young man embarks on his life without remorse or regret, where he resists no temptation presented to him, even when he meets the love of his life, a Shakespearean actress named Sybil.

Lord Henry narrates the ballet--so spoken words integrate into the story--and Howell admitted he needs to concentrate on gesture and movement, dance using facial expression, instead of responding to someone who speaks to him while he's dancing, a unique experience in a ballet. The two act production will be performed in the Pabst, which suits Howell's interpretation of the story, "This very intimate story needs intimacy," he says, "Which the Pabst provides. So this story will have more impact on the audience."

Body language becomes more important in this ballet, and offers variations within a theme of classical ballet t choreography while danced within a contemporary, neo-classical context. As this will be a follow-up production to the original," Howell explains, "Michael changes the choreography to suit the company, more complex, that makes the production, deeper, fuller and richer for the audience."

When Howell speaks about inhabiting Pink and Wilde's character, he mentions "Gray was innocent at first...and never reaches his full potential.. I, as a dancer, sink into those moments when Dorian starts to change , sink into his change through the use of his movements."

To begin preparations for a World Premiere, Pink and the company spend five weeks in the studio and one tech week at the theater. Pink had the company read Wilde's book, and then collaborates with the dancers, especially the corps, asking his company to put their creativity on the table.

The last few years, Pink's world premieres feature prominent male dancers, and also sink into his passions for these personalities gleaned from English literature, perhaps resonating with themes of immortality. Dracula, Peter Pan and currently Dorian Gray, illustrate characters with the desire to avoid growing old or dying. However, while Dracula and Peter Pan can be considered fantasy, Dorian Gray speaks to human morality and a life philosophy with a touch of myth. Howell loves dancing and discovering the inner life of these prominent male characters, he danced Harker in Dracula, a rarity in the art from where usually the prima ballerina centers the ballet. "I love working with Michael--It's a pleasure to play these characters, so important to him."

Howell then explains," He [Pink] changed a lot of minds [male audiences] with Dracula, and Doran Gray continues to do this. And in this world premiere, there's absolutely one impressive set piece representing Dorian Gray, which transforms the entire ballet."

This design secret keeps until opening night, yet alludes to Ivins' inventive scenic design, which moves in the ballet to reveal multiple facets of these scenes. His stylized costumes evoke a nod to their appropriate English past, although have contemporary touches. Ivins worked on Pink's Mirror, Mirror, and most recently with Mark Clements and Milwaukee Rep's Of Mice and Men-although the Historic Pabst Theater presents another opportunity for Ivins' imagination fo work this magic.

Over these two weekends, Dorian Gray descends into the deepest shadows of the human psyche and MKE Ballet recommends the production for those over 13 years of age. Pre-show talks planned on Saturday, February 13, Sunday February 14 and Friday, February 20 offer additional insight into Wilde's novel and the ballet, while Sunday, February 21 features Pink discussing Dorian Gray. Howell revels in another opportunity to recreate this character, the decedent Dorian Gray directed by the Master Storyteller Pink and then complemented by this stellar technical team. "Enjoy the ballet," Howell adds, "Remember as Dorian discovers, beauty and youth are not everything."

The Milwaukee Ballet presents Michael Pink's World Premiere Dorian Gray in the Historic Pabst Theater February 12-21. For information, special programming or tickets, please call: 414.902.2103 or visit

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