May 19th, 2008

Spaces and Traces: East Side Places II

On Saturday morning, May 17th, we went out for the annual home tour run by Historic Milwaukee, Inc. This group gets people to open their historically and/or architecturally significant homes and buildings for a one-day tour by the interested. This year's concentrated in the area immediately to the east and south of the UW-Milwaukee campus, an area full of very fine homes, but not quite as palatial as those that tend to line Lake Drive. This year's tour included a number of homes that had had interior design work done by "interior architect" George Mann Niedecken (1878-1945). Niedecken was wash we would now call an interior designer, who worked with the home buyers and builders to create a harmonious whole, including wallpaper, moldings, fixtures, and furniture. His was a very upscale operation for its day: we saw a proposed price list among some of the documents on loan from the Milwaukee Art Museum archives, which included items such as a dining room table at $350.00. That's 1910 dollars, which makes the price the rough equivalent of $7900.00 in 2008 dollars!

Although we did see one Lake Drive palace, the house built by sausage-maker Frank Schaaf in 1915, definitely the coolest house on the tour was number 1, the "Joseph J. Grossman" residence, at 3343 N. Shepard Ave. The house is an "Eclectic Period Revival", which tells you that the buyer and the builder made up a "good parts version" of what they liked rather than following a particular style. The home's hipped roofline shows a French influence, while the red-tile shingles and the main window treatment suggest the Spanish. Inside, an elegant vaulted living room runs the full width and height of the house. Past that, the residence is two stories full of lovely details, such as bathrooms retaining gorgeous original tile. There is a fully finished basement with terrazo floors that features eight-foot ceilings and a rec room fully the size of the living room. Often Georgie and I fantasize about the houses we see on these tours, saying, "I'd take the library from #3, the bathroom from #5, the rec room from #6," etc., but this was one of the few houses we would both just move right into just as it was. Very nice!

One of the interesting trends we noticed with these houses was that they tend to get more modern as you went upstairs. Living and dining rooms tend to be best preserved. Of course, every kitchen has been remodeled, some several times, but there is also more of a tendency to redo bedrooms/master suites. Also, many of these homes had third-floor servants' quarters, which have been redone into kids' rooms or rumpus rooms, often in very creative ways. This was particularly true of the Rubin duplex, a Prairie-style structure, wherein the second- and third-floor units had been combined into one, with a living room open to both floors.

Milwaukee Ballet, Season Finale

The season finale for the Milwaukee Ballet is typically a mixed program, and this year was no exception. What was uniform in the mix was the very high quality and interest factor of all the pieces.

The first act was the "white scene" "The Kingdom of Shades" from La Bayadere, a classic ballet by famous choreographer Marius Petipa, to music by his frequent collaborator, Ludwig Minkus. When first produced, La Bayadere was very ground-breaking, and this scene became the inspiration for similar set pieces in Swan Lake and Les Syphildes.

This scene is virtually a program in itself, and, as Georgie said, includes virtually the complete vocabulary of steps and combinations found in 19th century ballet. It opens with the entrance of the corps to a forest glade, then a pas de trois, featuring, in this performance, Jennifer Grapes, Courtney Kramer, and Susan Gartell. Then, a pas de deux of  Diana Setsura as "Nikiya," the temple dancer and David Hovhannisyan as "Solor" the prince. following that, each principal got brief, but pretty solo turns, and the scene continued with more ensemble bits until the grand finale. 

The second piece, Aubade ("Dawn Serenade"), was a world premier of an orginal ballet by the Company's Artistic Director, Michael Pink, to music by Francis Poulenc. The stage is bare except for a ramped area at the back, which might be a levee, or might be a rampart. In pre-dawn grayness and mist, seven men stand waiting and watching. as the day lightens, three women (the same dancers as the pas de trois above) dressed in shades of spring green enter.  Two pair off, but the others engage in a series of dances of flirtation and competition. Georgie noted that you don't often see pas de deux consisting of two male dancers, which added interest. The piece comes to a contemplative end as the background continues to brighten, the men leave, and the women take up their watching positions on the ramparts.

If Bayadere is about romance, and Aubade about flirtation, Anthony Tudor's 1954 ballet of Orpheus in the Underworld is about desire, lust, and jealousy.  The location is an 1870's Parisian cafe, with a set that wittily refers to Manet's painting, A Bar at the Folies Bergere, complete with the barmaid/landlady played by the Company's Ballet Mistress, Nadia Thompson.  The dance, set to the music of Jacques Offenbach, describes the actions and interactions of an evening's customers, including a painter (Patrick Howell), the landlady's daughter (Jacqueline Moscicke),  a debutante (Tatiana Jouravel) and her friends, a Prince (Douglas McCubbin), an operetta star (Luz San Miguel), and the "Queen of the Carriage Trade," (Jeanette Marie Hanley), plus waiters, and male and female locals.  When the prince enters, all the women throw themselves (sometimes literally) at him, until the operetta diva enters and demands his attention, as well as that of any other reasonably attractive man in the bar.  Troublemaking as she is, it is nothing to when the "Queen" enters, playing off the prince and the officer against one another, initiating a challenge, which devolves into an entertaining barroom brawl.  After the landlady clears the floor, the customers filter back, and things are reasonably calm until the floor is rushed by the band of street women. Heated by drink and excitement, they have cast off jackets and blouses and engage in the rawly sexual  "can-can", which is the climax of the ballet. Worn out, the customers gradually depart, leaving the painter, the landlady, and her daughter in the dark and quiet.

All of these pieces were quite lovely in their own way, from the formal to the raucous.  Dancing by the members of the company was uniformly strong and precise, with only a few stutters noted in the corps in the subtly difficult opening of La Bayadere, which did not at all detract from what followed. All in all, it was a very enjoyable program, and we are looking forward with interest to the next season.