Trevor Williams and Leigh Anne Albrechta in Robert Curran’s ស្នាមប្រឡាក់. Photo: Sam English.
Divertimento No. 15
Choreography by George Balanchine
ស្នាមប្រឡាក់ – A World Premiere Work
Choreography by Robert Curran
Scenic and Lighting Design by Vinhay Keo
Force Flux – World Premiere Work
Choreography by Brandon Ragland
Scenic and Lighting Design by deLeon & Primmer
Review by Samantha Morrison
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, by Samantha Morrison. All rights reserved.
Mozart is the common thread through the recent program presented by the Louisville Ballet but doesn’t mistake it as a simple evening of beautiful music. The evening is challenging and intellectually engaging, and one in which it is worth participating. It is a program that elicits contrasts and comparisons.
George Balanchine is the demarcation of the dawn of contemporary ballet. He was the perfect person to push the art form because seeped in the knowledge of its history and a love for ballet, he approached it with great respect. That the Louisville Ballet has chosen to mount a piece each year to honor his legacy is significant. It tells us that the company acknowledges the need to grow and remain relevant while honoring its roots. Director Robert Curran is on firm territory in his quest.
Divertimento No. 15 is a perfect example of Balanchine’s creative strength. The Divertimento is a joyous and bountiful piece of music, and for some choreographers, it would have become a buoyant frolic in a meadow…a mere confection. But Balanchine, famous for his musicality, stripped the stage of any distractions and endowed the music with a pure physicality. Each note, each phrase was translated into movement in, at times, a dizzying rate. This not an interpretation of the music, it is an embodiment of the music. It stops being purely sound and becomes visual as well. The creation of this piece was an achievement for the choreographer but a work this complex demands a tour de force from the dancers. The strength of the current company of dancers at the Louisville Ballet was absolutely confirmed by their performance. The sheer skill and technique needed to execute the Divertimento No 15 is extraordinary. The audience was put on notice with the first variation, danced by Leigh Anne Albrechta, and the pace kept up until the last incredibly demanding variation danced by Erica De La O, and that was just the beginning. The Divertimento was the perfect start to the journey the audience would be on.
The abundance of pure sound, light, and movement of the first piece made the opening of Robert Curran’s ស្នាមប្រឡាក់ (The title is in Khmer) even more dramatic. The primarily darkened stage, spare dramatic lighting, and silence were at first unsettling. That silence would become deafening, and eventually stress inducing. The tension was added to by the quality of even the smallest of gestures. Hand movements seemed to be a kind of disjointed communication but one foreign and impenetrable; even the movement of the dancer’s bodies as they shifted across the stage as a unit was carefully muted until finally erupting in a primordial sound.
The interactions of the dancers as the world deconstructs are gender neutral. Some wounded and bleeding move across the stagehand and are greeted with support and affection and some suffer pain, but always they are interacting freely and without bias. It is heart-wrenching and strangely beautiful. The rain of shredding golden pieces of their identity is stunning as it enfolds them but evoked a gasp from the audience when the last structure breaks and they are momentarily obliterated by the downfall of their culture. In a heartening ending, cultural identity, personified by the warrior in traditional Cambodian costume, makes the first movements to climb out of their desperate situation. Artist Vinhay Keo’s contribution to the power of this work is significant. He brings a specific cultural identity, which greatly enhances the veracity of the piece as well as stunning visuals.
Mr. Curran, who is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Louisville Ballet and choreographer of this work, is clearly in touch with the world around him. His piece resonates with the escalating unease of the state of our world. As the dancers tore off their sampots exposing their wounds and their golden world began its final shredding and was cascading from the air above them I had to reflect on the ever-cascading events of just this week. The piece became prophetic. This week the US exited the United Nations Human Rights Council (the first time a member has ever voluntarily left the council), we joined Iraq and Saudi Arabia in being one of just 13 countries to have voted against a United Nations resolution condemning the death penalty for having gay sex, and our First Lady paraded through Africa wearing the remnants of British Colonial fashion. Mr. Curran’s pieces are a testament that classical music and contemporary dance can be a dramatic force in political commentary. Art does speak truth to power.
Force Flux is by Brandon Ragland. Many of us were delighted to see he would be contributing to the program after enjoying a remarkable work he choreographed for the last Choreographers Showcase, also collaboration, that time with a poet. The Louisville Ballet is fairly unique in its support and encouragement of their own dancers engaging in choreography. In the past, this practice has brought the company some memorable pieces most notably by Mikelle Bruzina. It is a program worth supporting. Mr. Ragland has credentials with choreographing for other companies and was definitely ready for this challenge and added to the varying lexicons of the evening.
So many of the visual images we digest daily now are presented on a flat screen. Even our personal interactions are often through FaceTime or other digital applications. So, the question is, how does that alter the live stage experience? Do we see things differently now? As an audience one of the connections to the art of dance has always been the relationship we have with our own bodies. The dancers on the stage may have a body we could only dream of having, but it is a human body and as such we understand its scale and the basics of how it works, which contributes to our pleasure and surprise by what a dancer can do. But is our sense of scale and spatial relationships changing? Mr. Ragland’s collaboration with design firm de Leon & Primmer and costumer Alexandra Ludwig started the conversation.
Using the formal structure of Mozart’s music and the classical discipline of ballet they began rethinking the abstract qualities of the construction of a performance. Within these disciplines, they seem to be saying, let’s redefine space on the stage. The space altering lighting grid created by de Leon & Primmer was simple but effective in changing the way we saw the relationship of the dancers to the space. I think this idea could be explored more fully, but as a first approach, it did work. Using classical music and ballet kept the concept clean. If the dance movement had been more experimental it would have been harder to judge the alteration being made by the lighting grid. Plus, the question of “what is abstract?” within the classical style, which traditionally and artificially extends the length of the body in many unnatural ways, has a meaning of its own. Enhancing all this was Ms. Ludwig simple and effective costumes. The bodice of the tutu and headpieces read like armatures, defining the structure of the torso. It reinforced the idea of abstraction perfectly without confusing it with too many elements. It was an example of true collaboration.
Most importantly, Mr. Ragland composed a piece of ballet that has beautiful musicality and is engaging and reflective and he had the courage to allow the collaboration to take risks within his vision.
It was a good night for the Louisville Ballet and the audience with the offering of two world premieres. I hope the collaborative and explorative nature of the evening is indicative of many future performances. It is positive in so many ways, that boundaries between the genres of our arts community are a thing of the past and we are seeking exciting shared artistic events.
October 12 & 13 @ 8:00 PM
October 13 @ 2:00 PM
The W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
Samantha Morrison is a special contributor to Arts-Louisville.com. She is an artist and writer with over twenty years of experience in the visual and performing arts.