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Milwaukee choreographer challenges ballet traditions, gender norms

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Milwaukee dancers performing "Step of Two"

Ballet is exquisite, with a beauty that lies in a harmonious blend of movement, music and storytelling. The grace and precision of the dancers create visual poetry that evokes deep emotions and transports audiences to otherworldly realms. The technical skill required to be delicate and powerful is a feast for the eyes.

However, ballet also has ties to heteronormativity. Originating in the royal courts of the Renaissance, ballet reinforced strict masculine and feminine stereotypes, with male dancers portraying strong, dominant figures while female dancers embodied grace and passivity. Classic ballets often center around heterosexual romances, and training, costuming and presentation emphasize gender distinctions — further embedding these norms.

Contemporary ballet challenges these conventions, promoting more diverse and inclusive representations. A Milwaukee-based choreographer embodies that thinking through a new project exploring intimacy, gender and partnership.

Dawn Springer is a member of the teaching faculty at UW-Milwaukee who has performed and traveled internationally as an artist and speaker. Most recently, she created “Step of Two,” a duet featuring former Milwaukee Ballet dancers Itzel Hernandez and Annia Hidalgo — two women performing together in a deconstructed classical ballet Pas de Deux.

On this episode of Uniquely Milwaukee, I sat down with Springer and dancers Rachel Malehorn, Janel Hutchison and Sejain Bastidas to talk about “Step of Two,” bringing your life to the performance and what it means to move the needle toward more inclusivity within the industry.

“Step of Two” will hold a gallery performance at 4 p.m. June 27 at The Alice Wilds gallery. Tickets to this limited-admission event are on sale now.

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee