Tonight, March 31, Milwaukee Ballet opens “Kaleidoscope Eyes”, a triple bill featuring original pieces by three talented choreographers. In anticipation of the event, Milwaukee Ballet dancer of ten years Rachel Malehorn took the time to share a bit about each of the three pieces, her role in them, and what they each bring to the audience. “Kaleidoscope Eyes” begins tonight at 7:30 p.m. at The Marcus Center.
Emily Carl: How would you describe “Kaleidoscope Eyes” and how is it different from other ballets?
Rachel Malehorn: This is what we in the ballet world call a triple bill which means there are three different pieces that are unrelated to each other and they are each separated by an intermission. Sometimes I tell people that instead of watching a movie it’s like watching three sitcoms. Each of the different pieces are choregraphed by a different choregrapher and two of them are actually world premieres. I think that this is a good kind of show because the three different pieces are very different from each other in style and in content and definitely, for this show, in music. The music is very different in each of the three pieces. So everyone in the audience is sure to really love at least one of the pieces, but I’m sure they’ll love all three.
EC: How would you describe the three different pieces?
RM: I’d classify all three pieces in “Kaleidoscope Eyes” as contemporary dance. One of the pieces, “A Day in the Life”, is set to Beatles music and is the most balletic, but it’s definitely very contemporary in it’s stylistic element. Timothy O’Donnell’s piece is called “The Sixth Sin” and his piece is definitely contemporary movement quality. Garrett Smith’s piece “Addendum” is bordering very closely on hip hop, I would say. It’s really fun for dancers because we get a chance to experience different styles and different movements. Especially when we’re createing new pieces, the choreography is developing. The choregrapher will say, “I want something that flips around this way then lifts into the air then swoops this way,” so we as dancers can think, “How can we do that with our bodies and create a new movement vocabulary?” It’s like making up new words based on what they sound like. It doesn’t necessarily have to make sense in the sense of classical ballet technique. It’s still very much using classical ballet technique at the heart of it, like the letters of the alphabet. When we’re doing pieces like this and we’re creating new work, we get to combine and recombine the letters of the alphabet in new ways that make- maybe gibberish- words but in ways no one has ever heard before.
EC: What is your role in “Kaleidoscope Eyes”?
RM: I personally am in two of the pieces: Garrett Smith’s “Addendum” and Timothy O’Donnell’s “The Sixth Sin.” “Addendum” is a piece about the beauty and power of movement and we’re dancing with little tiny chairs from Ikea so that’s an added element of surprise. That’s the hip hop one where different dancers in the ensemble are featured at different times but it’s a very unifying piece so we’re all a group of individuals but we’re also as a group that creates patterns of movement. In Timothy’s piece it’s more like a loose narrative and his piece is about society’s obsession with body image and it’s role in creating a culture of envy. It’s a little bit of a heavy subject matter where we’re all members of society and we each explore body image and how we personally respond to that. My character in particular responds by being defiant and not wanting to accept those limitations in kind of an aggressive way, at least in the sense that she doesn’t want to be bound by those expectations of image and yet she still knows that she lives in the world so she kind of has to.
EC: How do you prepare for being in two such different pieces at the same time?
RM: We’ve been rehearsing for about six weeks so in the different rehearsal processes we get to practice the stylistic movements of those dances, and also, for me personally, it helps that in Garrett’s piece we’re wearing hoods with our costume. Sometimes, to help me get into more in that mood during rehearsal, I’ll wear a hoodie just to get me more in the sense of the movement style that he likes and the power level and an internal strength. I think the hood helps to get, literally, in that headspace.
EC: What is the order of performances for the evening?
RM: “Addendum” will be first, “The Sixth Sin” will be second, and then “A Day in the Life” will be last. Even though I’m not in that piece, my favorite thing about “A Day in the Life” is the music. It’s the perfect closer because the music is just so energetic and happy and it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser. I think the show in general is the perfect show to help get people in the mood for Spring. They’re high-energy and it’s a good mix of interesting movement and thought-provoking content and then pure enjoyment.
EC: Do you think the audience will be affected by the show differently whether they’re a ballet novice or expert?
RM: I think that shows like this are really accessible to people who have no frame of reference for classical ballet. I think sometimes people are intimidated by classical style of dance where they don’t want to come see it if they don’t know anything about it. I’ve heard someone say, “If someone asked me what I thought of the ballet, I wouldn’t have anything intelligent to say so I would just rather not go,” and I said to them, “First of all, you don’t need to know anything about dance in order to enjoy it, whether it’s classical ballet or not.” But the great thing about a show like this is that the music serves as a good bridge to tie people in because a lot of it is things people have heard before. So they have something familiar to start off with and then one of my favorite things about dance in general is we get to represesnt the music with our bodies. I’m sure you’ve seen “Fantasia” where some of those pieces weren’t really about anything, but the images that are constructed are meant to mimic or reflect the music. We get to do that in what we do as dancers, so maybe people that experience the show will be able to see the music being reflected in the movement of the dancers…that’s what I hope.
EC: You’ve been with Milwaukee Ballet for ten years now. What’s your favorite thing about it?
RM: I really love that Milwaukee Ballet gets to do shows like this that allow the choreographer to create new work because, as a dancer, I love to be a part of the creative process and, as I said before, it’s problem-solving and the brainstorming in the studio that decides how we express this idea through movement. I really like being a part of that and Milwaukee Ballet has a long history of encouraging new and established choreographers to create new work. It’s also nice to have a balance of classical and contemporary- I think it helps us to be better artists to be able to totally nail the classics of ballet and also totally nail contemporary ballet. I think it makes us really well-rounded as a Company and it makes us really flexible as a Company as well. Maybe someone who comes to see this show will connect with the dancers and want to see them more and feel more invited to see our more classical ballets that maybe they wouldn’t have come to see before.
EC: What’s one thing you think people don’t realize about being a ballet dancer?
RM: There’s always the thing that, even in the classical ballets, when you see a beautiful ballerina in a tutu, she’s still sweating under there because it’s really hard work and we really push our bodies to their limits, which is even more apparent in a show like “Kaleidoscope Eyes.” But even when we’re pretty and make it look effortless, it’s still very physical and exceedingly difficult, but the passion that we have for it runs so deep and we really have a lifetime commitment to it. I feel like ballet isn’t getting a lot of publicity lately, even with Misty Copeland- which is really great, the more people know about it. Hopefully more people will feel drawn in or at least intrigued.
EC: What do you hope the audience takes away from “Kaleidoscope Eyes”?
RM: I want the audience to just feel happy. That sounds like a simple thing, but really, when I think about the times in life when we just get to enjoy and experience at that simple level, I hope that we can provide that moment for the people that come to see the show. I hope that we can give them an excuse to relax in their seats and enjoy great art and just leave feeling happy.
“Kaleidoscope Eyes” runs at The Marcus Center tonight through Sunday, April 3. Tickets are available online or by calling 414-902-2103.