Louisville Ballet Company Dancer Ryan Stokes in rehearsal. Photo by Sam English.
By Kathi E.B. Ellis
Entire contents copyright © 2016 Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
This weekend sees two of the major arts organizations in town come together for three performances of a collaborative program that has been in the making for many months.
Collaborations always take more work than ‘going it alone,’ and the performances audiences witness will be the tip of the iceberg of the artistic and administrative efforts that have gone into bringing these pieces to life. Creating new work is always exciting and all-consuming; here we have a remount of a 2003 ballet, a brand new ballet with original music and video scenic design, and a complete revisioning of an early 20th century classic – truly exciting, and an herculean task for everyone involved.
Robert Curran (Artistic and Executive Director of the Louisville Ballet) and Teddy Abrams (Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra) talk enthusiastically about the energy around this ambitious program. Both agree that this weekend is so much more than a contractual arrangement for the orchestra to provide music for the dance. Part of this is that Abrams himself has composed a new work, “Unified Field,” that is the inspiration for Adam Hougland’s brand new work, “Union.” Part of it is that the musicians will be on the Whitney Stage along with the dancers for two of the three works. Part of it is that, through the increasingly facility of international connections in the arts world, other artists involved in the collaboration came to this program through the overlapping networks of these two men.
Abrams sees this collaboration as part of the continuum of the re-imagination of what the Louisville Orchestra can be in relationship to this community: dramatically expanding the repertoire of music played, taking music performances into the neighborhoods and, now, building an intentional relationship with another arts organization. He’s unequivocal about the necessity for live music for ballet and opera, and that this weekend’s collaboration is “significant for the future of the arts in Louisville…I want as many people as possible to see this…the work and the heart [that has] gone into this program.”
For Curran, this weekend is part of his overall passion for collaboration across all art forms. Ballet audiences have already seen scenic design from local visual artists Letitia Quesenberry, Chris Radtke, and Jacob Heustis; and Curran has brought in Australian choreographers Daniel Riley and Lucas Jervies to work with the Louisville Ballet. A prime example of the connectivity that runs through this weekend is the videography of New York-based designer Chris Doyle. Curran had seen his work in Melbourne, choreographer Hougland was familiar with his work; last spring they created a video-dance collaboration with 21C; and now this year they are coming together again for “Union.”
The world premiere of “Union” will be the second piece of the evening, a series of pas de deux followed by a variation including all the pairs. Abrams’ music was the inspiration for both designer and choreographer. He and Hougland met first to set the structure and arc of the music. Doyle’s visual composition followed, with both the aural and visual influencing Hougland and his dancers. Doyle’s image fluxes incrementally during the piece and is not just a static scenic design. His colors and shapes feel like an homage to visual artists like Léon Bakst and Pablo Picasso who also crossed into ballet design at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Hougland is also choreographing a brand new vision of “Petrouchka,” originally choreographed by Michel Fokine for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Alexander Benois was the scenic and costume designer a hundred years ago, for this iteration Marion Williams, a regular Hougland collaborator (audiences will remember the stunning sculptural piece in “Fragile Stasis,” last seen in 2014) creates both scenery and costumes. Not only is this another premiere, but an opportunity for audiences to see a rarely-staged ballet. Curran says that Hougland’s approach to “Petrouchka,” “…maintains the integrity of piece, its soul, and at the same time turns it on its head…it’s refreshing and confronting.”
The evening will begin with Hougland’s “Cold Virtues,” originally created for the Louisville Ballet in 2003 and last danced here in 2010. In addition to this piece bringing perspective to the evolving of Hougland as a choreographer, on the music side there is another layer of artistic collaboration. Set to Phillip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1, the solo instrument will be saxophone not violin; played by Australian musician Amy Dickson, who received Glass’ permission to arrange the concerto for violin. An excerpt of her recording of this piece is on her website, and is a powerful introduction to her interpretation.
Dickson will join the Louisville Orchestra this week as they come together with the Louisville Ballet for just two full rehearsals of this sprawling evening of performing and visual art. Abrams acknowledges that the different rehearsal processes are one of the challenges of the collaboration. The dancers have been rehearsing, for several weeks, with his midi version of his composition, and recordings of the other pieces. Abrams sat in on a recent rehearsal, and will take that experience back to the rehearsals that the orchestra will have this week. While musicians have been rehearsing on their own, they will only come together as an ensemble this week – a very different vibe from the ballet rehearsal studio. Abrams is excited about premiering his piece. It is, he says, “a beautiful experience to share music you’ve created for a full orchestra. There’s no feeling like it.” This will be the second composition of Abrams that Louisville audiences have heard, the first was “Overture in Sonata Form” last season.
And thus the new and the old, the revisioned and the visionary, will come together this weekend through the collaboration and networks of Abrams and Curran. The evening is framed through thirteen years of choreographer Hougland’s work that, Curran says, it is, “well and truly time for him to have full evening of works,” citing last summer’s full evening of Hougland works with Philadelphia’s BalletX. The evening pays homage to a century of music (Stravinsky, Glass, Abrams.) The evening also steps back in time to the international and interdisciplinary partnerships of the Ballets Russes, while bringing them forward into new media and technology.
Both Abrams and Curran use superlatives when talking about the process and the program that audiences will experience this weekend. “Right in every way” avers Abrams, while Curran proclaims its “spectacular.” Abrams says that this program and partnership are significant for the future of the arts in Louisville for artists and audiences alike. Curran, reflecting his passion for the interdisciplinary, links this weekend’s collaboration to the myriad of arts opportunities this weekend: the Speed Museum re-opening gala, KMAC’s public art unveiling, and the beginning of ATL’s Humana Festival of New American Plays. The Arts-Louisville calendar reveals many more arts events too! Audiences have a lot to choose from: and three opportunities to be part of the Abrams/Curran (R)Evolution.
March 4 at 8:00pm
March 5 at 2:00pm
March 5 at 8:00pm
For tickets call 502-584-7777, or
online at http://www.kentuckycenter.org/all-shows/spring-collaboration
Louisville Ballet & Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
Kathi E.B. Ellis is a member of the Lincoln Center and Chicago Directors’ Labs and an associate member of the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. She has attended the LaMama Directing Symposium in Umbria, Italy, and is featured in Southern Artisty, an online registry of outstanding Southern Artists. Her directing work has been recognized with nominations for the South Florida Theatre Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and is part of ShoeString Productions an informal producing collective. She has written book reviews and articles for Southern Theatre, the quarterly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and was a contributing writer for JCPS’ textbook for the 11th grade Arts and Humanities survey course and for YouthArts Tapestry, a Kentucky Arts Council publication.