Philip Velinov, Sanjay Saverimuttu rehearse Lines with choreographer Leigh Anne Albrechta. Photo courtesy Louisville Ballet.
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Mixing artistic disciplines can be risky. Every parody of pretentious modern performance art juxtaposes severe, humorless movement with abstract, portentous spoken word poetry, so you might say it took courage for Robert Curran to set a task of merging spoken word verse with new dances from seven young choreographers.
For the most part, the program avoids this trap, and at times hits estimable levels of collaborative dynamic. The degree of interplay between the movement and the words varies among the seven pieces, some having more forceful connections than others.
The evening ended with a relationship between James Lindsey’s rap lyrics (he also composed some of the tight music) and Leigh Anne Albrechta’s choreography that was communicated with great, straightforward clarity. Lines asks many questions about our insistent demand for linear progression in all things and is performed by Roger Creel, Sanjay Saverimuttu, and Philip Velinov with an angular dynamic that interjected a slightly skewed perspective.
Lindsey was also incorporated into the movement, albeit in limited terms, and the most interesting work of the evening tended to bring the poets onstage and into the action. It was no surprise that Teresa Willis, a trained and experienced actor and performance artist, could acquit herself so well onstage in Ashley Thursby’s choreography for Discount Narcissus, and Willis’s voice illuminates her own verse with a clarity akin to Lindsey & Albrechta’s Lines.
Things got off to a powerful start with A Time…A Place, in which Hannah Drake delivered a slow build of her spoken word poetry that rose to such magnificent emotional peaks that it seemed a questionable selection for the opening slot. How does one follow such an impactful piece? Drake’s force-of-nature persona seemed slightly dampened compared to past appearances, but her magnetic presence still threatened to overshadow the inspired, fluid choreography by Brandon Ragland.
That didn’t quite happen, but the search for balance between the two disciplines sandwiched an additional layer of dramatic tension into each piece that brought the writer onstage, and it made for a unique theatrical performance. Ms. Drake played the role of grief-stricken mother eulogizing a child lost to violence. Drake is Black, but the implication of racism is mined through language more than that lazy observation, language that triggers the collective social memory of any thinking American audience in this time and place.
Other poets stepped into the lights, but never quite reached that level of impact, although their words were strong, either tough or tender as necessary, and the dance was always compelling. Perspective, Helen Daigle’s illustration of Steve Cambron’s poem “Don’t Mess With Me Sky”, played with Rashomon-like shifts in perspective on nature, and featured a particularly bravura turn by Rob Morrow. Clockwise paired Shelby Shenkman with poet Kiki Petrosino and a lovely folk music score. The text was less here, strategically used to punctuate rather than lead the movement. Much more abstract was Mirror Me, which focused on intimacy in human interaction through language from Joanna Englert and choreography by Amanda Carrick.
The Choreographer’s Showcase under Robert Curran’s leadership has taken on a greater sense of mission, each program constructed around a theme and reliant upon the collaboration that reaches “across the aisles” to other Louisville creative to expand our understanding of dance.
Mr. Curran made a rare appearance as a dancer in Frames, a piece examining age much in the same way Lines deconstructed the linear and A Time…A Place explored psychological space. Working alongside Jeannde Ford and Lexa Daniels, the movement illustrated gestural language that was echoed in large format video projections. Even though there are no “frames” in moving digital images, the connotation of the celluloid frames in film ran parallel to the emphasis on hands and arms speaking in sign language and the multi-generational point-of-view represented by the trio of performers.
I always valued the studio performances for their stripped-down, behind-the-scenes aspect, but this Showcase took crucial steps in establishing itself as an essential part of the Louisville Ballet calendar: more polished and conceptual, despite introducing fresh work from young choreographers, some of whom were making their debut in that role. In his opening remarks, Mr.Curran stated in terms so plain as to command assent about how the company would step up its commitment to inclusion for a wider range of physical types, and how six of the seven choreographers for the evening were women.
Lest anyone think his statement was a cynical response to #metoo, a craven play to catch a trend, I will share that it was less than one year ago that company member Leigh Anne Albrechta stated to me in an interview that she could never see herself taking on the challenge of choreographing, yet here she was, debuting her first, estimable effort. That didn’t happen overnight, but only as the result of being challenged by Curran and Guest Choreographer Lucas Jervies to get to work.
And that suggests there is even greater promise for the future.
January 23 – 27, 2018
Louisville Ballet Studios
315 East Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. 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.