Adam Houghland’s Petrouchka.
Photo by Sam English


Spring Collaboration: Take One

Louisville Ballet and the Louisville Orchestra

Choreography by Adam Houghland

Teddy Abrams, conductor

Review by Kay Grubola

Entire contents copyright © 2016 Kay Grubola. All rights reserved

The Louisville Orchestra and Louisville Ballet Spring Collaboration may be one of those nights we will talk about in the future. We will say — Remember the night that the private conversation the artists shared went public?

For a long time the Louisville community of artists have quietly talked about the isolation of the arts. No one would ever deny that The Fund for the Arts has done an outstanding job of building Louisville audiences and raising money to support the arts. That said, one of the unintended outcomes is that the various disciplines are pitted against one another in competition for a finite pot of support dollars. I imagine the Executive Directors of the arts organizations feel it and I know that the artists feel it. The creative conversation… which dislikes boundaries…has been muted by this arrangement. In the last few years artists have begun speaking more openly about artificial barriers: dance, music, visual art, theatre, and literature all share a language; the idiom may be different but the creative muse is shared. For the individual artists finding common ground, when our supporting groups are in constant competition, it has restricted the impulse to be collaborative.

The Ballet/Orchestra Spring Collaboration was one of mutual respect. For the first two pieces the orchestra wasn’t hidden away in the pit. The stage was stripped down to the essentials…musicians and dancers. The dancers, beautifully lighted, performed in front of the orchestra. Although this arrangement limited the dancers spatially, the subtle movement of the musicians became, in effect, another element of the dance. The muted palette of the costuming added to this feeling of complete synchronicity.

Presenting three works by Adam Houghland gave continuity to the evening and revealed the development of the young choreographer. The relationship he has built with the company was obvious. He knows these dancers and is choreographing to both their individual and the company strengths. It is an enviable arrangement for the dancers almost guaranteeing they will be well presented.

Returning to the first piece Houghland created for the Louisville Ballet was a good idea. Focusing the programming in that way allowed the audience to experience the evolution of Houghland’s movement vocabulary. Cold Virtues is a study in contrasts; fluid/constricted, powerful/vulnerable and how those attributes shift and transform. The gestural strength of the piece is consistent and Helen Daigle and Erica De La O are perfectly cast. Daigle’s powerful athleticism contrasts perfectly with the sharp, brittle movements of De La O. It was an ambitious piece for a young choreographer but holds up well after ten years. The piece was enhanced by Amy Dickson’s beautiful solo saxophone interpretation of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto.

Union Field, the piece composed by Teddy Abrams, seemed a greater hurdle for Houghland when creating his dance Union. Abrams’ scholarly knowledge of music, his ability to move between periods and styles while remaining in the classical tradition, created a challenge for choreography. Add to that mix Chris Doyle’s mid-century modern projected scenery images. His work was stylistically reminiscent of Saul Bass design sequences from 1960‘s movie credits that passed across the screen while cool jazz played. Finding a movement vocabulary that can keep up with the pace of the piece and integrate all those influences, sound, and visuals is hard. There were some stellar moments and some flounders but the energy of collaboration between the three artists was palatable. I would much rather see artists stretching for goals that may exceed their current grasp than depend on the tried and true, an oft repeated repertoire of movement.

The evening’s final piece, Petrouchka, was a demonstration of Houghland’s growth as an artist. The orchestra returned to the pit but the company echoed their presence on stage from the previous two pieces. A full forty company members seated on chairs occupied the same space, like an after image of the tuxedo clad musicians. Dressed in identical flowing black cassocks the company was genderless, moving as one entity. Houghland’s use of a corps, a new addition to his creative development, was well executed. Slowly, the movement shifted, revealing the gender differences, men moving more powerfully, women revealing more of their bodies. The brilliantly lit arrival of an “Eve,” danced sensitively by Kateryna Sellers, and equally partnered by Roger Creel, adroitly changes the dynamic. She is a Botticelli Venus: both an innocent and a sexual being. The gender roles are assigned and the piece, subtly referencing the original Petrouchka, turns to a study of desire, control, and shifting power. Finally, in a contemporary twist, science and technology trumps all. Costuming played an important part in the recognition of the original Petrouchka. The signature Benois sets and costumes, which unified the piece, are met and matched by the costumes created by Marion Williams which enhance and inform this performance enormously.

Each Artistic Director brings a special strength to a company. Alun Jones, a fine choreographer himself, understands shape and volume. He masterfully created and trained a Corps de Ballet that he used effectively to give a small company presence. Bruce Simpson forcefully reminded us male dancers are not simply armatures over which to drape the ballerina. He gave the company a physicality, which brought new power to each work. What will be Robert Curran’s legacy? If this program is an indicator perhaps he is the explorer many of us have been waiting to arrive.

The time was ripe for Louisville’s version of the classic theater triple threat, Adam Houghland, Teddy Abrams, and Robert Curran, to begin a new dialogue. So tonight’s performance was like a public service announcement. Attention! The artists are breaking out! We Will Collaborate!

Find another review of this performance here.

Spring Collaboration

March 4 & 5, 2016

Louisville Ballet and the Louisville Orchestra
The Kentucky Center, Whitney Hall
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202


1357930957Kay Polson Grubola is an artist and independent curator in Louisville, Kentucky. She has shown her work nationally and internationally. Grubola was the Executive Director of Nazareth Arts, a regional arts center on the campus of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, as well as the Artistic Director of the Louisville Visual Art Association. For 10 years she taught drawing and printmaking at Bellarmine University and Indiana University Southeast. As a curator, her exhibits have ranged in subject matter from original concept drawings from the design studios of GM, Chrysler and Ford muscle car era to a nationally recognized extravaganza of handmade dinnerware and exquisite table design, which wowed audiences for more than 20 years.