Milwaukee Ballet’s Michael Pink: “If we get you through the doors, we can have a lasting impact”

MILWAUKEE, WI: “That is the the biggest challenge… this city lives under the shadow of Chicago so people make an assumption that it can’t possibly hold much value,” said Michael Pink, “but I can tell you that the arts are in abundance, and rival anything you can find in Chicago…there is not a dull moment in this city… we have so much art!”

As Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Ballet, I would expect nothing less than enthusiasm for his home city, but in a conversation with Pink during preparations for this weekends’ Mirror Mirror, I got the sense that this wasn’t just lip service. Pink has an impressive resume that began at the Royal Ballet and later the English National Ballet, and includes a list of collaborations with some of the greatest dancers and choreographers known to the twentieth century (Natalia Makarova, Rudolph Nureyev, Sir Frederick Ashton, and Leonide Massine, to name a few).

I know what you’re thinking… what the heck is this guy doing in Wisconsin?

Members of the Milwaukee Ballet rehearsing Michael Pink's 'Mirror Mirror." Photo Timothy O'Donnell
Members of the Milwaukee Ballet rehearsing Michael Pink’s ‘Mirror Mirror.” Photo Timothy O’Donnell

That’s what I thought, too. Pink retired from performing prior to turning 30, and got involved in musical theatre, choreography, and education. In 2002 he happened across the Milwaukee ballet on a tip from a friend, and, looking for a place to settle down, found the company to be of a size and in a place that were a good fit for him and his family. In the process of digging in his heels, Pink has brought many positive changes to a company that has struggled to remain on the map of reputable metropolitan ballet companies.

This is our loss, because Milwaukee Ballet is really fantastic. Two weeks ago I got the opportunity to see their studios, observe company class, and view a sliver of rehearsal for Pink’s new ballet Mirror Mirror (an original ballet inspired by the story of Snow White). On the heels of Ballet Preljocaj’s tour to the Harris Theater is their own interpretation of the fairy tale about the ivory beauty and the poisoned apple, Pink was drawn to the story for many of the same reasons as Preljocaj. “Snow White is just a great story. Good against evil… the whys and the wherefores… the battle of beauty versus beauty… there’s something quite Shakespearean about it. I want to tell a story that feels like it has integrity, and I want to promote classical dance and the use of classical vocabulary with modern influences… I want to stay in that genre so we don’t go to the extreme as Preljocaj has (which is fabulous! fabulous!)… but I want to appeal to a wider audience.”

Dancer Susan Gartell in Michael Pink's 'Mirror Mirror'. Photo Timothy O'Donnell
Dancer Susan Gartell in Michael Pink’s ‘Mirror Mirror’. Photo Timothy O’Donnell

In addition to world-class performances and original evening-length ballets, Pink has brought a number of important initiatives to Milwaukee Ballet that are central to why it thrives. Milwaukee Ballet II is based off of Pink’s work with the Central School of Ballet in London, where he created a training company to promote dance in the local community through outreach concerts and educational programming. Alongside the two companies is a fully stocked school with highly sought summer intensive program, and dancer health initiatives through relationships with the Sports Medicine Center at Froedtert and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. After spending a few hours with them, it’s hard to understand why I knew nothing about the Milwaukee Ballet until now. “The level of coverage is poor,” said Pink. “National publications are relying on local coverage, which is either non-existent, or of poor quality.”

Enter me.

Bringing in writers from outside of Milwaukee is part of the company’s strategy to get the word out, create national interest, and possibly generate a few touring opportunities. “If journalists don’t write with great enthusiasm and some degree of knowledge about the arts in general,” said Pink, then arts in Milwaukee (or anywhere else, for that matter) cannot thrive.

Milwaukee Ballet’s Mirror Mirror runs through May 18 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (929 N. Water St., Milwaukee). Tickets are $30-120 available online or by calling the Milwaukee Ballet Box Office at (414) 902-2103.


Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic, contributing to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. She is senior editor of See Chicago Dance. Lauren covers dance across the Midwest and writes regularly for Dance Magazine and Pointe with additional bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Teacher. Forthcoming publications include essays on ballet training in Chicago (University of Illinois Press) and Shirley Mordine (University of Akron Press). In 2020, Lauren published an opinion piece on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts in the South African journal Agenda. Lauren holds degrees in dance and kinesiology and has presented research on dance training practices at the National Dance Education Organization and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. She has co-facilitated critical dance writing intensives in Chicago and Durban, South Africa, and participated in writing residencies at the National Center for Choreography, Bates Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Lauren teaches dance history and kinesiology for dancers, with part-time appointments at Loyola University Chicago and Illinois Wesleyan University.

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