Madison Ballet to close season with “Rise,” artistic director W. Earle Smith’s final program with the company

MADISON, WI — Madison Ballet’s Rise will mark the end of the company’s season and the end of an era as artistic director W. Earle Smith concludes his 19-year career with the organization.

The mixed-repertory program will be performed at the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater from March 30-31 and will feature a sampler of Smith’s choreography as well as George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie and Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux from The American.

“It’s very bittersweet time for me,” says Smith. “but it’s like the end of my dance career; I felt it was time to go. It’s time for someone else to make their mark on the company.”

Smith says he is especially going to miss Madison Ballet’s dancers—from those new to the company to those he’s worked with for years.

During Smith’s tenure, Madison Ballet grew from a studio company to a professional company, added a school, and performed a diverse repertory including classical story ballets, original full-length works, new contemporary and neo-classical choreography, and favorites by choreographic masters such as Balanchine and others.

Though Rise was programmed last summer before the news of Smith’s departure, it’s evolved to include a showcase for some of his greatest choreographic hits. “A lot of dancers came to me looking to perform ballets they really enjoyed dancing during my time with the company,” he says. “It’s a parting gift to them and to audiences.”

“Dracula” | photo credit: Andrew Weeks

Those works will be excerpts of the Steampunk-inspired ballet Dracula (2013) set to an original rock score by Madison composer Michael Massey,  Groovy (2014) danced to songs of the ’60s, Expressions (2011) set to American Songbook standards, Las Cuatros (2017) featuring Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, and the swimming-themed Nuoto (2015).

Madison Ballet artistic director W. Earle Smith | photo credit: Christine Waters

Smith, who has a Balanchine background, also chose to bring back Valse Fantaisie (1967), first performed by the company in 2013. Répétiteur Michelle Gifford, who set the work on the company, describes it as “whimsical and bright” and says it “allows the dancers to move across the stage with energy and lightness.” Valse Fantaisie will be performed to Mikhail Glinka’s Valse Fantaisie in B Minor.

Gifford also set The American pas de deux and says that it “creates an atmosphere of beauty and romance” and highlights Wheeldon’s “intricate partnering work, beautiful musical choices, and sense of stagecraft– using the stage to its fullest with two people.” Originally created on Carolina Ballet, the pas de deux is set to the haunting, meditative second movement of Antonin Dvorak’s Quartet No. 12 (The American).

So, what’s next for Smith after the curtain falls on Rise?

“I’ve been choreographing for over 30 years and it’s an opportunity for new adventures in that and teaching,” he says. He would also like to continue working in Madison and pursue more opportunities in the nonprofit sector.  But, he adds that he’ll “go where the job is.”

“I’ve always lived a gypsy life,” he says. “I’ve been a dancer, director, choreographer, teacher, and worked in finance. I’m excited about the next chapter.”

“Rise” runs March 30-31 at the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater, 201 State St., Madison. Tickets start at $20 and are available online at