Photo – Wade Bell
Louisville Ballet’s Contemporary Voices
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2014, Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved
As I entered KCA’s Whitney Hall I was both anxious and excited. The anxiousness stemmed from the knowledge that this was Artistic Director Bruce Simpson’s last public presentation before he retires in June when his contract with the Louisville Ballet expires. Why was I anxious? Having followed the works that Mr. Simpson has brought to the community since his arrival 12 years ago on the heels of Alun Jones, I was anxious to see what his last gift to the Louisville Ballet, in the capacity of AD, would be. Mr. Simpson did not disappoint. And it was exciting!
Taking the stage, in his dress kilt, Mr. Simpson was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation. In his address he shared with the audience his sincere appreciation for the support and generosity of the Louisville community in supporting his artistic direction and propelling the Company even further in their importance in the Arts culture of Louisville and beyond. Now on with the ballet.
The set “Contemporary Voices” was a grouping of three ballets by three contemporary choreographers, Ma Cong’s “Tethered Pulse”, Adam Hougland’s “Fragile Stasis” and Val Caniparoli’s “Spaghetti Western”. If you will allow me, I’m going to go out of order a little bit.
Let’s start with “Fragile Stasis”. Mr. Hougland, the principle choreographer of the Louisville Ballet, certainly knows his way around the stage and I have always admired how he uses his background in visual arts in his settings. In “Fragile Stasis” the stage is set with a huge floor to ceiling sculpture that looks like a grouping of recycled metal. While you are fixated on the sculpture and the glimmer of light that trickles across the stage, out of the corner of your eye you see a hand reaching up on to the stage from the orchestra pit and a dancer climbs up, then another and another and so on. In what seems like a post-apocalyptic setting the dancers are hardly ever alone. Pairing or grouping were prominent and these sessions provide for some lovely pas de deux work, including a beautiful and powerful set by two of the male principles to the music of Gavin Bryars, but there was a moment where principle Helen Daigle, after a beautiful solo performance, laid on the stage and began to move her arms and legs in what looked like a convulsion. Had she danced herself to such a state? Was that part of a ritual in this ethereal world? You decide. All in all, a very powerful piece, if not a bit gloomy, but a beautiful set.
As the dancers took the stage in Ma Cong’s “Tethered Pulse” with grace and majesty like gazelles I knew that we were in for a treat. The beautiful lighting by Les Dickert provided a beautiful silhouette effect for the dancers, yet all were brilliantly illuminated. The athleticism displayed by the dancers was very evident in this piece. Often times the dancers were contorted in ways and shapes not unlike living Chinese symbols or moving in ways that one would see attending a show with the world renowned Peking Acrobats. I sat in my seat marveling at the trust that these dancers have with their partners in the finding the right balance of the well-choreographed moves to the lifts and even when Erica De La O is twirled in midair just out of the reach of her partner. A lovely yellow cloth came across the stage by a principle male who then wrapped it around himself in elegance and grace and where shortly he was joined with the female principle at the other end and they shared the cloth in sync with one another. Music by Zoe Keating and Joan Jeanrenaud provided the corps with rhythmic and pulsating cello and bass.
When one hears the phrase “Spaghetti Western” we think of Italian director Sergio Leone and his series of Westerns like the Clint Eastwood vehicle “The Good , the Bad and the Ugly” featuring the Man With No Name and the unmistakable musical soundtrack of Ennio Morricone.
All of these elements were in Caniparoli’s “Spaghetti Western”. From the moment that the male dancers came on stage in the familiar leather long tailed coats, moving their arms in synchronistic movements of shooting their guns you know you were in for the ballet’s version of one of these movies. And did they ever deliver. There was the aforementioned gang, there were beautiful bar maidens, there were brawls, there was dancing with tumbleweeds (which I giggled when I saw the first one being brought out on stage) and as soon as you hear the familiar whistle, guitar and harmonica sounds you know that a fight or show down is about to happen..
Like with many Westerns there are turns of comedy and tragedy. Comedy was found when a set of gunslingers came upon the bad guys and “shot” the hats off their heads and I believe the dancers were enjoying this piece to that end as well, because I saw more and more smiling throughout the whole corps. Tragedy came after a breathtaking pas de deux by the reunited lovers Erica De La O and Kristopher Wojtera; Erica’s life was taken by a rogue gunman exacting revenge against our good guy Kristopher.
Everything from the fun and flowing costumes by Sandra Woodall and the beautiful Southwest palette of colors from lighting designer Todd Elmer, “Spaghetti Western” was a delightful and exciting piece to end Louisville Ballet’s 2013-14 season.
In Scott Dowd’s interview with Bruce Simpson about leaving the Louisville Ballet, Mr. Simpson states, “I know that in the studio right now there are artists who are able to carry this organization into the future…I have no doubts about that at all.” I don’t either.
April 4-5, 2014
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202