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‘Dorian Gray’ ballet debuts

Photo by Photography by Nathaniel Davauer

Photo by Photography by Nathaniel Davauer

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Michael Pink, artistic director of Milwaukee Ballet Company, has not only taken on creating a world premiere ballet, but also cast an actor and moved his company to a new performance venue. “Dorian Gray,” based off of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde, will run at Pabst Theater Feb. 12-21.

The entire company is split into two casts and each dancer has a part in creating a new character. The ballet will be accompanied by the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra.

In the first act, Dorian’s portrait is finished, and he wishes that his portrait would age and he could stay young. His wish turns into reality. Dorian’s love, Sybil, kills herself. As secrets are revealed Dorian loses both his innocence and morals.

In the second act, set fifteen years later, Dorian murders Basil after showing him the aging portrait. He is later seduced by the Duchess Monmouth. Upon another death, Dorian set out to change himself for the better and destroy the portrait.

Pabst Theater is a smaller venue than the Marcus Center, which is where most of the company’s full length ballets are performed. This smaller venue will give the audience a more intimate experience.

Like other performances from Milwaukee Ballet, there are no formal auditions for the company members. Pink is able to cast without them since he works so closely with them.

“In this career everything you do is an audition,” said Timothy O’Donnell, an artist with Milwaukee Ballet Company.

The company has been rehearsing for five weeks. They will have two rehearsals with the orchestra before opening night.  O’Donnell will be dancing the title role of Dorian Gray. He attended one of the orchestra’s rehearsals to prepare for the joint rehearsals. Up until this point, the company has been rehearsing with a piano.

“This music is brilliant but incredibly complicated to hear,” O’Donnell said.

During the start of rehearsals, O’Donnell said he felt frustrated and behind. He would rehearse his role as Dorian with one cast, but the other cast, which he dances another role in, would have rehearsals simultaneously. While it seemed difficult to keep up, O’Donnell now feels in control and more confident in his performance.

To develop his character, O’Donnell has drew inspiration from his own life and colleague Patrick Howell, who is dancing Dorian Gray in the other cast. O’Donnell made the conscience decision to avoid Hollywood adaptations of the work, but did read the book.

“I think when you are not influenced by anything you get to create who this person is yourself.” O’Donnell said. “You feel incredibly invested in that process and I think it really makes you think a lot more about the acting choices you actually make.”

Another aspect of being in the original cast is that there is wiggle room in the choreography. While Pink has ultimate authority, O’Donnell and Howell were able to make small tweaks and suggestions so the choreography would suit them best.

Pink did a lot to make this a cutting edge show. Many ballets are silent, but “Dorian Gray” will not only have dialogue, but feature James Zager, an actor who will play Lord Henry Wotton and narrate at certain points in the production.

Adding an actor to the show proved challenging. Dancers must respond to him physically without turning their responses into a dance move.

In addition to the dialogue, it will utilize ballet technique as well as modern and contemporary style.

“It’s a really interesting hybrid sort of production,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t think there should be these rules. You’re going to see a performance and there are all of these wonderful mediums.”

With all of these new and exciting elements on stage, there are just as many new things happening backstage. Each costume is new, but some dancers share costumes. Fittings are being executed as they were in the past.

The company will also have new lighting designs that will be unique to the performance and venue. David Grill, who has worked with the company before, recently started to implement his designs. He did this year’s Super Bowl half time show just before this production.

This show presented many new challenges, but O’Donnell is ecstatic for the performances. He enjoys the range of emotions and personalities that he can play off of.

“This will be possibly the most fulfilling performance work I’ve done,” O’Donnell said.

“A lot of the time, principal roles that I’ve done before have been somewhat two-dimensional, and Dorian is not. I feel like I’m playing six people in one show, and that is immensely fulfilling.”

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