La Crosse’s semi-professional ballet company returns to the Weber Center stage April 17 for its inaugural spring performance — an original, contemporary ballet set to live folk music.
Written and choreographed by Ballet La Crosse artistic director Kennet Oberly and featuring music by singer-songwriter Carol Montag, “The Poems That Rachel Wrote” is a modern spin on the timeless themes of self discovery and growing up.
“This is an exciting show for me as a choreographer,” said Oberly, who wove the musical score together using songs from throughout Montag’s career to fit the storyline he had developed. “There’s something universal about growing up.”
The story follows two teenage girls who trade places and develop an unlikely friendship after initially clashing at school. Rachel, the protagonist, is played by 15-year-old Abby Inglett, of Westby.
The new girl in town, Inglett’s character suffers through isolation at her new school, struggles to connect with the parents who still see her as a child and deals with the pain of separation from her best friend, Jean, played by 13-year-old Lyvia Baldner, of Onalaska.
“It’s easy to transfer real life situations to the dancing,” Inglett said. “I’ve really embraced the character and the story.”
No high school drama would be complete without a “mean girl.” Rebecca’s adversary is the pretty and popular Brittany, danced by Ashley McQuistion-Keil. Playing the bully is an exercise in emotional range for the 12-year-old Logan Middle School student, but the role has been educational as well.
“We just did a big unit in school on cyber-bullying,” McQuistion-Keil said. “I feel like I understand it more now.”
Dancing the male lead is Drew Reischl, a senior at Aquinas High School. A regular in local theatrical productions and a hip-hop dancer at Misty’s Dance Unlimited for the past five years, this is Reischl’s first venture into ballet.
“This is a whole different side of dance,” he said. “I feel a lot stronger and more flexible now.”
A stark contrast to Ballet La Crosse’s fall performance of “Marushka and the Four Seasons,” “The Poems That Rachel Wrote” is a more abstract and conceptual ballet, said Ballet La Crosse founder Misty Lown.
The company plans to continue doing two ballets a year — a classical production with a large cast in the fall and a modern, experimental piece with a more intimate cast in the spring.
“In a classical ballet, the story is scripted and the characters (are more defined),” Lown said. “But with (modern ballet), the dancers are creating the story line. That’s not a journey most kids get to take.”