November 11th, 2008

Milwaukee Ballet, "The Sleeping Beauty"

On Saturday night, October 25, we went to see the Milwaukee Ballet
production of "The Sleeping Beauty," to the music by Pyotr Ilyich
Tchaikovsky. We were interested in this production for a number of
reasons. First, neither of us had ever seen a full production of this
famous ballet. Second, we were interested to see what Milwaukee Ballet
Director Michael Pink had done with it. We had heard from an
acquaintance who had recently seen a Chicago performance of the full
original choreography by Marius Petipa, and who had reported that it
was rather dull. However, when the papers reported that Pink had cut
an hour's worth of repetitions and reworked framing material while
retaining the classic Petipa set pieces, we were enthusiastic.

What we got was indeed a "good parts version," with some of Pink's
trademarks added. As noted here previously, he does the evil/weird
characters awfully well, and the villainess Carabosse (danced by
Jeannette Marie Hanley) is no exception. She has been given four
goblinoid minions (Marc Petrocci, Garet Erwin, Katie Rideout, and Bret
Samson) who most often move as one entity with Carabosse as they
crawl, writhe and spin about the stage, sometimes carrying Carabosse,
and sometimes seeming to drag her like out-of-control horses.

The ballet opens with Carabosse dancing her curse of barrenness on the
King and Queen (Denis Malenkine and Nadia Thompson, the company's
Ballet Master and Mistress), whose monarchy she hopes to bring to an
end. Instead, the Lilac Fairy (Diana Setsura) provides the royal
couple with a baby girl that they discover under a rose bush in the
garden, and decide to raise as their own.

The story proceeds in the familiar fashion: there is a christening
celebration, and the various fairies bestow gifts of honesty, grace,
prosperity, song, and generosity. Enter Carabosse, who professes
outrage at not having been invited. The King blames the lapse on his
Master of Ceremonies, Catalbutte (Joel Hathaway), who is carried off
to punishment by Carabosse's servants. Not mollified, she then
pronounces her dreadful "gift"--that on her sixteenth birthday, the
child will prick her finger on the thorn of a red rose, and die. The
Lilac Fairy again intervenes, and amends the curse so that the
Princess will instead sleep for a hundred years until awakened by the
kiss of a Prince.

The second scene again starts with Carabosse, who creates a simulacrum
of a young girl, and arms it with the poisoned red rose. The scene then
transitions to Princess Aurora's sixteenth birthday celebration. Luz San
Michel, petite even among ballerinas, expresses the Princess very well,
charmingly receiving homage from her subjects. It is in this scene that
the famous "Sleeping Beauty Waltz" is heard, although choreographically
it is a pretty round dance done by the peasants in honor of their
Princess. After Aurora flirts with her four suitors, the rose child
(Amelia Foss) appears and teases her with the red rose, which she
eventually gets, and, of course, pricks herself. The celebration turns
to alarm as the Princess falls fainting. The King homes in on the rose
child as the culprit, but she is replaced by Carabosse. Carabosse fells
Aurora's suitors and is about to make good her prophecy of the Princess'
death with the sword of one of the princes when the Lilac Fairy comes to
the rescue. Not prepared to fight the Lilac Fairy, Carabosse disappears
with a mocking salute. Aurora is borne to her canopied bed, and the
Lilac Fairy casts the spell which will put the whole castle into

As the second act opens, it is a hundred years later. We are introduced
to Prince Desire (Ryan Martin), who is part of a merry hunting party
hosted by the Duchess (Rachel Malehorn). The Duchess and other women of
the party have eyes for the handsome prince, but he is lead away by a
vision of the sleeping princess. In the most dramatic sequence, Desire
is waylaid by Carabosse and her minions. The stage was lit by swirling
green lights that well evoked a running battle in the deep woods. The
prince scatters the goblins and fells Carabosse with a blow from his
hunting dagger. Forest spirits and the Lilac Fairy guide Desire to
Aurora's bedside, where he awakens her.

The last half of the act is taken up with dances in celebration of
Aurora's rescue and marriage to Desire. Besides the fairies, other
storybook characters appear, including Puss in Boots and the White Cat
(Darren McIntyre and Susan Gartell) in a very clever and funny pas de
deux, and Princess Florine and the Bluebird (Yuki Clark and Marc
Petrocci) in a very athletic leaping dance.

As far as we could discern, the dancing was flawless and the orchestra,
conducted by Andrews Sill, well in hand. Costumes were pretty and not
overdone. We approved of Mr. Pink's decision to go with minimal sets,
but agreed with the Journal/Sentinel critic in that we thought the
cyclorama used to project sky and mood effects rather loomed
distractingly over the dancers.

However, that was the only quibble, and we were very happy with the
production and the performance.

My Election Day

Some months ago, I decided to respond to a letter sent out by the Milwaukee Election Commission seeking qualified electors to serve as “Election Judges” as this state refers to poll workers—the people who check you in at the polling place (“Receivers”), register voters (“Registrars”) and staff the voting machine. I was accepted to work for the November 4th general election. After attending a training session conducted by the Election Commission, I was assigned a full-day shift at my local polling site, at Manitoba Grade School on West Forest Home Avenue.

A full-day shift means that you show up at 6 AM, an hour before the polls open, to get set up. Since I was nearby, and since I know that parking in that area is scarce, I left my car home and walked the eight blocks from my home to the school, enjoying the cool pre-dawn and the lightening of the sky for what proved to be a clear and lovely day. I got to the building just at six, as the custodian opened up for the poll workers.

The City of Milwaukee uses optically read paper ballots, a system which works quite well so far as I have seen, has a good audit trail, and has paper ballots for backup and verification. Setup was initially a little tense, as 6:30 approached and the Chief Inspector, who had the keys to unlock the voting machine had not arrived. The deputy chief called the Election Commission help number, and a Commission member with a duplicate key showed up with in a couple of minutes. The Chief Inspector got there immediately after, and setup was finished in good time for her to declare the polls open promptly at 7 AM as set by law.

As one of the new people, I was assigned to be a “greeter” who routed traffic to the two ward tables, kept people in line for the registrars, answered questions, and rode herd on any independent election observers who showed up. We had two observers during the course of the day. The first, a young lawyer volunteering for the Democratic National Committee, showed up just as the polls opened and remained there for the entire day. He was equipped with extensive notes on voting law and resources as well as a Blackberry, and was available to provide some extra assistance for voters with problems. Another observer, identifying himself as being with the “GOP,” showed up at 4 PM and stayed until about 5:45 PM when he left. The expected evening rush never materialized, but a quick check showed us that by 6PM 70% of the number of preregistered voters had voted, not counting those who might have voted early or absentee, so it was understandable there was no late crowd. We overheard voters leaving the polls phoning friends to urge them to come down and vote, as there were no long lines of the type seen out of state on television.

Voting started off with a bang, with the first voter in line having gotten there shortly after we ourselves did. By opening time, the line was out the door to the street. We got things moving briskly, and by 8 AM had cleared the line out and thereafter dealt with the voters as they came. After that, things were slow, but steady. It was not until 7:20 PM that there were not voters in the polling place—prior to that, there were always at least one present. Thanks to having ample staff, at peak times we had as many as six people working to register “new voters”, which meant that, even with being registered, after the first rush, no one took more than fifteen minutes to vote, and most people far less than that. Many of the registrations were in fact address changes or name changes, but more than half of the three hundred registrations on site were actually people voting for the first time.

Over the course of the day, we took more than 1500 votes, which amounted to about a 75% turnout for the district. People were eager to vote, and even many of those who were pre-registered showed up with ID in hand. We had to turn away only a very few people, those being persons who had no proof of residence at all. We also redirected at least a hundred people who came to the wrong polling place, giving them directions to the correct locations.

My district on the near south side of Milwaukee is largely white, but I was pleased to discover how actually diverse it is. There were a good number of Hispanic people, African Americans, and Asians represented. Voters ranged from the just-old-enough to the very old; long-time voters, and immigrants just become citizens and wonderfully pleased to be exercising their franchise for the first time. I saw young couples coming in to register together with their babe in arms, and wondered to what extent they would be voting with their child’s future in mind.

The vast majority of people we saw were cheerful, pleasant, and enthusiastic about voting. I had to wonder later if the few stony faces I saw later in the evening on people I would characterize as “likely McCain voters” meant that they had heard some early returns--.

Out district went for Obama by more than ten percent in the aggregate of the two wards. Since it is generally considered a “safe” Democratic district, that wasn’t surprising, but some were surprised it was that close.

During the day, I got to register several new voters, helped an illiterate woman vote for the first time, and generally smooth along the voting process. I “made my mark” as well, affixing my signature on the official reports, machine printouts, and the sealed ballot bags, all of which as to be done once the polls are closed by as many of the workers as possible. The polls closed promptly at 8 PM, and the site was broken down, paperwork done, and the ballots secured by 8:30 PM. The November night was warm and clear as I strolled home through Jackson Park, weary but pleased by my day’s work