Erica De La O & Ryan Stokes in A Well Worn Path. Photo by Sam English.
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
The Choreographer’s Showcase in the Louisville Ballet’s studio space is always a treat, but Artistic Director Robert Curran has given the format an extra jolt of energy and showmanship by introducing original music not just performed live in the space but also, at times, incorporated into the staging.
The opening piece was Collective Perception, choreographed by Ashley Thursby and set to piano music by Daniel Gilliam. To open such a dynamic program may be an unenviable task, but Thursby acquits herself admirably with a disciplined dance that nonetheless felt underdeveloped narratively. The 11-member ensemble handled the abstract movement beautifully, but the themes of gender inequality expressed in the choreographer’s statement never seem fully realized in the quasi-traditional patterns of movement.
There were still memorable moments, including a striking final advance of the company toward the audience that nicely exploited the intimate relationship with the audience afforded in the Louisville Ballet studio space.
Brandon Ragland’s Against The Groove explored concepts of masculinity and self-perception in a piece with music by Ben Sollee. The lockstep march of uniformity gave way to motifs of individuality that are picked up and repeated, illustrating the notion that Ragland describes in his statement: “…men often care about other people perceive them than having their own sense of self.” That most of the dancers were women only lends a more objective perspective to the question of what it means to be male in contemporary society.
The music by Ben Sollee was striking, spare, and slightly experimental; deep, discordant tones of dread that transform into an elemental, bluesy sequence that beautifully captured the investigation of masculinity the choreographer seemed to be seeking.
Of course, Mr. Sollee’s celebrity did create some measure of conflict in that heads were turned towards the musician almost as much as the dancers; the audience perhaps drawn to viewing his performance at the expense of staying focused on the ensemble, who were compelling and dramatic throughout the piece.
That same distraction followed, to a lesser degree, in Fractured, a disturbing piece of work that felt like the most collaborative between choreographer and composer/musician of the evening. All performance is visceral, but Tim Barnes minimalist score was heavy on percussion and followed an elemental design that reached deep into your gut. The 5-person team of musicians built a very specific and unsettling atmosphere that was powerful and disquieting.
At first, there seemed to be a disconnect between choreographer Andrea Schermody’s statement about mental illness and the anthropological quality of the music, but after a time the movement suggested a hypothesis that the damaged, or “fractured”, mind might be in search of clarity by reacquiring the relationship with nature’s sacred rhythms.
The recurring themes of identity found perhaps their most impactful presentation in Eduard Forehand’s A Well Worn Path. Accompanied by Kyle James Hauser on banjo, electric guitar and muted vocals, the piece succinctly establishes a societal order that emphasizes conformity and strips, both literally and figuratively, rebellious individuals of their status. In exemplary work of wit and insight, Forehand’s outcast characters find their true selves in their exile from the tropes of civilization. While the quality of performance all evening was outstanding, this piece was a worthy finale, and featured a bravura pas de deux from Erica De La O and Ryan Stokes characterized by fluid, sinuous movements of great individuality. Less a romantic expression, although it was also that, Forehand’s choreography in this instance exemplified the body communicating narrative, and was the most successful of the four works in achieving that common goal.
I also could not help but ponder how the showcases under Mr. Curran have subtly shifted in their character. There was no work in the classical mold, as I understand it, but rather bold and highly modern styles and sensibilities at play. Combined with the rich collaborations with composers and musicians, this makes the studio performances a provocative “hot ticket” for lovers of dance.
November 4 – 7, 2015
315 East Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.