Choreographer Minh-Tuan Nguyen

Choreographer’s Showcase: Sacred Spaces

Choreographers: guest choreographer Tommie Waheed Evans and Louisville Ballet’s Erica De La O, Jeremy Hanson, Minh-Tuan Nguyen, and Ashley Thursby

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

When I watch “proper” classical ballet, I am at a loss to identify a plié or a glissade, but when I watch contemporary dance, the more I give myself over to it the more my response is abstract and personal. The most impactful work conjures elemental ideas that allow the discovery of more elaborate and nuanced themes. As I watched the five pieces in this year’s Choreographer’s Showcase, my thoughts turned on the idea of community, explicitly called out in the program notes, but also on the often over-looked conflict between the individual and society.

Erica De La O’s Tia Lucia was a bracing start to the program, a dynamic exploration of gender neutrality and obfuscated identity choreographed to a succession of music choices moving from brittle, terse strings to lush, romantic orchestrations. The interchanging patterns of movement introduce the theme of developing a community that is a thread throughout the five pieces.

Savanna Airee, Kelsey Corder, Lexa Daniels, Isabella Sumera, Kayleigh Western, Griffin Greene, Brandon Ragland, Trevor Williams.

Minh-Tuan Nguyen’s Exigent was even more exciting, an irreverent romp through a series of iconic popular compositions: Staxx soul from Isaac Hayes, Al Hirt’s theme from The Green Hornet television series, singer Nina Simone, jazz bandleader Louis Prima, film composer Alan Silvestri, and Pink Floyd. Within that romp was a narrative of an outsider torn between different communities that touched on the individual struggling against conformity for the first, but not the last time in the Showcase. The choreography here was filled with idiosyncratic gestures and quirky humor that I always find welcome in contemporary dance. Exigent was my favorite of the pieces for that reason but also because it was such a coherent and powerful expression of the overriding themes of Sacred Spaces.  

Elizabeth Abbick, Leigh Anne Albrechta, Lexa Daniels, Julia Ridderhoff, Kateryna Sellers, Mark Kreiger, Brandon Ragland, Aleksandr Schroeder, Luke Yee

Far more serious was With(in)grace, by Tommie-Waheed Evans, which was much more abstract in its impact, filled with swift and powerful movement but set to a repetitive score from Bryce Dessner that was at first hypnotic but unfortunately became grating and distracting. If the music had exhibited some variation it would have made a world of difference in how this piece was received.

Elizabeth Abbick, Natalia Ashikhimina, Hailey Bowles, Kelsey Corder, Emily Reinking O’Dell, Kateryna Sellers, Kayleigh Western, Justin Michael Hogan, David Senti, Aleksandr Schroeder

More recognizable social constructs were rendered in Jeremy Hanson’s Session I, in which six men execute a series of moves involving folding chairs. At first, they sat in a circle like a group therapy session in a community center before finding arrangements that suggested mass transit commuters, discovering other iconic gestures of social conformity.

Griffin Greene, Tristan Hanson, Royal Hartwig, Sanjay Saverimuttu, Ryo Suzuki, Trevor Williams

The finale, Ashley Thursby’s Pale Blue Dot, which featured a company of ten dancers as fantasy toys who have come to life, was a pure delight. The herky-jerky wind-up toy movements were richly comic and, as with Exigent, the music was a series of pop songs that served in part as a spoken word narration. The lighthearted tone made this piece pure fun but still fit the concept by creating identification with robotic toys but also by reminding us of the connection provided by shared social experience.

Leigh Anne Albrechta, Emmarose Atwood, Courtney Ramirez, Sarah Satterfield, Kristen Sink, Brienne Wiltsie, Tristan Hanson, Mark Krieger, Ryo Suzuki, Luke Yee

All of which proves an unusually complex exploration of the fundamental clash of individualism against social norms. We venerate the individual and the idea of community in equal measure without appreciating the risk of the unique being subsumed by the insidious desire to conform. In a running narration that framed each new work, Artistic Director Robert Curran and company dancer/choreographer Erica De La O spoke about sacred and desecrated spaces, and the connection to the concentration on safe spaces that is taking place in our current moment is clear and straightforward. It is common to recognize how much the studio, stage, or rehearsal hall has proven to be a refuge for generations of creatives struggling with identity issues but Sacred Spaces seeks to prompt us all to recognize what spaces provide safety and comfort in our own lives.

Choreographer’s Showcase: Sacred Spaces

January 23 – 26, 2020

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, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for