People, get past your preconceived notions and get with the program, because Margo Sappington's "Common People" with the Milwaukee Ballet featuring music from the project that William Shatner did with Ben Folds was one of the best things I've seen all year. Really. I'm not saying this ironically or anything. I'm saying, God, I wish I could be sitting near the the Shat himself in the audience when he sees this for the first time, realizing that he has finally been validated.
Sappington knows how to chorerograph poetry and spoken word without doing it literally. The opening (and title) track got out attention. "It Hasn't Happened Yet" might have been one of my favorite intrepetations -- a soloist dancer does his thing, while a company group seems to approach him -- and then pass him by. We were all wondering how exactly "I Can't Get Behind That" (Shatner's poetry slam with Henry Rollins) was going to work -- Sappinton spotlighted a dancer in a square spotlight for each little rant, each dancer ranting themself and pulling across the feeling of righeous frustration put forth by Shatner and Rollins. "Ideal Woman" "Has Been" and others were absolutely wonderful. Stella was fixated.
You could tell audience reaction was mixed. This piece followed a rather severe Balanchine classic, "Agon" to some really severe Stravinsky music. So the audience -- many of who I'm sure probably associate ballet with gentleness and such -- was already kind of aggroed out. Then they have to deal with Joe Jackson's wonderful music hall blues wail on top of Shatner growling out "Watching roaches crawl the wall -- one call to daddy could stop it all!" in "Common People." And let's get real, some of the language used is not commonplace in the Marcus Center. A few people were simply aghast, but as our older usherette commented to us as we walked to the lobby for an intermission break, "I've never seen anything like it," and she was positive. You'd be amazed what wonderfulness can creep into an open mind. It was beautiful, moving, arresting, everything ballet can and should be. If I had a spare $50 (and the time) I'd be there tonight. I want to see it again. I want this on DVD. Bravo, Denny Crane!
Last piece was "Seconds before the Ground" with music by the Kronos Quartet, and while I'm glad I wasn't an artist that had to follow "Common People," the Trey McIntyre piece was a nice sendoff into the night. It too was lovely, and probably unbunched the panties of the straightedge crowd. The music had elements of african rhythms and melodies, and the dance playfully followed valentines week lovers through four movements of Kronos preciseness. It was enough to inspire our companions (Stella's hip babysitter and hip babysitter's mom, noted writer Amy Waldman) to consider a season subscription next year. We're already excited about the Genesis Dance competition next month -- there will be three ballets presented, and the winning choreographer will be comissioned for a full lenght work next season. Very, as artistic director Michael Pink noted, American Dance Idol, except that I don't think we'll get to vote on the winner. Probably good thing too, since "Common People" kind of proves that the Milwaukee ballet market isn't exactly enamored over anything that isn't straight up classical orchestral ballet. (This isn't the first time I've felt this, even before the wonderful Michael Pink arrived, Milwaukee fine arts audiences have been a tough sell on anything that isn't traditional.)