December 2012

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live in a man's world W. Earle Smith By Meagan Parrish When December rolls around, the dance studios of Madison Bal- let are always bustling with activity: "The Nutcracker" season is underway and it's time for the performing arts group to prepare its annual larger-than-life production. But these days, you'll also catch something a little different than music for "The Sugar Plum Fairy" wafting through the air. It's the sound of "Dracula" rehearsals and the creepy, soaring, rock n' roll score that will be the musical backdrop for the new production by Madison Ballet this spring. And busy in the studio bringing the macabre legend to life, is W. Earle Smith—the organi- zation's charismatic artistic director and choreographer. "Dracula" has been a long time coming for Smith. A successful ballet performer into his 20s who hung up his dance shoes and worked in the corporate world before taking the reins of Madison Ballet 14 seasons ago, Smith was forced to delay the creation of "Dracula" due to budget cuts tied with the recession. But after cancelling all of their productions last season, save for "The Nut- cracker," Smith and Madison Ballet are back in action with three new shows slated for the coming year. If his enthusiasm is any indication, it's sure to be a thrilling year at that. I heard you almost didn't end up in ballet. Tell me about your leap into dance. I come from a long line of athletes and played sports. Then I started having knee problems. So I started in jazz and modern and really enjoyed it, but ballet was not an option. To be frank, I thought that guys who took ballet were sissies. But my dance teachers convinced me that it was the foundation of dance so I took my first ballet class, and fell in love with it. I started dancing professionally and had a wonderful career. What has it been like at Madison Ballet the last few years? In 2008 with the economy, we all saw the writing on the wall and in a way, we all went into survival mode. We had to make tough decisions. Our mission is to promote the art form and engage our community so when you can't do that, it's hard. But we paid off more than $150,000 of debt and now we're in a position where we can grow our programming again. One of your new productions is "Nutty Nut," a spoof on "The Nutcracker." What can audiences expect from that? It's a very irreverent spoof. A good example is in the middle of the snow scene when all the snowflakes are in a stationary spot and the music is slow, we're going to have the railroad crossing sign come Quick Questions with Smith What daily ritual do you look forward to most every day? Reading the news. Favorite Madison hangout? Mediterranean Hookah Lounge & Cafe. Favorite dance show on TV? I don't watch any dance shows! My favorite show right now is "Grimm." 26 When you go out, do you ever pirouette around to show off? Never. I dance in my condo, but it's usually when I'm cleaning. down going 'ding, ding, ding' and then 20 cyclists go across stage. And we'll have an ice fisherman off in the corner the entire snow scene. It's very Madison and very slapstick. How did the idea for "Dracula" come about? It was because of my little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He's been really into gothic books and movies. He got me reading 'Twilight' and reengaged me in that whole genre. And I thought it would be a good ballet. It is such an exciting project. Once I tell people what we're do- ing with the costumes and the music…people just get so intrigued. I think deep down, everyone wants to get bitten by a Dracula. There's something very romantic about it. So it's not going to be a prim and proper ballet? Oh, no. To be frank, if you look at the ratings criteria, it's PG. But you'd be shocked at what they allow in PG! Do you ever get sick of doing "The Nutcracker" every year? Absolutely not. Every year it's a little different. I watch every show and I'm never bored. The only thing I don't like about it is the holi- day season—you start hearing "Nutcracker" music everywhere. And it comes earlier every year! ••• The artistic director of Madison Ballet stages a comeback BRAVA Magazine December 2012 Photo by Shanna Wolf

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