Brienne Wiltsie & Emmarose Atwood in As You Like It. Photo: Sam English
As You Like It
Louisville Ballet & Malone Step N Dance Company
Choreographed by Roger Creel
Music by Scott Moore
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
As You Like It is one of Wiliam Shakespeare’s most lyrical comedies so it is no surprise that choreographer Roger Creel has embraced lyricism in this world premiere ballet. Although I’m not sure if ballet is the most accurate description of the piece.
Semantics aside, Creel adroitly navigates the opening scenes of court shenanigans, full of introductions of characters and conflict, before following the characters into the forest of Arden. Once there, the main body of the play consists of small scenes involving as few as 2 characters at a time. “Hidden” as they are from the public eye in the verdant Arden, they let down their guard and their hair to literally frolic and explore themselves and, of course, to fall in love.
I found some of Creel’s most exhilarating work to be found in these intimate exchanges, as he crafts easy movement and expressive gestures that deliver the narrative clearly, or at least I think that they do. I am very familiar with the story. Perhaps someone who had never encountered it would be confused without Shakespeare’s exquisite language; it might feel more abstract; a group of curious characters who seem to be at odds before allowing the freedom of nature to purge them of petty disagreements.
So be reminded that Rosalind (Brienne Wiltsie) enters the wood in disguise as Ganymede, a young man, and falls in love with Orlando (Justin Michael Hogan). They are accompanied by Touchstone (Emmarose Atwood) a jester who will become smitten with Audrey, a turtle herder (Addison Mathes). To swap the sheep of the original for a turtle given form as William (Gaven Hobbs) is certainly a mischievous act on Creel’s part, introducing arguably the least balletic creature into a dance, and Gaven Hobbs seems to have fun moving on all fours in the sublimely silly costume.
Silliness is a key ingredient throughout, as Keel mocks the arbitrariness of the plot and brings the newfound freedoms to the fore with knockabout slapstick touches – I can’t recall any ballet with this many comic blows and pratfalls – more than once I was reminded of the emphasis on movement in silent films, most particularly when Scott Moore’s excellent score used sections of solo piano.
And Moore’s work here feels almost as crucial as the choreography. A spare and rustic original score consisting of guitar and some percussion, with some wonderfully scratchy fiddle and the aforementioned piano. Moore also interjects some non-verbal vocalization and an expressive whistle.
The use of several members of the Malone Step N Dance Company might seem anachronistic in this rural atmosphere but in the second act Creel stages interactions with the characters that break down any perceived stylistic division, and the repetitive, forceful rhythms of the step choreography contrast energy and sound that effectively feed into the whimzy of the overall show.
As the final scenes of reunion and reconciliation unfold, Creel carries us through them with a humorous invention that allows a slightly greater depth of feeling. I loved the way that he has his dancers move with a sideways twist and shuffle whenever they draw near to each other to have a privileged conversation, and how the delightful Emmarose Atwood’s spritely moves as the pixieish, pink-clad Touchstone are picked up by the other characters after they mischievously torment Jacques (Aleksandr Schroeder).
Earlier when I questioned calling As You Like It a ballet I simply meant that Creel’s work here is so contemporary and accessible that it seems like it is a long-form folk dance, eliciting laughter and gentle pathos from an audience that may not be overly familiar with the conventions of classical ballet. I love humor in dance and have found it in several shorter pieces, and often interjected at certain moments in a lengthier narrative, but this is moment for moment the funniest but also most tender full-length dance I can recall seeing.
Featuring Emmarose Atwood, Christian Chester, Gaven Hobbs, Justin Michael Hogan, Ashley Thursby Kern, Harald Uwe Kern, Caitlin Kowalski, Addison Mathes, Minh-Tuan Nguyen, Sameer Rhodes, Aleksandr Schroeder, Amber Wickey & Brienne Wilitsie
With De’ Shayla Carroll, Jamia Brown, Le’Mihya Boyd, Miyoana Moore, Jerrica Miller, Lea ‘Don Pawley, Sierra Bussey, Tariya Gartin, Chrissaun Colbert, Cyrolyn Crayton
And Chloe Puffer, Ava Ownby, Adrah Cook
As You Like It
August 3-7, 2022
Shakespeare Festival in Central Park
C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater
1340 S. Fourth St.
Louisville, KY 40208
Admission is free. Everyone welcome, including pets.
Food trucks open at 6:30 pm; Will’s Tavern begins serving at 7:00 pm
Pre-Show begins at 7:15 pm, with main stage production at 8:00 pm
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 / ARTxFM.com, 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 Arts-Louisville.com.