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Following Milwaukee Ballet's Second Company

Milwaukee Ballet

If you’ve ever been to the ballet, you might have noticed the young dancers performing off to the sides of the stage, or filling out a crowd scene - the ones lined up in neat rows behind the prima ballerina. 

These are usually the dancers of the second company. Most are between the ages of 17 and 22. All have finished their formal dance training and, as members of the second company, are part of an advanced trainee program - like the one run by the Milwaukee Ballet Company. This week on Lake Effect, we’ll find out what that experience is like.

Contributing producer Lucien Jung spent the last year following some of the dancers in theNancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program as they battled insecurities, injuries and the polar vortex all in the hope of launching their professional careers.

Credit Milwaukee Ballet
Daily dance class

As the students prepare and perform in their first studio show, Assemble, hear from a couple of the dancers. Second year MBII Andrea Chickness entered the program with many years of training, including time in other second companies; while first year MBII Ellis Endsley came to the program after recovering from Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Part 2: Preparing for First Studio Show

Credit Milwaukee Ballet
An MBII backstage during Nutcracker

The MBIIs endure a grueling holiday season with back-to-back performances of the Nutcracker. Hear from first year MBII Marie Varlet, whose formal training was at one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world. First year MBII Andrew Wingert and his parents discuss what life is like for ballet families.

Part 3: MBIIs Perform in Back-to-Back Performances of the Nutcracker

Credit Milwaukee Ballet
MBIIs Jose Soares and Marie Varlet performing in "End of World" a piece by Milwaukee Ballet's choreographer-in-residence Timothy O'Donnell.

After back-to-back performances of the Nutcracker, the MBIIs got a short break and then returned to Milwaukee. The city is crippled by cold weather brought on by the polar vortex and they must prepare for one of the most important shows of their season, the MBII showcase at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center. This is a tough time of year for the dancers as they try to keep up with the demands of the MBII program, while going on one audition after another in the hope of securing a professional contract.

Part 4: Dancers Prepare for & Perform in the the MBII Showcase at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center

Credit Milwaukee Ballet
Marie Varlet and Jose Soares performing in the MBII Graduation Celebration.

The MBIIs struggle to get through a series of community outreach events while also traveling across the country for auditions. The outreach events offer the MBIIs the opportunity to interact with adoring audiences and receive some much needed encouragement during what is an emotional time of year. They're starting to find out what the future holds and for only a few will it include a professional contract.

Part 5: Dancers Struggle Through Audition Season & Perform in the Graduation Celebration

Credit Milwaukee Ballet
Kazuya Arima and Kathryn Manger

Garrett Glassman, Kathryn Manger and Artistic Director Michael Pink reflect on the moments that define a dancer's journey from student to professional.

Part 6: Reflecting On The Journey

Lucien Jung is a Milwaukee-based video and radio producer. His research in the IP-based distribution of multimedia has been presented at the Broadcast Education Association’s annual conference as well as the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. Lucien is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications master’s program in Television-Radio-Film.