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Night Falls Fast

Choreography: John Utans
Alan Morse Davies
Costume design:
Mary Piering &
John Utans
Lighting: Nicholas Cavallaro

1st movement excerpts


Performed by The Milwaukee Ballet Company
Pabst Theatre, Milwaukee Wisconsin February 2005.

Amy Fote, Yumelia Garcia, Jennifer Miller, Jennifer Provins. Karisa M. Stich, Candice Thompson, Matthew Bruno, Ian Grosh, Dwayne Holliday, Marc Petrocci and Petr Zahradnicek.

The impulse of this work is speed; physically fast, a point of endurance and being pushed to the limit. Thoughts of speed entail time and with it the passing of time – A sense of history; the past, present and future. The merging of the old and new: of classical ballet and modern dance. Sometimes things go by so quickly; a second - an hour becomes a day and then a year and then years. Time surging forward. How often do we take the time to look back and acknowledge where we are, where we have been and where we are going?

The performers embody history and change. In a split second, with what they do and who they are, they can reveal years of history and the very moment of now. They are human; they are husbands, wives and lovers, friends, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. History is here before us and the future not far away.

A 'Night' of ballet

Most loose ends go away if I ignore them long enough. But if they hang around and hang around, I just have to tie them up…

I'm still thinking about John Utans' "Night Falls Fast," which the Milwaukee Ballet premiered Feb. 17 at the Pabst Theater.

Fast, complicated yet utterly clear ensemble dancing opens the piece. Utans' spacing and geometry make it easy to see parallels and mirrors form, shift and dissolve within the ensemble. The eye and mind have to hustle to keep up with the changing relationships, but why bother watching a dance if it doesn't speed up your synapse function?

The brisk pulse of Alan Morse Davies' music drives the dance, but Utans' phrasing has an independent, irregular life of its own. I love the way dancers walk in casually from the wings and jump into the ensemble and the rhythm and, having taken care of business, jump off the piece and casually walk out. They're like travelers jumping on and off moving sidewalks at the airport. It's completely unpredictable, yet makes perfect visual, structural and rhythmic sense.

In the opening allegro, the dancers are abstractions. We neither know nor care who they are. That changes abruptly when the beat dissolves, the tempo slows, a man falls to the ground and those around him react like witnesses to a heart attack. It occurs to us suddenly: Oh yes - they're people.

Utans gave no narrative beyond that, but he did offer emotionally loaded partnering and a very pregnant and irresistible Karisa Stich. She was surprisingly athletic yet placid, centered and a little coy, like Mona Lisa's mother-to-be.

Utans, a native Australian, lives in Hong Kong and is unknown in the U.S. outside Milwaukee. He is a major talent, and the Milwaukee Ballet would be wise to cultivate an ongoing relationship with him.

Tom Strini
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 13, 2005

Four Departures For Milwaukee Ballet

Milwaukee Ballet’s “Fresh Four February,” at the Pabst Theater, in Milwaukee, presented four premières by different choreographers, February 17-20. The results varied. Chemistry between the company and the choreographer was most evident in Night Falls Fast by Australian-born John Utans and …As Always by Milwaukee Ballet company member Petr Zahradnicek…

Night Falls Fast is a powerfully constructed piece about speed, time and the merging of old and new. The dancers dashed across the space, sometimes pausing to confront an idea before rushing on. The resulting texture and dynamics showed that Utans sees the performers as humans with histories, a vision that reached its pinnacle in a lovely pas de deux utilizing to great effect Amy Fote’s effortless extension and soloist Matt Bruno’s athletic intelligence. During a silence in Alan Morse Davies’ otherwise relentless score, the dancers moved with utter focus, conveying the urgency of those seeking private moments amid the chaos of their lives.


Utans used his 11 dancers effectively. A compelling, physical solo for the very pregnant dancer Karisa Stitch demonstrated that the unceasing march of history is comprised of countless personal experiences.

Fred Dintenfass
Pointe Magazine
Fred Dintenfass is a painter, dancer and writer living in Milwaukee, WI.


Journal Sentinel dance critic
Posted: Feb. 15, 2005

Four world premieres make the upcoming Milwaukee Ballet program a special event. Instead of singling out one choreographer, we tried a little experiment: All four considered the same five questions in an exchange conducted via e-mail. The correspondents were free to skip questions they thought inapplicable.

Q. What was the starting point for this piece?

Utans: The idea of SPEED. I wanted to make something that was fast, physical and exhilarating for both dancers and audience. The more I played with the idea of speed; its direct relation became time. From there, images revolved around the past, present and future. If we understand where we came from, the present has a greater clarity and may also reveal the future.

Q. How did you structure and organize the piece?

Utans: Choreographically I am a minimalist. Although the work is dense and multilayered, the structure and spatial design fall into minimalist philosophies. The work is primarily made up from two movement phrases, which add up to about 60 counts. These phrases become the language and identity of the work. From there, with lots of manipulation, duets, trios, solos and ensembles have evolved. I see these as flashbacks and flash forwards.

Q. What's the most important thing in this dance, the thing you hope no one will miss?

Utans: In some ways, it's important what I want the audience not to see. Although all the ingredients of the work - its structure and manipulations - are intricately crafted and designed, it is what happens with the audience experience that's important. It's like the choreography is the bus and not the destination. However, having said that, I also feel it's like the Japanese idea where it's not the destination but the journey that is important. Confused?

Q. Does the dance tell a story, however oblique and subtle?

Utans: The work is abstract, in that it does not deal with a narrative. It deals with a sense of time and time passing, how history can repeat itself and how the old becomes new.

I sometimes feel people get confused by needing to connect "narrative" with "meaning" - they feel that if something has no story, it has no meaning. I feel that audiences have lost a sense of trust within themselves. Exploring your own interpretations and responses to a work can be illuminating. What does it tell you about yourself?

Q. Does the piece represent any idiom or style? What role (if any) does classical technique play in it?

Utans: My work, its process and outcomes, is informed by my interests in the visual arts, cinema and contemporary music.

As the work is for the MBC and deals with histories, my own history included, it is appropriate that the movement vocabulary be based upon classical ballet. It is important to acknowledge the unique qualities and skills of the group.

The dancers are vital contributors to the work. I give them frameworks and structures to play within. Similar material given to a group of different dancers, with different styles and skills, will look and feel totally different.

The framework however, maintains my personal interests and signature. I am not interested in seeing dancers dance the way I do. Dancers who interpret and explore different ways of moving, whilst maintaining a clear sense of their own history and identity, inspire and excite me.

From the Feb. 16, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel