REVIEW: Louisville Ballet's 'Human Abstract' Remount Overshadowed By Original
This week the Louisville Ballet is back in the Bomhard Theatre with a new look at its 2017 original production, “Human Abstract.” Once again Director/Choreographer Lucas Jervies is grappling with the big human issues of love and loss with a company of seven dancers. But with injury and company exits impacting the ensemble, this is both a re-visioning and resetting as much as it is a remount.
Jervies is excited to be revisiting this piece two years on. It’s “still fresh and I have the distance to look at it objectively,” he said. He’s grateful that the Louisville Ballet is committed to investing in risky work and revisiting it again so soon. He believes that “all remounts should look like this… [I want to] continually review; I would like to do this with all my work. Even with large works already in the repertory of a company.”
As his world view matures and evolves, Jervies wants to continue to explore his dramaturgy. And, unlike a standard revival, when dancers solely learn the steps originated by another dancer, he’s committed to the new dancers bringing their skills and experiences into his collaborative rehearsal studio.
It is challenging to talk about this “Human Abstract” without referring to the original. Judging by the audience buzz at the end of the 65-minute piece, those seeing it for the first time this year, were energized by this hybrid work – combining dialogue, text and singing with dance. The addition of Luke Yee to this company was inspired. The plasticity of his movement is exceptional, greatly enhancing the duet scenes, and he has a lovely singing voice – the one criterion important to Jervies in recasting this show. The neon lighting units are still a vibrant visual component of the piece.
The intricate ensemble sequences, described by Jervies in his program notes as inspired by mandalas, are some of the most compelling choreography in the piece. He describes mandala patterns as “used in meditation to facilitate reorientation, connection of abstraction.” And this is palpable in the intricate human pattering in these sequences.
Dramaturgically, when I saw this two years ago I felt the 80-minute piece was about 10 minutes too long (a frequent response of mine to new work.) However, 65-minutes this year felt too scant. In part this was because whole sequences were cut, rather than trimming several slightly. In part this is because the original cast brought specific skill sets that informed the original. In the absence of those skills, these sequences were merely cut. An unfortunate consequence of this is that Erica De La O’s wickedly-good lip-sync sequence seems like a specialty act thrown in, rather than one of several performances that expand our enjoyment of the extra-curricular skills of several dancers.
Another consequence of a cut is that the role of the ensemble was reduced, weighting the story to the central love/conflict danced by Yee and Xavier Pellin. The balance between the ensemble (Leigh Anne Albrechta, Emmarose Atwood, De La O, Minh-Tuan Nguyen, and Brandon Ragkand) and the duo is an area to be revisited in the next iteration of “Human Abstract.”
This year this ‘abstract’ work seemed more self-conscious than the original. Everyone in the rehearsal room knew what had gone before and even with new dancers, there was a sense that they were commenting on the original, and not just performing their truths. An aspect of the original that I missed emotionally.
The tenor of the love/conflict shifted this year. With the two younger dancers in these roles the loss felt more like the total devastation of a first love that has gone wrong. Yee’s woeful and wry litany of love songs brought laughs as well as empathy as he processed his situation. We’ve all been there. He and Pellin also find lots of humor in exploring their relationship, moving through song and gestural communication, as well as dance. A different take than that of 30-somethings who bring more world experience to relationships.
This production is being performed in a context of the Louisville Ballet being attacked for presenting a same-sex relationship in its performances. Its public letter lifts up the value of love and respect in community and art. Jervies said that he welcomes conversations about issues that some find challenging, he doesn’t welcome hate. He reiterated “the importance of dance works [that] reach out to larger community,” integrating issues of social justice into the dance repertoire.
Even when that is difficult for some audiences, it is the way that dance is relevant in the 21st century, and Jervies and Robert Curran are committed to that vision.
The final performance of "Human Abstract" takes place Sunday, March 3, at 2 p.m. at Bomhard Theater.