Credit: Sam English.

The Beyond

Collaboration with the Louisville Ballet, Louisville Orchestra, and Kentucky Opera
Featuring: Requiem and Project Faust

Choreography by Stephen Baynes and Adam Hougland
Garrett Sorenson, Chad Sloan, Jorgeandrés Camargo and Emily Albrink – Soloists

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved

We know that an Orchestra partners with an opera company often and occasionally will bring in a small corps of ballet dancers depending on what opera is being staged. So you may be wondering what the big hype is over The Beyond. What makes it so unusual?

Let’s begin with Requiem. Set to Gabriel Fauré’s famous Requiem Mass, choreographer Stephen Baynes was able to take us on an oftentimes emotional trip through the eyes of one woman’s last days. While Baynes created this for the Australian Ballet in May 2001, Louisville Ballet’s Artistic and Executive Director Robert Curran brought it to the States for a US premiere, after having performed in the original production.

Despite what many Requiems do, which is to commemorate the dead or even instill the fear of death, this interpretation elevates our last days as something to embrace and appreciate.

Richard Roberts’ set design was reminiscent of walls with decaying bricks at the top while being translucent at the bottom, using scenery from The Australian Ballet. Anna French’s black-ish costuming allowed for the dancers to both blend in with and shine through the scenery.

Fauré’s Requiem is set in seven movements: Kyrie, Offertory, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, Libera me and In Paradisum. The score calls for both Soprano (Emily Albrink) and Baritone (Chad Sloan) soloists, chorus, orchestra, and organ. It is not often that our Louisville Orchestra throws an organ in the mix.

Mr. Baynes’ Requiem included each movement, giving each one a sense of what the Latin text expresses. The dancers fill the space in Kyrie, even before the music begins and then as the first chord is struck they began executing the fluid choreography with precision and purpose.

Jeannde Ford filled the role of the deceased, omnipresent within the movements, sometimes watching and sometimes incorporated into the dance. Brandon Ragland’s solo turn was solid and mesmerizing.

The pas de deux performed by Erica De La O and Mark Kreiger during the Sanctus was very moving, echoing the beauty and significance of that movement.

Our soloists Ms. Albrink and Mr. Sloan certainly filled the house with beautiful sound and calming influence. As most of the Requiem is a choral endeavor there should be blending within the voice types. However, there were times within the whole of the piece that I could hear individual voices within the chorus.

The ending of the last movement, In Paradisum, was illuminated perfection.

In recent years, Louisville audiences have been privy to World Premieres such as Teddy Abrams’ The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, with the Louisville Orchestra. How pleasing it is that our Louisville Ballet follows suit with Project Faust. Based on the famous tale by Goethe with music from Charles Gounod’s famous opera, Faust, Project Faust is a collaboration between the opera and ballet.

If you are not familiar with the story: Faust (Garrett Sorenson) sells his soul to Mephistopheles (Jorgeandrés Camargo) to woo and seduce women and live a carefree life. Upon sealing the deal Faust set his desire upon Marguerite (Emily Albrink), a young village maiden. When the two first meet she is reluctant to receive his advances, but soon falls in love. Before long, she realizes who Faust really is and rejects him, therefore condemning him to an eternity in hell.

In this interpretation, based on a libretto by Michal Carre and Jules Barbier, while the essential story is there, the introduction of a young girl, played by Maya O’Dell, adds a new dimension to the story. Is she a younger version of Marguerite or perhaps Marguerite and Faust’s child? Maybe she is an angel that helps Marguerite through her devilish dilemma? The interpretation is left up to the viewer, but her presence on stage gives the familiar tale of Faust fresh, unvarnished insight.

Under the direction of Sally Blackwood, who also created the concept, libretto, and re-interpretation and arranged the music, Project Faust was certainly a bit of avant-garde entertainment.

The stage of Whitney Hall was bedecked with three walls of racked rails, resembling scaffolding. Attached to that was a myriad of strong bungee cords that are used, along with some suspended from the ceiling, to create various scenes, including environs of Hell. It was entertaining and nerve-wracking all at the same time to see how these cords were used throughout the evening. Sometimes they were just taken from left to right while other times the dancers would perform while attached to them. One of the most intriguing uses was making a series of the cords into a seat and suspending Marguerite and the little girl in the air. Talk about trusting your stage mates and production team! It was a minimalistic but ingenious set that spurred the imagination.

We have seen the lighting work of Trad Burns in other productions in and around Louisville and his work, along with Benjamin Gantose for scenic and lighting design was rather good, especially when differentiating good and evil. However, the shadow imagery was not clear for a good portion of the evening. I don’t know if it was positioning of the framing lights or the singer, but a stronger shadow image would have added a lot more drama to the set. Tim Barnes’ sound design was expertly crafted, as he was able to provide nightmarish tones and ethereal resonance through the house.

Zhanna Goldentul certainly had a ballet dancer’s body in mind with her costume development for this performance. Wearing tight, Lycra body suits and eye masks the dancers looked as if they had been dancing in the fires. The costumes gave them the flexibility needed to move the heavy cords around and climb the scaffolding with ease. With the addition of a beautiful red skirt, the dancers transformed into Marguerite’s townspeople during a Danze portion of the storyline, then quickly ripping them off to become demon residents once more.

Adam Hougland’s choreography was athletic and dazzling, even incorporating the vocal soloists into the composition. Who knew that tenor Garrett Sorenson could lift and twirl a ballet dancer with such grace and ease? The dancers, about 38 of them, were on stage 95% of the time, either on the ground, slithering or on the walls, climbing, or creating scenes with the aforementioned cords.

The dynamic between Mr. Sorenson and Ms. Albrink was fantastic, both vocally and in their interpretations of their roles. Mr. Sorenson, whose career has included a turn at the Metropolitan Opera, was enveloping the lecherous character of Faust with gusto and vocal acuity. The same could be said of Ms. Albrink’s Marguerite, but I saw and heard something a bit more internal and personal in her performance, which added even more connectivity to her persona.

There is a part of the performance that, in light of recent storylines and hashtag prominence seemed to make some in the audience squirm a bit in their seat. I’ll suffice it to say that I am sure there was a fruitful conversation between director and actors/singers about how far this scene could and should go.

Young bass Jorgeandrés Camargo’s turn as The Devil was eerie and appropriately menacing. There were times that I think that his microphone was partially covered by his costume because of some vocal distortion. Although Ms. O’Dell did not speak while on stage, her pre-recorded vocal lines were clear and precise as she was dynamic and reactive at all of the right moments while in the space. Our talented Kentucky Opera Chorus did a fine job in filling in the other musical moments, including a few solo lines, correcting some of the issues that they had had in Requiem. The Louisville Orchestra did very well under conductor Tara Simoncic’s baton. I appreciate their versatility so much!

As I found great beauty and storytelling within Project Faust, there were a few elements that probably need a bit more work. Perhaps after a few more tweaks here and there, this could be a stunning piece for the ages.

Bravi Tutti!!

The Beyond

March 2, 3 2018 @ 8:00 PM
March 4, 2018 @ 2:00 PM

Louisville Ballet
The W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202


Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.