Brandon Ragland in William’s Folley. Photo by Sam English

Shakespeare in Dance

Louisville Ballet & Waterworks Dance Theatre

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Louisville Ballet offered the company’s first live performance for an in-person audience in 18 months by once again returning to the Shakespeare Festival in Central Park with two pieces. One an encore and one entirely new.

Vacillating Valor

Choreographed by Alex Betts

Ostensibly based on William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Alex Betts’ new dance is more abstract, so that the historical passions of two great empires play out on a more fundamental level. The brightly colored costumes (by Betts and Alexandra Ludwig) underscore the ways in which Betts distances us from the traditional historical trappings of the story, although the heat and humidity in Central Park arguably make us think of the desert setting of ancient Egypt.

Betts’ movement captures the conflict between Caesar (Jake Mingus) and Marc Antony (Daniel Scofield) with brisk interactions that are fluid but still filled with masculine arrogance. The connection is made between military conquerors and the attendant obsession with “conquering” a woman that must have seemed the height of exotic desire.

Which makes the force of Veronica Higgins’ Cleopatra most crucial. This Queen of the Nile does the legend justice, as Betts frames the character with all of the pomp and ceremony the small ensemble can afford. Simple action suggests the grandeur of the moment, and Higgins dances with such languid focus that her enigmatic allure and power are never in doubt. 

As the trio is enlarged to a quartet with the exquisite Sarah Bradley as Octavia, Caesar’s wife, the layers of nearly primordial conflict become more profound.  

In Louisville, there are professional performing arts companies that stand at the top of their disciplines: Actors Theatre is one, and several theatre professionals have commented to me that their presence is one reason that there are so many smaller companies operating in town. This theory doesn’t play out for the other signature professional companies, and perhaps that is why Louisville Ballet director Robert Curran embraced this collaboration with Waterworks Dance Theatre. A high tide lifts all boats, and not even a company about to start its 70th season can deliver all of the varied aspects to be discovered in contemporary dance.

William’s Folly

Choreographed by Roger Creel

Roger Creel’s William’s Folly plays like one of Shakespeare’s great love stories stripped of extraneous subplots and any historical context. It imagines Will (the always dynamic Brandon Ragland) smitten with a charismatic Young Man (Ryo Suzuki), a romance interrupted by The Dark Lady (Brienne Wiltzie), a trio fully expressing forbidden desire and social condemnation.

Except that the relationships are so powerfully drawn in giddy, heightened movement so that all of the passion and betrayal seems joyous, even buoyant at times. Suzuki, in particular, spends time held aloft, soaring above the stage like an ethereal creature of myth, or at the very least, desire. At other times synchronous repetition demonstrates community and the socials where the locals dance to the strains of a visiting band of players.

Those strains are resonant music by Scott Moore, and while it is intended to be bluegrass, it rises beyond the easily identifiable characteristics of that genre to touch upon the universal. There were moments, for example, where a singular passage of an isolated violin reminded me of Chinese composer Tan Dun. The subtext of cultural commonality among pre-industrial social structures was fascinating and unexpected but Shakespeare was entertaining the masses as well as Queen Elizabeth so it seems apt. Folk music and Elizabethan drama have more in common than one might first assume.

Creel’s choreography balances this fealty to the social order that frames Shakespeare’s tempestuous affairs and the intensely personal interaction of the central characters in an exhilarating example of narrative through dance. It could almost be about any triangle except for the inclusion of two actors from the 2021 Kentucky Shakespeare company, Braden McCampbell, and BeeBee Patillo, who read passages from several sonnets that mirror the intention of the movement. It augments the audience’s understanding without distraction and ties the universality of the aesthetic more firmly to the specific narrative of William Shakespeare.  

Shakespeare in Dance

August 11-15, 2021

Louisville Ballet
Shakespeare Festival in Central Park
C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater
1340 S. Fourth St.
Louisville, KY 40208
(502) 574-990

Admission is free. Everyone welcome, including pets.
Food trucks open at 6:30 p.m.; Will’s Tavern begins serving at 7:00 p.m.
Pre-Show begins at 7:15 p.m., with main stage production at 8:00 p.m.

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