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Paul Kosidowski on February 17, 2012

Romance was in the air Thursday night as the Milwaukee Ballet opened its Winter Series at the Pabst Theatre. But it wasn’t your usual St. Valentine’s Day schmaltz. Featuring three world premieres by three choreographers, the program offered very different variations on themes of love and longing.

No problem finding contrast in the other two dances of the evening. Brock Clawson’s Crossing Ashland, was a physically charged and thoroughly modern take on the power of desire, both expressed and repressed. Ashland is, of course, a main thoroughfare in Clawson’s native Chicago. Throughout the piece, dancers in street clothes create the vision of pedestrians passing each other on the street, walking briskly back and forth at the back of the stage. But what happens in the foreground is the real substance of Clawson’s vision, a rollicking and intensely physical roundelay. Stripping down to physique baring costumes, the dancers create striking tableaus and execute some challenging and thrilling moves. There’s also a fair amount of give and take in the couplings, women pushing partners away with a scowl before they move on to someone new. Clawson’s style is charged and physical, but it’s not all about legwork. He creates striking silhouettes with knocked knees and distended shoulders. And his ambitious floor work (though it appeared a bit ragged at times) has fresh takes on his on-the-beat, jazzy style. This is a piece with a wealth of ideas and an animating concept that should find a life with other companies.