Tom Strini

That “Rooster” guy returns to Milwaukee Ballet

By - Mar 24th, 2010 01:20 pm
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Rachel Malehorn flies in Val Caniparoli’s “Gustav’s Rooster” last May.

Last May, Val Caniparoli’s Gustav’s Rooster rooster charmed the Milwaukee Ballet’s audience and made the company look brilliant.

Caniparoli is back, with the more serious  Blades of Grass, to Tan Dun’s Pipa Concerto.

“This piece is as technical as Gustav’s Rooster, but not as lighthearted,” Caniparoli said, in an interview at the company’s 5th-and-National studio.

A metaphor he stumbled upon on the Internet gave the choreographer his starting point. Here is the crucial bit of it: “Each blade of grass is rooted in the earth, energized by sun, and intertwined with the others that surround it.”

That image of apparent individuals inextricably tangled beneath the surface spoke to him. It might have something to do with the way he conceives of the dancing body.

“For me, movement is totally connected to the back,” he said. “Everything the arms and legs and head do rises from the back.”

Val Caniparoli

Val Caniparoli

Likewise, the dancing is totally connected to the music. Tan Dun, probably best known for his film score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has one foot in Chinese musical culture and the other in Western musical culture. Thus, a concerto for Chinese lute and symphony orchestra, and all the influences that go with each.

“Some of it sounds like Copland to me,” Caniparoli said. “That’s how I heard it, and I use it. I made something like a square dance there.”

That fits into a larger drama for 12 dancers. Though the ranks are evenly divided by gender and couples sustain relationships through the piece, this dance is not about partnering. It’s more about the formation and dissolution quartets and trios within a larger ensemble flow. It’s about all the ways individuals and the group the comprise interact.

“It didn’t start out that way,” Caniparoli said. “I didn’t read the quotation until after I started choreographing. I start first, then figure out the main idea.”

His long experience has made him comfortable with the plunge into the unknown. Caniparoli, a fit and trim 58, made the first of his 70 or so dances in 1980. Shortly after, he was named resident choreographer of the San Francisco Ballet. He no longer holds that post, but…

“I’m still under contract as a dancer,” he said. “This is my 36th year. It’s mostly character roles, but occasionally I hoist someone around.”

His main career, though, lies in making two or three new dances a year and helping to stage his back catalog.

“I’m booked two and three years out,” he said. “I have 10 or 12 people who stage my works for me. (One of them, Charla Metzger, is in Milwaukee assisting him.) Who’d have thought that would happen?”

Blades of Grass is one of three new works on this Milwaukee Ballet Pure Dance program. The company will also premiere Concourse, by one of its own, Petr Zahradnicek, and will revive Jerry Opdenaker‘s Coeur de Basque. Milwaukee Ballet fans might remember Opdenaker as a member of the Pennsylvania/Milwaukee Ballet, during the few years when the two companies merged.

Performance times: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 25-27, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 28, at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. Call the ballet, 414-902-2103, visit the company’s website, or call the Marcus Center box office, 414-273-7206, for tickets, $23-$86.

Categories: Dance

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