February 25th, 2009

Milwaukee Ballet: "Fancy Free"

Sunday the 22nd, we had tickets for the Milwaukee Ballet's program, headlined by the Jerome Robbins ballet, "Fancy Free," to the music by Leonard Bernstein. The program also included "K413" by Adam Hougland, to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the third act from "Raymonda" by Marius Petipa to music by Aleksandr Glazunov.

The afternoon started off with "K413", an abstract ballet set to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 11 ("K413" is the number given it in the commonly used catalog of Mozart's works). Costume, staging, and lighting were all very simple, putting all the emphasis on the dancing, which was cute, playful, and flirtatious. The piece might have been subtitled "Fun Things to Do with Your Body (If You Are A Highly Trained Dancer)". Such fun things include a lot of "dancing doll" type moves, which were very enjoyable to watch. Nine men and nine women danced through three movements and a number of subsections within them and I think everyone had fun with it.

"Fancy Free" was the ballet that made choreographer Robbins a star and paved the way for his work on West Side Story, The King and I, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof, as well as many other musicals, movies, and ballets. The dance is set in on a "hot summer night," 1944, and features three sailors on shore leave in New York City. We follow the three men as they skylark, flirt, drink, dance, fight, and then prepare to do it all over again. For our performance, Douglas McCubbin, Petr Zahradnicek, and Andrey Kasatsky danced the sailors' roles with great verve and panache. Courney Kramer, Jeanette Marie Hanley, and Jennifer Grapes were the women they interacted with, each of whom had her own character and style. Justin Genna was the very tolerant bartender who presided over the Edward-Hopper-themed tavern set. This was a new ballet for me, as were the others, but Georgie had seen the Robbins choreography years ago, and pronounced this one very good. As with some Balanchine pieces in a previous season, performances of this ballet are overseen by a conservation foundation, in this case the Jerome Robbins Rights Trust and Foundation. The Ballet was staged and rehearsed by a representative, Judith Fugate, a former principal dancer for the New York City Ballet who worked with Robbins during his tenure there. As far as I know, this sort of arrangement is unique to ballet: one never hears of a director being sent out from New York to stage a local production of a Eugene O'Neill play or a Bernstein symphony. Choreography is one of the hardest arts to notate and transmit, and this system does seem to produce good results.

"Raymonda," staged by Denis Malenkine after Petipa is a good example of Romantic ballet. The story of the ballet is set in the time of the Crusades. Raymonda is faithful to her fiancé, the Crusader Jean de Brienne, but is menaced by the wicked Saracen Abderakhman. She is saved by the intervention of the magical White Lady, and De Brienne returns to slay the Saracen and marry Raymonda. The third act is the wedding celebration, which, like that in "The Sleeping Beauty" is made up of a series of shorter dances. The scene opens with a "Hungarian" dance, lead by Nicole Teague and Marc Petrocci. The roles of Raymonda and de Brienne were danced by Tatiana Jouravel and Ryan Martin. This was a very enjoyable set of dances. I was particularly interested to see that in some scenes both the Hungarian dancers (who wear soft boots similar to those favored by folk dancers) and the wedding party, who wore standard ballet footwear (pointe shoes for the women) are on stage dancing the same steps together.

We were really pleased by the excellence of our ballet company, and will be looking forward to the announcement of next year's 40th anniversary season.


While we are touring the art scene, it’s good to remember the culinary arts as well, and we did so on Feb. 23rd by dining at Sanford, Milwaukee’s finest restaurant. Monday is a quiet night for restaurants generally, but we were a bit perturbed at how empty the place was. Like everyone else (except the cheapest eateries like George Webb and McDonald’s) they have lost business due to the hard times. However, we hope they can keep going, since the meal we had was in every way excellent.


I started off with a fino sherry as aperitif, which went nicely with the amuse bouche we were brought, which consisted of a nutmeg crème garnished with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil. For starters, we had some wonderful salmon (gravlox), served with a rye biscuit, julienne of pickled rutabaga, and flavored with a mustard mousseline; which was delicious and definitely something new to do with rutabaga.  Then, there was a bowl of beet borscht with mushroom bits and some dumplings made of paper-thin dough stuffed with pork and “little ear” mushrooms.


The main course was a new thing on the menu, Seared Breast of Pheasant with Dried Plums, Leeks and Lemon Molasses Crispy Crumb Bread Sauce, which wasn’t quite as decadent as it sounds. I’ve had pheasant before, but this was by far the juciest and most flavorful preparation I’ve ever had. The staff had recommended a light Zinfandel to drink, and I found it an excellent pairing.


For dessert, we both had the Tart Cherry Clafoutis, a long-time favorite of ours. It is a rich pastry with the tart cherries baked in, drizzled with a dark cherry sauce, and a teensy scoop of Morello Cherry ice cream on the side. I accompanied the dessert with a cup of Sanford’s blend coffee, which was quite nice. It wasn’t that heavy a meal, but we were well filled, and took the homemade sweets that finish off the experience home with us.


Service was excellent as always, and we vowed to come back soon, hopefully with some friends.