Forever Young: Milwaukee Ballet's New Dorian Gray

O'Donnell as Dorian Gray. Photo by Nathaniel Davauer, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet.

 

Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink's imaginative versions of narratives-turned-ballets have garnered him a second title: master storyteller. His latest adaptation, based on Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, is the haunting story of a man who stays young as a portrait of himself grows old. The ballet runs through Feb. 21. For Pointe's bi-weekly newsletter, we spoke with company artist and choreographer-in-residence Timothy O'Donnell about playing Dorian.

How did you prepare?

I read Oscar Wilde's novel, and it was like a book club at work for a while. Michael was very clear that he wanted this to be a reflection of the original novel and not someone else's take on that, so I stayed away from all the Hollywood adaptations.


How do you get into character before the show?

I have to start out in a pretty good mood. Dorian goes through everything so deeply. There's romance but also tragedy. After the ballet, I feel completely spun out. It's like waking up from a terrible dream because I've been through so many heightened emotions.


The ballet features an actor who plays Lord Henry and serves as a narrator. What's it like adding him to the mix?

It's been fascinating. He's 100 percent incorporated into the show, which led to some of the most complicated scenes, like the rejection pas de deux with Sibyl Vane. Dorian decides he doesn't love her anymore. The interaction among the three of us was so difficult to put together since Lord Henry is talking while we're dancing. It took hours and hours and hours to create a four-minute pas de deux.


 

Since this is a new production, do you find it daunting or inspiring?

This is the best for me. My favorite thing to do is to be part of something that's fresh and still has room to evolve. There's always the normal fear of am I going to do my steps well, but I'm super-confident in this production.

 

Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

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Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

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The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

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Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Courtesy LEAP Program

Claire Sheridan wanted to change the status quo. Leading up to the 1990s, she recalls, "there was a 'shut up and dance' mind-set," and as the founder of the dance program at St. Mary's College of California and a longtime teacher in professional companies, she had seen too many dancers retire with no plan for a successful career transition. "At that time, if you thought about education and the future," she says, "you were not a committed dancer. I wanted to fight that."

With the support of St. Mary's, Sheridan developed the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, or LEAP, an innovative liberal-arts bachelor's degree program designed especially for professional dancers. She first presented her idea to executives at San Francisco Ballet. "Kudos to that company, because they said, 'This is great,'" she says. "Eleven of the first 18 dancers who started in August 1999 were from SFB."

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I'm a college freshman, and my dance program isn't challenging enough. We only have ballet three times a week and a few hours of modern, and my classmates aren't as dedicated as I am. There's a small dance company nearby, where I was hoping to take extra classes, but I don't have a car. I want to transfer, but I feel like I won't be in good enough shape for auditions. —Tara

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