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In A Remarkable Choreographers Showcase, Louisville Ballet Continues To Innovate

Sam English
Natalia Ashikhmina and Mark Krieger, with Kristen Sink projected in the background, in Justin Michael Hogan's "35 662618 632814 5"

This year’s Choreographers Showcase — #ChorShow — is a show that’s unlike any other program the Louisville Ballet has produced.

It follows in the tradition of company members, and sometimes guests, creating new pieces of dance. There the similarities fade.

This year’s show is in a non-traditional space; within that space each work is site-specific. Continuing Producing and Artistic Director Robert Curran’s aesthetic of pairing dance with other genres, each of the five ballets in #ChorShow has a different designer, who are drawn from the Kentucky College of Art + Design. KyCAD also provides the venue at their Third Street campus. The short pieces are scheduled multiple times at each performance, meaning that audiences select which piece they see in what order. A food truck and an outside bar add to the casual vibe of the evening.

Guest choreographer Tim Harbour, resident choreographer at the Australian Ballet, is paired with sculptor Matt Weir. Together they explore a future that might be dystopian, and how young people will exist there. Weir’s overhead canopy installation morphs beautifully in Daniel L. Perez’s excellent and evocative lighting design; is it natural, is it a chemical formation post-eco tragedy — either or both could be true at any point.

Harbour works with an ensemble of eight dancers in this iteration of his untitled work. The dancers are costumed in cool, khaki-hued shorts and shirts, with white caps, ties and shoes suggestive of a scout troupe. They move with a lightness and precision coupled with a casual looseness; it’s a new look for Louisville Ballet dancers but is one that they embody with a joyful ease. Cornelius’ album provides an eclectic aural environment that, at times, suggests the outdoors and calls of wildlife, helping to evoke an endless landscape in the intimate gallery in which the temporary stage is situated.

The central duet with Leigh Anne Albrechta and Brandon Ragland exemplifies the youthfulness of this troupe: wide-eyed excitement and curiosity about the environment, too innocent to anticipate a dystopic outcome. Erica De La O’s solo is exuberant: the indomitable ability of children to survive.

“Amid Exes and Whys” is company member Sanjay Saverimuttu’s most sophisticated choreography to date. With a cast of two couples he is firmly in command of the aesthetic and narrative he’s creating. Sculptor Jake Ford’s mirror-like installation at the center of the performance space complements and enhances this exploration. The installation’s central placement automatically sets up the binary dynamic of two sides (the audience is also, in two different ways, on two sides of the action) a conceit that is eventually broken by the quartet of dancers.

Annie Honebrink, Trevor Williams, Emily Reinking O’Dell and Rob Morrow set up several mirror images, as we see “boy see girl” through the mirror, as well as “boy see boy” and “girl see girl.” Are we seeing who we are, who we want to be, who we want to be with? All possibilities. In various couple permutations we see each couple observe the other through the mirror. And then, gloriously the portal dissolves and all four move through and in the formerly-divisive binary construction, finding new ways of communicating and being both solo and couples. Saverimuttu noted in a talk-back that his choice of female identifying music artists was intentional, lifting up not just the familiar (male) music makers of many centuries.

Company member Justin Michael Hogan’s choreography has been seen in several showcases, and “35 662618 632814 5” is his most elaborate endeavor. In collaboration with video artist Josh Azzarella, Hogan has created a fascinating exploration of the intersections of humans and technology. The overlapping of live dance, prerecorded video of the dancers and live capture of aspects of the performance was an intriguing sensory experience; and the most nuanced combination of these elements since a Bernheim Forest collaboration of Camera Lucida and Blue Moves Modern Dance. Set in two joining spaces at KyCAD, audiences had to choose in which room to watch, knowing that one might “miss” something. I started in the non-technology room, and made my way to the room with video and screens to take in the Azzarella/Hogan partnership to the fullest.

Utilizing the largest cast of the evening, nine dancers moved fluidly from one room to the other, in one room untethered from technology, in the other observed and linked through cameras and screens. Mark Krieger and Natalia Ashikhmina provided the most palpable human interaction within this construct, and yet their relationship was also mediated through technology, with suggestions that their humanity might not sustain within those mediums.

Krieger and Morrow were both featured in two pieces during the evening, respectively in Xavier Pellin’s “Proxy,” and Aubrielle Whitis’ “Suppression of the Heart.” Both pieces also featured videography and in both cases the video provided a moving back drop rather than interacting with the movement. Dominic Guarnaschelli’s ghostly, swirling images of Whitis’ performers felt more integrated into the concept than Bobby Barbour’s wall of nine screens, each iterating a series of abstract, blurred moving images, for “Proxy.”

Whitis set herself a large challenge by choreographing for two spaces opposite each other, separated by a small audience space which also doubled as a pathway between two other performance spaces. Sightlines were not ideal for the part of the piece that was in the box-like space. Between the distractions of passing audience members and the table tennis-like viewing action, much of the emotional content of the piece was dissipated.

Pellin’s concept is interesting, his choreography has energy, and while the blurred video may suggest the ubiquity and speed of social media, the disconnect and implied conflict among the three dancers superseded any statement about how our real life and our social media performance don’t cohere. Pellin is on to something that needs to be teased out more.

The 2019 #ChorShow sets out to make dance programming more accessible than a traditional sit-in-the-audience experience. Judging from the number of people who stayed for the almost three-hour interactive, mobile experience of five ballets in five different spaces, Louisville audiences are ready to be intrigued and challenged by how dance programming continues to evolve.

#ChorShow continues through Feb. 2 with performances Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at the Kentucky College of Art + Design, 3849 S. 3rd St, Louisville, KY 40203.