Leigh Anne Albrechta & Brandon Ragland in rehearsal for Human Abstract. Photo by Sam English.
By Kathi E. B. Ellis
Photos by Sam English
Entire contents are copyright © 2017, Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
“Collaboration” has been a watchword for Louisville Ballet Producing and Artistic Director Robert Curran from long before he came to Louisville. Jack Productions, a company Curran co-founded in Melbourne, was grounded in partnerships and collaborations, including with choreographer Lucas Jervies who created the first iteration of Human Abstract with that company.
This iteration of Human Abstract may be the most complex collaboration yet for the Louisville Ballet. Jervies is once again in Louisville, choreographing his third ballet for the Louisville Ballet, creating this ballet on seven of the company’s dancers, and working with three artists from Louisville Visual Art who together are conjuring the scenic aspects of the production; and they, in turn, are working in close conjunction with the lighting designer to integrate light sources into the three-dimensional stage structures.
And all in six weeks.
Of course, concept conversations have been happening for much longer, with Jervies staying in contact with his collaborators via Skype, email, etc., including Hungarian composer Adam Ster, who returns to the creative team after also composing the original version. And the search for visual artists was itself a long process, which started months ago, involving a community panel from a spectrum of arts organizations.
Louisville audiences who are now accustomed to the Louisville Ballet forming innovative partnerships with artists from various media, will now also have the experience of the dancers in this production speaking, singing, playing musical instruments as well as dancing the intense, physically-demanding choreography of Jervies. A full-length ballet, Human Abstract is designed for seven dancers, a change for audiences used to seeing the majority of the company in an evening’s presentation. And the ballet is being presented in the Bomhard Theatre, which, if memory serves, is a first for the Louisville Ballet, though the venue is a frequent host to leading modern dance companies performing in Louisville.
The evening’s title comes from William Blake’s poem of the same title; other literary inspirations include Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Jervies cites as his own choreographic inspirations both Austrian Georg Reischl and American William Forsythe, as well as his exposure to theatrical conventions while studying directing at NIDA (Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts.) He employs a collaborative and improvisational approach to his ballets’ creations. Thus the dancers, responding to a variety of prompts, create individual movement sequences which become the building blocks for more complex group sequences that are part of the overall ballet.
Jervies’ storytelling style is non-linear, with the dancers embodying the psychological and emotional aspects of the words, music, and images that influence this coming of age story, a search for self and for love. There is a fascination with the tension between the honed extensions and lightness of the classical traditions, and a ‘giving in’ to gravity and connecting to the earth, which is seen again and again in falls and twists which frequently bring the dancers’ bodies to the floor; where, equally frequently, their movements are echoes of those we’re accustomed to seeing on a vertical rather than horizontal plane.
Together with the in-studio collaboration with the dancers, Jervies is also engaged in collaborating with the three visual artists – for whom this is the first time that they have worked together and, for some, it is their first collaboration of any sort. Jervies cites the importance of all voices being heard during the conceptual process, while acknowledging that as director his is the final call. Three-dimensional artist Ezra Kellerman echoes this, saying that he was impressed by the openness to all ideas that Jervies brought to the table. Kellerman acknowledges that all three of the artists recognize that their role as creatives in this process is to facilitate another art form – that their creation needs to be functional for other artists – rather than a stand-alone art creation.
Kellerman, together with visual artist Andrew Cozzens and video installation artist Tiffany Carbonneau, were part of every step of developing the work, and thus part of the refinement of the ideas as more and more choreography and music was introduced. Kellerman says one of the reasons this process has been so rewarding is that it has felt like a new artistic adventure with the right people at the right time. He says that the three artists consider themselves “multi-hyphenates” in the world of three-dimensional artists, a mind-set that certainly lends itself to such a sprawling creative process in which, as Jervies acknowledges, different aesthetics and philosophies needed to find an alignment to serve what will become Human Abstract by the world premiere on February 22.
In the theatrical world of Louisville we are accustomed to world premieres – from the long-running annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville to the increasing number of young playwrights festivals in our community. In yesteryear the Louisville Orchestra made recordings of new work under its own label. Curran articulates an expanded vision for the creation of new ballets and a commitment to this work beyond the important seeding ground of the Choreographers Showcase program. Is the beginning of the 21st century the moment for new dance works to bring a spotlight to Louisville?
Dancers: Leigh Anne Albrechta, Roger Creel, Helen Daigle, Erica De La O, Brandon Ragland, Kateryna Sellars, Benjamin Wetzel
February 22-25, 2017 @ 8:00pm
February 25 & 26 @ 2:00m
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
For tickets: http://www.kentuckycenter.org/all-shows/human-abstract
Kathi E.B. Ellis is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and a member of Lincoln Center and DirectorsLabChicago. She has attended the La MaMa 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 South Florida theatre’s Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and 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.