History of Dance Wisconsin
Dance Wisconsin is now in its 13th year, but the roots of the company go back decades. The company’s artistic director Jo Jean Retrum and her mother and partner Jean Adams have long believed that audiences in southern Wisconsin deserved to see breathtaking dance productions with choreography, sets, and costumes seldom found outside major metropolitan areas. Their influence on the local dance scene is unrivaled and their productions have earned both critical acclaim and an enthusiastic base of loyal followers.
In the past 11 years Nutcracker Fantasy has become a beloved holiday tradition, showcasing the talents of world-renowned dancers from some of the country’s leading ballet companies along with students trained at Dance Wisconsin’s home studio, Monona Academy of Dance. Elements of the production follow the traditional Nutcracker—with a party scene, dancing dolls, the Waltz of the Flowers, and the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier—but others are more contemporary and fanciful, such as beautiful ballroom and modern pieces accompanied by carolers.
Retrum and Adams produced the Madison area’s first Nutcracker in 1976. The next year they founded the Madison Youth Ballet. Before long they began the tradition of featuring professional dancers to perform as guest artists in their Nutcracker, and eventually the production moved to the Civic Center’s Oscar Mayer Theater.
When the Civic Center brought in Pittsburgh Ballet to perform The Nutcracker in 1981, it became more necessary than ever to be able to compete with professional companies. The name of the company changed to Wisconsin Dance Ensemble, and Retrum and Adams sought and secured professional dancers from American Ballet Theatre for that year’s Nutcracker. This started a long tradition of bringing in dancers from ABT.
In 1999 Wisconsin Dance Ensemble became Dance Wisconsin. The company has been fortunate to have its own small orchestra come together for Nutcracker Fantasy each year. Led by conductor Blake Walter, the orchestra features many talented local musicians and also accompanies the beautiful voices of the Monona Grove High School Singers. In addition to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score, original music by Taras Nahirniak makes this production unique.
Appreciation for the arts is something Dance Wisconsin believes everyone should share. A critical part of the company’s mission is to remove barriers to discovering the art of dance—which is why, in addition to producing shows that are affordable relative to others in the Madison area, Retrum and Adams have taken their dance instruction to some of Madison’s most economically challenged public schools.
We are proud of the rigorous training we provide and the opportunities we offer our dancers. The many alumni who have gone on to professional careers are testament to the quality of our instruction. Our alumni have danced at companies all over the world, yet they never forget their roots, and many return to perform as guest artists, teach classes, or choreograph new pieces.
To promote and foster dance in Wisconsin and develop appreciation of the arts including dance, music and theatre 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 Dance in the Schools programs.