The Duchess is In!

The Duchess is In!

Some people have a way of making anything they touch better.  They have a natural ability to remain calm, positive, and provide thoughtful, constructive advice. Dance Wisconsin is lucky to have one such person helping  guide the organization!  Rodger White has been involved with Dance Wisconsin for forty years.  Currently serving as the Board of Director’s President, Rodger also performs in Dance Wisconsin’s Nutcracker Ballet and its spring ballet repertoire.  Most recently, Rodger has performed the role of Uncle Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker, and will debut the role of Duchess in Dance Wisconsin’s upcoming Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ballet, April 9 and 10, 2016.

Last Nutcracker, I was drafted to be one of the prop “masters,” and I was relieved and grateful to be mentored by Rodger.  Usually my volunteer duties involve things that need to be completed prior to opening night.  If a hair bow is too messy, or a tiara needs extra bedazzling, I am your gal.  This role required me to be responsible and focused throughout rehearsals and dress rehearsals. And I had to be reliable during performances people PAID money to attend.  I was nervous! Lucky for me, I had Rodger guiding me throughout rehearsals and performances.  His quiet yet confident manner reassured me that all would be OK.  I also observed that Rodger put many other cast members and volunteers at ease.  He is willing to share his experiences with the company and cast, discuss his roles and props during community demonstrations, and take time to help others in need.  His leadership and support of Dance Wisconsin over the years has truly made Dance Wisconsin a top-notch professional organization.

People’s journeys leading them to their passions/hobbies have always interested me. Rodger’s journey is especially of interest.  Throughout our time spent together, Rodger and I had time to discuss some of the history surrounding his work with Dance Wisconsin–it is pretty amazing.

Rodger grew up in Prairie du Chien, WI.  He moved to Madison after graduating from high school.  While attending the University of Wisconsin, he decided to audition for the Theater Guild’s production of Oklahoma!  He became hooked. During the late 1960’s and early ’70’s Rodger had the opportunity to live and work in London.  He danced with Sidonne Scott Dancers and three other theater groups.  His interest in performing arts continued to grow, especially after having the opportunity to view the Royal Ballet’s Anthony Dowel, Margot Fonteyn, and Fredrick Ashton perform at the Royal Opera House.  Rodger has trained with Nan Gilbert, Ginna Davis, Tibor Zana, Bess Zana, Barbara Carson, and Charmaine Ristow.  He has performed with Kanopy Dance, Anna Nassif Dance Theater, Children’s Theater of Madison, and Madison Savoyards.  When the Wisconsin Dance Ensemble was formed,  Rodger become involved.  He has been dancing with JoJean Retrum ever since.  Mother Ginger and Mother Simone are two of his most favorite roles to perform.  Rodger enjoys the fact that these two roles allow him to have fun with acting and dancing while portraying the over the top characters.  When Rodger responds to questions about why he continues to support and perform with Dance Wisconsin, he answers candidly.  Dance Wisconsin provides young people opportunities to learn about and perform challenging lead roles.  Company dancers, some as young as fourteen are skillfully performing the “Snow Pas,” “Marzipan,” and “Rose” in Nutcracker.  Their training is exceptional, they are ready to dance professionally or at a college dance program directly upon high school graduation.  The company allows them the materials and venues to explore and share choreography, costume design, and community outreach programming.  The organization advocates for and executes accessible arts for all.

You can see Rodger White perform his “Duchess” role in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Mitby Theater, April 9 and 10, at 2:00 PM.  Order Your Tickets Now!

Dance Wisconsin presents “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

One of my favorite things about volunteering for the Dance Wisconsin organization is the countless opportunities one has to learn about all aspects of dance, including what goes into executing a high quality ballet production.   I have spent time embellishing and steaming costumes, chaperoning dancers, and aiding with prop mastering.  Most recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Chelsey Bradley, a Dance Wisconsin alumna and resident choreographer, to find out more about her full length ballet, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”   Last April, Dance Wisconsin Board of Directors commissioned resident choreographer Chelsey Bradley to craft and direct the ballet, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” It is a great opportunity for Ms. Bradley to continue growing as a choreographer, as well as a very special experience for local dancers to have a full length ballet set for their dance company!  Ms. Bradley has spent a year planning and preparing her choreography, selecting music, working on prop and staging designs, and crafting the story line and characters of her ballet.  Dance Wisconsin Artistic Director Jo Jean Retrum continues her history of supporting choreographers and providing them a venue to rehearse, prepare/store costumes, and assist with coordination of marketing, volunteers, and outreach programs for the production.  Please enjoy some of Chelsey’s responses to my questions.

Chelsey (Dahm) Bradley 


Q:  What was your process for developing the ballet?

A:  The very first thing I did was read the book again. The book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is quite episodic, so it was easy to break it down into sections and select the parts of the story I wanted to tell. For the most part, the ballet stays true to the book. One change I made is to pull  “Tweedledee & Tweedledumm” from Through the Looking Glass and add them into the ballet.  It was important for me to bring in these characters because they are so recognizable and fun.

Q:  How did you go about designing the Wonderland?

Company dancer Alanna as Caterpillar.  Mushroom by Vincent & Dave Bradley

A:  As I began to structure the ballet, I created a “wish list” of props. A mushroom for the caterpillar, a throne for the queen, a table for the tea party . . . It was my determination to simply dream big, and leave it up to the artistic staff to pull me back to reality. Luckily, my husband (a finish carpenter by trade) and his father were willing to take on the challenge of bringing my wish list to life. They’ve created a larger-than-life world for Alice to travel through, and it has been so much fun to watch it come together.

A:  What is the casting process like?

Q:  It was important to me to begin the casting process by finding our Alice, then structure the remainder of the cast around her. We went back and forth on this decision: we considered using a younger dancer to stay true to the book, or using an older dancer to increase the potential difficulty of the role. Ultimately, for me, it came down to theatrics. I knew there would be a great deal of choreography where Alice was not necessarily dancing, but watching and reacting to what was going on around her. Our Alice for this year, high school senior Frances Violante, was selected because she is both technically strong and deeply theatrical.

A:  Tell us what we might expect from the ballet?  What is the overall feel of it?

Q:  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a special ballet because it combines ballet, acting, and comedy in a story that even the youngest audience member will recognize. It was important for me to create a ballet that highlights the technical skill of the dancers, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. To this end, there are more classically ballet scenes such as the Garden of Living Flowers, but these scenes are infiltrated by other characters in a way that keeps the show’s sense of lightheartedness and wonder.

Garden of Living Flowers Costume by Ashley Dahm

 Upcoming topics:

  • Costuming for “Alice”
  • Interviews with cast members
  • Observing rehearsals
  • Getting to know more about the lead dancers

To find out more about Chelsey Bradley, you can follow her on Instagram or YouTube.


Growing Up Dancing

Growing Up Dancing

When I was a child growing up in Burnsville, Minnesota during the mid 1970’s, “dance” was an activity that was done informally, with my sisters and friends.  My three sisters and I would spend hours choreographing dance moves in our spacious rec room.  The dance floor was made of comfortable shag carpeting and we had access to records ranging from Disney’s “Cinderella” to Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  At the time,  we never imagined becoming professional dancers or choreographers.  We had never seen a live ballet performance.  However, we did know that moving to music was great fun.  Sometimes we would even throw in some partnering moves.  My youngest sister was five, so she was the easiest to twirl and craft really cool dance moves with. The 1970’s included weekly television variety shows such as  The Donny and Marie Show Sonny and Cher , and The Carol Burnett Show. Weekend television was loaded with dance, music, and dazzling costumes.  It provided viewers “live” performances, and my sisters and I with a deep appreciation for the arts–and a steady stream of new moves.

Fast forward to 2003.  Our oldest daughter turned five and begged my husband, Todd, and I to enroll her into ballet class.  Neither Todd nor I had the faintest idea as to how our daughter’s ballet classes would change our lives.  Presently, two of our four children dance, and I have been involved with the Dance Wisconsin organization for nine years.  Being the mother of two company members has gently pushed me into discovering and acquiring new skills.  Sewing and bedazzling costumes, volunteering, fundraising, advocating for the arts, researching ballet story lines, and navigating the world of competition and auditions are several duties I have assumed over the years.  I am fortunate that my daughters have danced with a studio and pre-professional dance company that fosters their passion, challenges them, and provides them opportunities to perform, train, and mentor others.  Instead of learning about dance by solely watching television, my children have performed with or learned from dance legends such as Gillian Murphy, James Whiteside, Laura Alonzo, and Sascha Radetsky. They have been given opportunities to perform and take classes at U.W. Madison and Regional Dance America’s MidStates Festival.   Most importantly, they train with resident Dance Wisconsin faculty JoJean Retrum, Ashley Dahm, Chelsey Bradley, and learn from alumni such as Danielle Furhmann, Justin Genna, Dottie Patterson, and Jordan Tiede.  We have met loads of interesting and generous people, and our lives have been greatly enriched.dw photo

This blog is dedicated to the service Dance Wisconsin provides to the arts culture within southern Wisconsin.  Dance Wisconsin provides serious dancers special opportunities to train and perform. At the same time, the organization has stayed true to its mission of exposing and engaging thousands of children, youth, and adults to the many possibilities the realm of dance offers. Full-length productions, free/low cost demonstrations, Dance in the Schools, Dance in the Library, and working with other local non-profit groups excite and educate the public about the artistry, history, and health benefits of dance. These programs serve to teach participants traits that will positively impact their quality of life. Learning to communicate, thinking creatively and analytically, overcoming adversity, setting and attaining goals, and working as a team, are life skills participation in the performing arts fulfills.

Dance Wisconsin Mission:
•    To promote and foster dance in Wisconsin and develop appreciation of the arts including dance, music and theater by creating productions of the highest caliber geared toward entertaining, educating, and enriching our diversified audience
•    To provide opportunities for highly talented and serious dancers to enhance their arts education through active participation in these productions as members of the Dance Wisconsin Company
•    To provide opportunities for many area youngsters age seven and older to perform on stage with exposure to notable guest artists in quality ballet productions
•    To reach out to the community through demonstrations, special discounted shows and outreach programming