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Louisville Ballet 'Mozart' Program Exemplifies Vision Of Collaboration

Sam English

With Mozart as the spine of next week’striple Louisville Ballet bill, we can anticipate a sparkling evening (with some darkness interspersed) and one in which form and structure are balanced with passion in both the music and the choreographers’ work.

Continuing the Louisville Ballet’s commitment to become recognized for producing Balanchine’s ballets, the evening opens with his "Divertimento," set to Mozart’s #15 of this form. A world premiere from Artistic and Executive Director Robert Curran is the second ballet of the evening, danced to “Sinfonia Concertante”. And company member Brandon Ragland’s choreography returns to the mainstage season with “Force Flux” with “Piano Concerto 13”. This evening’s program offers Louisville audiences three of the fifteen ballets that the company will produce this season.

An evening-long collaboration that marks a first for the Louisville Ballet is with its musicians for this program: Bourbon Baroque. In a quest always to have live music, reaching beyond the Louisville Orchestra when needed, it’s a win-win situation for dancers, audiences, and area musicians alike. Bourbon Baroque's Co-Artistic Director John Austin Clark sounds both energized and aware of the challenges as he talks about the group's partnership with Louisville Ballet.

Logistically there is the concern of a relatively small ensemble (although enlarged to around 30 for this event and drawn from beyond Kentucky), situated in a covered pit, filling the Brown Theatre enough to support the dancers as well as to reach the audience. The limited time that musicians and dancers typically get to work together in the space before opening is also a factor.

A little more than a decade old, Bourbon Baroque has carved out a niche for itself in Louisville — and for a few years in New York City — for Baroque music played on authentic instruments. The ensemble is also committed to partnerships; they’ve worked with many area arts organizations over the years, so maybe this particular collaboration was only a matter of time.

For Ragland’s ballet, Clark himself will perform on a period fortepiano for the first time. For the Curran piece, ensemble Co-Artistic Director Alice Culin-Ellison will be violin soloist, alongside guest violist Cynthia Black.

Divertimento No. 15

In the five seasons that Curran has been with Louisville Ballet, the company has danced eight Balanchine ballets, including recognizing the 50th anniversary of his “Jewels” last season when “Rubies,” one of this ballet’s movements, was part of a spring program. Curran is positively giddy when he talks about the burgeoning relationship with the Balanchine Trust, and one of its stagers in particular: Vicky Simon, who Curran knows from his days with the Australian Ballet Company. With her growing familiarity with Louisville Ballet dancers, Simon and Curran can be looking much earlier and with greater precision at which pieces are logical next steps for the company to embrace on its Balanchine journey.

“Divertimento” is a mid-career Balanchine piece, set to a Mozart work he identified as the finest version of this particular music form. Choreographed for five women and three men as principals and a corps of eight, this piece revels in intricate patterns, handed off between ever-changing combinations of principals and corps. Its scintillating precision is a fabulous, and challenging, showcase for its dancers. And it promises to set the tone for this evening of Mozart and dance.

Curran's Ballet

The second ballet in the program is a Cambodian word in Khmer for which the ballet is not providing a translation:

It’s a partnership between Curran and Vinhay Keo, a recent graduate of the Kentucky College of Art and Design who is currently studying at the California Institute of the Arts. Curran had been listening to “Symphony Concertante” for a while, and knew by the time he and Keo were introduced, through the latter’s powerful Confront installation at the Moreman Moloney Gallery last year, that this was the music he wanted to use. The Australian and Cambodian, meeting in Kentucky, soon found common ground for the emotional tenor they wanted to find within Mozart’s music and the very individuated stories and themes they each are bringing to this collaboration. Their cultural and personal experiences interweave into “a narrative within a micro and macro lens that examines personal and historical heartaches and the residue of trauma,” according to Keo.

This is the first experience Keo has had with ballet, and he acknowledges that it is surreal he’s involved in making the ballet come into being while not having had access to the arts or dance growing up. As a visual artist he has begun to incorporate performance art into his oeuvre, which reflects his desire to innovate and explore intersectionality. Keo supervised the actual build of his design long distance, and is excited to view the culmination of this partnership on opening night. He gives kudos to both Curran and the whole team at Louisville Ballet for their generosity and passion.

Force Flux

“Force Flux” is Brandon Ragland’s biggest ballet to date. He is working with the full company, and setting the ballet on two casts as well. Having dropped into a recent rehearsal, this piece feels very much at home in the modern American neo-classical ballet style. Ragland has said in earlier interviews how much he is inspired by Balanchine as a choreographer; and, this time, also how honored he is to have his choreography on the same program as this most influential American  choreographer. Ragland still dances, of course, and audiences will see him as one of the three men in the evening-opener “Divertimento.”

With much of his choreographic experience coming from either Studio Connections or his work with the Louisville Ballet School, Ragland has been creating for an empty stage (or studio). This is the first time he has worked so extensively with a design team, and he admits that this new layer sometimes forced him into having to make choices earlier than he would usually; though he also acknowledges that discipline was overall a benefit to the creative process. Scenic design is being realized by Louisville-based, nationally recognized architects Ross Primmer and Roberto de Leon. Their focus on form, and precision of relationship and scale, is a perfect counterpoint to Mozart’s music and Ragland’s neo-classical choreography; this layering of a disparate yet complementary genre into a ballet promises to be exciting. Louisville Ballet wardrobe manager Alexandra Ludwig reflects these ideas in her skeletal costumes for this piece.

Next week’s Louisville Ballet Mozart program offers something for everyone — a “classic” Balanchine tutu ballet, two new works; the epitome of Classical music composition, played by a Baroque ensemble; imaginative design partnerships with a young installation artist and an architectural company; and both local artists and artists from beyond Kentucky. This program is a true melting pot of experience and passion, as Curran continues to reach out to non-traditional partners to create a ballet company for the 21st century, respecting and honoring ballet’s legacy and always pushing ballet into what it can be. As he says, he hopes audiences walk away from the Brown Theatre saying, “What will they do next?”

Louisville Ballet presents Mozart runs Friday, October 12 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, October 13 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit the Kentucky Center.