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 the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program as they battled insecurities, injuries and the polar vortex all in the hope of launching their professional careers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Garrett Glassman, Kathryn Manger and Artistic Director Michael Pink reflect on the moments that define a dancer's journey from student to professional.