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Monday, April 30, 2012

Interview with Glass Artist Brook White


“I’m not the best artist, or the best businessman, but I’m just dangerous enough at both.”
Interview with Glass Artist Brook White
By Keith Waits
All images courtesy of Flame Run Studio.
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved. Published in conjunction with Pure Uncut Candy magazine.
Arts-Louisville : From what do you draw inspiration?
Brook White
Brook White: It’s changed over the years. Part of it is the material itself. Glass is very…I know it’s cheesy to say and you hear it so often…but it IS seductive. Hot glass draws you in – you either like it or you don’t. There are no part-time glass artists – it’s too expensive. But the material itself is inspiring. That has always been a constant. More recently my kids inspire me. Doing things with them – whether it’s the zoo, the water park – I get to go through a second or third childhood. I see how they react to things, with such natural innocence, and I like to see people have that same reaction to my work.
AL: Do you keep a sketchbook to develop ideas?
BW: No, at least not consistently.  My mind never stops, and there is a lot of overflow, and some stuff comes out in the studio.
AL: What seems so fascinating about that is that glass as a medium and a process would seem to demand careful pre-planning, yet you are working so intuitively with it.
BW: When I am doing my own work as an artist, I try to do that. But when you are running a business and meeting custom orders, commissions and lighting, you get into the grind of fulfilling the proposal and the customer’s expectations. So sometimes I do sketches or have another member of my team do sketches.  I don’t have an art background, so I would rather have someone else be a part of that. I can explain or describe it to someone else easier than I can draw it out myself. So the work I do to support the business often requires planning. But then when I go into the studio for myself, I like to turn that off and, again, draw inspiration from the material itself.
AL: What is the most important quality for a glass artist to have?
BW: Besides a slight touch of crazy, I would have to say persistence. It’s not something you can do halfway; you have to be committed.  Persistence and tenacity and a drive. I think in this day and age that’s true of any type of art.
AL: The process would seem to carry a lot of risk. Do a lot of pieces get broken?
BW: There can be, particularly when you are experimenting or doing new things – a technique or style I haven’t tried before. In my personal work, if I’m lucky I would say I lose about a third. On the business side, I’m very picky about the quality. But that is one reason I work with assistants: you can blame it on them [laughing]. We take turns and the joke is always, “Well, that was the best piece we ever made, right?” But then we move on.
AL: You recently moved your studio, Flame Run, into the Glassworks building. Is this move going to make the business side of things easier for you?
BW: It was a business decision. I started here [at Glassworks] 10 years ago when it first opened; there were two or three of us working here. I took over running the hot shop after about a year and learned a lot – none of us knew anything about running a hot shop.
AL: Was Glassworks the first glass studio in Louisville?
BW: The first studio of its size, yes. There had been several small, mostly private studios, but there had never been anything on this scale. That’s why they brought two or three of us in together; but after about a year and a half I decided I wanted to be captain of my own ship, so to speak, and I moved my crew down to Flame Run at 823 East Market. [While there] the NuLu area built up around us, with cool restaurants and gift shops; the neighborhood changed dramatically. We did see some increase in walk-in traffic but only nominally, maybe 15 to 20 percent at best.  Wayside Christian Mission was next door and we invited them in and even brought their kids over for Christmas and made ornaments for them. Three weeks later, we had a group come in from New York City – collectors – and they spent more money in that one hour than three to four months of normal business combined. That was the range of people we encountered there. I believe we can still do that here. We’ve built an identity with Flame Run, established a presence, so that I knew that if we stayed anywhere within 20 minutes, the people that know us and like us will still come to us. Coming back here, Glassworks is an established location, Louisville Slugger Museum is around the corner, Frazier Historical Museum is there now, KMAC has moved closer, and there’s a synergy down here. The walk-in traffic that we get, we would never see in our old location, so my business decision was that, hopefully, we could expose ourselves and the general public to a lot more glass. Also, we, in effect, competed for all those years with Glassworks. People from out-of-town, when the glass conference [the 2010 Glass Art Society conference was held in Louisville] was here, for example, could distinguish between the academic environment of the Cressman Center [the location of the University of Louisville glass program], Flame Run and Glassworks.
AL: You mention the Glass Art Society (GAS) conference, which was held for the first time in Louisville two years ago. There was a lot of comment at the time that one of the reasons they chose Louisville as a location was that it could boast three separate hot shops. Does this move diminish the local glass scene?
BW: On one level its undeniable that we’ve gone from three studios to two. But in so doing, I believe we have an opportunity to make the two function as well as they  possibly can. Che Rhodes does a great job at the University of Louisville and we are very close, having worked with Stephen Powell for all those years. (Brook and Che Rhodes both graduated from Centre College where Powell is on the faculty.)  But I think we would still be in the running for that conference, which has been held in cities with only one hot shop. We were special because we had three so close together, more or less a straight shot through downtown. GAS members had a lot of questions at first. But the people who came had a very positive reaction to Louisville and the wide range of support from the city and other arts groups – Louisville Visual Art Association, KMAC, The Speed. There were so many great glass exhibits that they left with a real sense of the artistic community here.
AL: How much of a role does education play in Flame Run programming?
BW: Part of the decision was to increase the exposure to art and glass specifically, whether for collectors or the general public, and that has always been a part of our mission. I didn’t see glass until I was 19. But if some kid who is 8 or 9 sees us and becomes inspired to become the next great glass artist and they can credit it all back to Flame Run (laughing)?  We’re already doing more classes for the general public, but mostly private lessons.  Ten years ago we tried to have scheduled community classes where you have four to five adults in a class. But trying to schedule it and allow make-up sessions if one student missed a class – financially it just wasn’t worth it. After we opened Flame Run, a few individuals pressed us for private lessons, and that works well. The customer satisfaction from the one-on-one interaction is more gratifying, and we have three to four instructors, which means we can be more flexible; so it works better that way. I’d like to have workshops, where we bring an artist in from out-of-town for a long weekend of multi-day sessions.
AL: On to philosophy: Is your glass half full or half empty?
BW: Did I make the glass? How big is it? Is it oval? Is it…
AL: Maybe I should not have asked the glass question!
BWI want to say it is half full. I think of myself as a realistic optimist. I don’t see the negative in things, especially through my kids’ eyes. It’s so refreshing and rewarding to spend time with them. But the coolest part of that question is, I get to make my own glass; and if I break it, I can make another!

Flame Run Glass Studio & Gallery
815 West Market Street  
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 584-5353

Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Volume Spans the Career of Wendell Berry & Reminds Us - First and Foremost, this Author is a Poet.


Wendell Berry

New Collected Poems
by Wendell Berry
Berkeley, California:  Counterpoint
391 pp.; $30

Review by Katherine Dalton

Entire contents copyright © 2012 by Katherine Dalton. All rights reserved.

Why read a poem, you ask, you whose days are so full of text and subtext?  I will ask you in return:  Why stint yourself the solace? 

In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.

Some might argue the point today, but poetry has traditionally been considered the highest of the written arts.  When well done, it can be a remarkable mix of verbal meaning plus cadence and image, and it wraps up words and song and the pictures conjured in our minds in a way that points to a meaning deeper and more innerly-felt than prose can accomplish. 

All writing, of course, uses rhythm and sonority and mental image, but poetry is writing distilled and concentrated and heady – our literary eau de vie.

Poetry can be a drum roll into battle, or an elegy for the dead.  It can be a love song or a slap in the face.  It can be a whistling in the dark.  Wendell Berry has written all of these.

To be sane in a mad time
is bad for the brain, worse
for the heart. The world
is a holy vision, had we clarity
to see it – a clarity that men
depend on men to make.

Mr. Berry has previously published Collected Poems (1985) and Selected Poems (1998).  This New Collected Poems contains many of those included before, along with poems written since.  It lacks any Sabbath poems – a significant omission. But otherwise, as the dust jacket tells us in tiny type on the front flap, “This book contains all the poems from previous compilations Mr. Berry wishes to collect...” 

This is a harvest basket of his own choosing. No complaining, please. The cukes and salsify are too cute, I believe. They grate on a rereading.

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.

Now 77, Mr. Berry has reached a degree of eminence that probably makes him uncomfortable. I saw him kick like a mule once at a straightforward compliment on a public stage from his friend Bill McKibben, and I suspect few writers are less interested in being addressed as a national treasure. 

He remains in danger of that, however, for several reasons. He is the author of excellent novels and one of the best:  Jayber Crow. He has made some of the clearest arguments about public advocacy, civic responsibility, rootedness and the necessity for rural life and wise land use of anybody now arguing. Everything he wrote 35 years ago in The Unsettling of America is only more true today and not less so. And he has lived by his own stated principles in a way few of us can boast.

But he is, I believe, a poet before anything else – a poet of flesh and blood and not a plaster saint. His first book was a book of poetry, and with all the other kinds of writing he has done he has never left poetry alone. Poetry is the way he praises his much-loved wife, and poetry seems to be one of the ways he prays (surely that is part of the purpose of the Sabbath poems). That means, among other things, that these lovely and sometimes intentionally unlovely poems show Mr. Berry working his hardest to witness to what he feels called to say.   

All the lives this place
has had, I have. I eat
my history day by day.
Bird, butterfly, and flower
pass through the seasons of
my flesh. I dine and thrive
on offal and old stone,
and am combined within
the story of the ground.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Louisville Orchestra Once Again Takes to the Whitney Stage for Dramatic Announcement



By Keith Waits

Photo courtesy of Louisville Orchestra Musicians Association.
At a press conference held Wednesday on the stage of Whitney Hall, Louisville Orchestra President Chuck Maisch and Louisville Orchestra Musicians Association President Kim Tichenor signed a one-year contract that will put the Orchestra musicians back to work in fall 2012.


Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fisher and Louisville Metro Council President Jim King were present for the long-awaited announcement, which follows 20 months of negotiations that were characterized by acrimony and accusations. The agreement will allow for a shorter 30-week season in which 57 players will be under contract. During this time, an expert (as yet unnamed) will conduct a thorough review of Louisville Orchestra operations and at some point take on the role of binding arbitrator with the goal of fashioning a long-term labor agreement to satisfy both parties.

The protracted negotiations, which broke down repeatedly, had left many observers wondering if the impasse between management and musicians would ever be overcome, especially after management had announced it was ready to begin hiring replacement musicians. Yet just as public statements released by the two sides suggested that all was lost, an initiative engineered by Metro Council President Jim King successfully brought about this limited agreement. Both sides expressed optimism that a new, more realistic financial structure for the organization could be agreed upon within the timeframe allotted.

The last several days of negotiations were kept under wraps, with no formal press release from either the Orchestra management or the Musicians Association until just before the press conference. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cherubim & Seraphim: Angel Music of the Masters


The Louisville Chorus – 73rd Season Concert
Daniel Spurlock, Music Director
Special Guest: South Oldham 7th and 8th Grade Women’s Ensemble
Haley A. Reed, Director

Reviewed by Cristina Martin

Entire contents copyright © 2012 Cristina Martin. All rights reserved.


Notions of the Hereafter are probably as varied as are the minds that contemplate it. If indeed some eternal reward awaits the virtuous, many would agree that it must involve sublime beauty. Artists through the ages have striven to re-create this ideal as they conceive of it, to give us just an inkling on earth of what it’s like in heaven. If the afterlife includes cherubim and seraphim who sing like the Louisville Chorus, I want to go there.

Billed as the “longest thriving, most frequently performing choral arts agency in Kentuckiana and neighboring states,” the Louisville Chorus is a venerable member of the city’s arts scene. Attendees at the most recent concert of its 73rd season were treated to a well chosen variety of pieces:  a mixture of classical, traditional ecclesiastical and more contemporary arrangements. The breathtaking interior of St. Agnes Catholic Church was a most appropriate setting, and yet music lovers of any faith tradition were made to feel welcome in what was clearly a concert rather than a religious service.

Composer Camille Saint-Saens.
The big, balanced sound of the Chorus from Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio opened the evening, followed by the sweet, slow Cherubim Song (No. 7) by Dimitri Bortniansky, arranged by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Director Daniel Spurlock seems to place special emphasis on dynamic nuances, which makes all the difference in the world in the texture and subtlety of the music.

After the hymn Ye Holy Angels Bright – in which the chorus was accompanied by violinist Jack Griffin, who shone particularly in the last stanza, and double-bassist Jacquelyn Kuhens – the audience was treated to the gorgeous solo work of soprano Haley A. Reed in excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. Her lovely, pure voice was perfect for the recitatives and a delight later in the evening as well when she sang a solo in Mozart’s Laudate Dominum from Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339.  

A definite highlight of the concert was the challenging a cappella Holy, Holy, Holy by Paul Satre. The deep, low tones of the male voices at the beginning swelled and merged gradually with the others, building to the top of a crescendo through interesting chords and key changes. This was followed by a pleasing Bach piece, Zion Hears the Watchmen Singing, and by César Franck’s Panis Angelicus, featuring tenor Bill Howell.  Howell’s voice was controlled and reverent, more restrained than in some other tenors’ renditions but agreeable nonetheless. He was similarly up to the task in his recitatives from Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Creation in the concert’s second half.

Composer Franz Josef Haydn.
Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1792.
Soprano Reed is the director of the South Oldham 7th and 8th Grade Women’s Ensemble, who joined the Louisville Chorus for Quiet Sea, by Jill Friedersdorf and Melissa Malvar-Keylock, and for the Hallelujah, Amen from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus right before intermission. The young women sang beautifully and were every bit as professional as their fellow musicians in the Chorus. What a refreshing and wonderful example of artistic cooperation among the generations, and how inspiring for all involved!

The second half of the concert opened with the hymn Holy God, We Praise Thy Name in a striking arrangement by Louisville Chorus accompanist and mainstay Therese Davis. It takes extraordinary musicianship as well as a special knack for accompaniment to do the caliber of work Davis evidenced in the course of the evening, commanding multiple keyboards and always complementing but never overshadowing the vocalists. She brings her organic knowledge of the ensemble to bear in her arrangement of this hymn, which came off quite successfully. The altos were a bit loud at times, but the concluding Amen sequence was sublime.

Soprano Darlene Welch lent her well-heeled voice to the solo part in Hymns by Paul McKusker and David Maddux, to impressive operatic effect. She, tenor Howell and bass Alexander Redden formed a trio for The Heavens Are Telling in Haydn’s Creation. Redden’s rich, warm voice, to which we were first introduced in Judas Maccabaeus, was a pleasure to listen to. The memorable swells of sound in Craig Courtney’s Sanctus deserve mention as well, as does the appropriate majesty with which Bach’s Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light was performed.  

The South Oldham Women’s Ensemble joined the Chorus once again for the final number of the evening, Prologue in the Heavens Final Psalmody, from the opera Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito. The young women sang the part of a celestial choir proclaiming ultimate redemption. Instrumentalists Griffin and Kuhens added a great deal here as elsewhere, contributing breadth and depth to the musical landscape. Expressive and grand, the final selection proved a fitting conclusion to an evening of otherworldly delights.

The motto of the Louisville Chorus is “Refining Life through the Power of Music.” Indeed, this most recent concert underscored the ability of the art form to reach and stir audiences -- in this case to uplift them, literally, as their hearts and minds were invited to contemplate the celestial. But the Chorus offers a rich variety of music besides. Its next concert, “Broadway at Its Best,” slated for June 3, will feature Tony Award-winning songs. “Fanfare for the 4th: Musical Visions of America,” which will be held on July 2, is an annual multimedia experience not to be missed.

We are truly fortunate to have a musical institution like the Louisville Chorus in our midst. May it continue to enrich the lives of those whom its art touches for a long time to come.


Cherubim & Seraphim:  Angel Music of the Masters

The Louisville Chorus
April 20, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
St. Agnes Catholic Church
1920 Newburg Road
Louisville, KY 40205

For details of upcoming concerts, visit LouisvilleChorus.org or call (502) 968-6300.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Derby Show from Le Petomane Is “Brilliant Stuff.”


Abigail Bailey-Maupin, Tony Dingman, Kristie
Rolape & Gregory Maupin in A Derby Carol.
Photo courtesy of Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble.

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble presents A Derby Carol

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Craig Nolan Highley.  All rights reserved.

I am going to make a confession that will probably get me lynched this time of year: I am a lifetime resident of Louisville, and I don’t go nuts for the Derby.

I have been to the race only once (and that was many, many years ago) and I have seen the spectacle of Thunder over Louisville maybe twice. I am just not into it. And that’s why I found myself oddly rooting against the whole plot of Le Petomane’s new show A Derby Carol, which premiered Thursday night at The Bard’s Town.

Don’t get me wrong. It is a clever show that puts a fun, local spin on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and is performed with gusto by a flawless cast. It’s just that in this case, I was right there with Scrooge and saw no reason for him to change his ways!

The show begins with a rousing opening musical number, followed by a very bizarre and somehow riveting solo dance number by the Scrooge character (performed by Gregory Maupin in a dead-on impersonation of Hunter S. Thompson). In this case, Scrooge despises the Derby and all the pageantry that goes with it, and he is soon visited by a series of Spirits (Derby Past, Present and Yet to Come) in a series of funny vignettes that range from okay to downright hysterical.

Highlights of the evening include a Ghost of Derby Past imagined as the Wizard of Oz, a “We Are the World” style number immortalizing Louisville-born Ned Beatty, and Tiny Tim (in this case an anorexic jockey) singing an Oliver!-inspired “Where is Lunch?” Some truly brilliant stuff here, folks. Original plays in the Louisville area rarely are this good.

The minimal set and lighting and sound designs by Suzanne Hoehne and Emily Ruddock service the show nicely, and the work of an un-credited costume designer (knowing Le Petomane, likely a unified company effort) really sells the piece.

The whole thing runs less than 90 minutes and was so much fun that the time just flew by. And considering the theater group is named after a performer known for his ability to fart artistically (true story, look it up!), the show is amazingly clean and family friendly.

If, like me, you are underwhelmed by the whole Derby pomp and circumstance, you might still find this show a diverting experience. If you like to go all-out for the big race, then you really need to add this show to your Derby festivities. Either way, you are in for a fun evening. Enjoy!

A Derby Carol
Created, staged and performed by Heather Burns, Tony Dingman, Abigail Bailey Maupin, Gregory Maupin, Kristie Rolape and Kyle Ware.

April 19-23
April 25-29
7:30 p.m. each night

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
http://www.lepetomane.org/

Tickets: $8-$20 on the usual Le Petomane sliding scale
Contact Us@LePetomane.org or (502)609-2520 for tickets.



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Louisville Ballet’s Diamond Anniversary Celebration Sparkles with Energy


60th Anniversary Celebration

By Kathi E.B. Ellis.

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.


This weekend’s celebration of the Louisville Ballet’s first sixty years also serves as a reminder of the flowering of arts and cultural institutions during the mayoral tenure of Charles Farnsley – not only this company, which has become the seventh oldest ballet company in the country, but also the Fund for the Arts, the first public radio station licensed to a library, the Orchestra, etc. Six decades on, when many arts and cultural organizations around the country are going out of business or downsizing significantly, it is a joy to celebrate an organization that is artistically strong, creating new work and sustaining the classics – growing its company not just in size but in overall quality, and reaching out to the community with classroom and in-studio dance experiences for all ages.

Dancer Wendy Whelan. Photo courtesy of Louisville Ballet.
An especial treat for Louisville audiences was the appearance of Louisville native Wendy Whelan, together with Craig Hall, in a Christopher Wheeldon piece, After the Rain, set to music by Arvo Pärt. For me, this was the jewel of the evening. One of two parts of this work, the pas de deux has become a stand-alone staple since the ballet’s New York City Ballet premiere in 2005. And what a creative way to bring the work of one of the world’s top choreographers to Louisville: inviting Ms. Whelan to dance in a work he created for her.  After the Rain is short, intense and luminous. At times the illusion is of sculpture, so deliberative are the images created by the two bodies intertwining with each other. Ms. Whelan and Mr. Hall dance as if they are one; even when there is space between them, an invisible umbilical cord connects them – a hand or foot reaches out and the other is precisely there, making tangible the connection between them. Pärt’s music is deceptively limpid, suggesting the intermittent drops of water that continue after a rain storm; and Wheeldon has set a series of movements, tableaux and gestures to this music that suggests both intimacy and isolation, a closeness that still allows individuality. The exquisite muscularity and grace of Ms. Whelan and Mr. Hall brought Friday evening’s audience to their feet as the final moments of this piece relaxed into an image of intimate rest.

Despite the luster of unveiling a world premiere during such a significant anniversary, Adam Hougland’s Unyielding Radiance was the slightest piece of the evening. Maybe its placement, coming immediately after Wheeldon’s piece, did it a disservice. As principal choreographer of the company, Mr. Hougland has created five other pieces for the Louisville Ballet:  four short works and the full-length Rite of Spring. Representing Mr. Hougland’s contribution to the Ballet over the past seven years is a must – however, I would have rather seen one of his earlier, more compelling, creations as part of the middle section of this program. Kateryna Sellers and Ben Needham-Wood were the principal pair in this piece, discovered on stage, with a burst of energy, as their upper bodies and arms whirled and punched the air in a kinetic Chinese puzzle. Ms. Sellers and Mr. Needham-Wood were supported by five pairs of dancers in a variety of paired and ensemble combinations to music by John Adams. Dan Fedie’s costumes suggested the glitter of diamonds with belt and collar accents against neutral tights and unitards.

Representing the burgeoning talent of in-company choreographers was Mikelle Bruzina’s Sansei, created for the company in 2009. Ms. Bruzina’s elegant and elegiac choreography was supported by the (live) music of Ben Sollee and his musicians, a composition set on her work at the time of its creation. The relationship between Erica de la O, Amanda Diehl and Emily Reinking O’Dell is deftly suggested through the costuming of Ms. Bruzina and Pam Hulen from the dancers’ first moment on stage. The subtitle of Ms. Bruzina’s work, "Celebrating the endurance of family," is borne out through the fluid combinations of pas de deux and pas de trois between the three generations of women. The heart of the work is the journey of Ms de la O, representing the oldest generation at the end of her life. The hope of this work is the final moment when the fourth generation enters the world, under the protective watch of the ancestors as well as the mother and now grandmother. The four men (Rob Morrow, Ben Needham-Wood, Douglas Ruiz and Kristopher Wojtera on Friday evening) provided a subtle and solid counterpoint to the women’s journey.

The evening’s program was bookended with Balanchine’s 1947 Theme and Variations (staged by Eve Lawson of the George Balanchine Trust) and Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena (1995). Originally choreographed for what became American Ballet Theater five years before the Louisville Ballet came into existence, Theme and Variations is a sparkling tribute to the great Petipa-Tchaikovsky legacy of the nineteenth century and, at the same time, an indicator of American twentieth century neo-classicism. Lambarena, in juxtaposition, is a testament to the resilience of the ballet form as it embraces other dance forms and cultural traditions. Over this weekend the full company (including several trainees) will dance in both these ballets. On Friday evening the company seemed more at home with Caniparoli’s choreography than Balanchine’s – maybe because the former has been performed more recently than the latter. Friday’s principal pair in Theme and Variations was Natalia Ashikhmina and Kristopher Wojtera. Mr. Wojtera, always an elegant dancer, found moments when he seemed suspended en l’air during an early solo, a quintessential illusion of this form. Ms. Ashikhmina’s dancing was hindered by some muddled footwork in her solo and, at times, the partnering of Ms. Ashikhmina and Mr. Wojtera seemed tentative. The female corps is showcased with, for the period, innovative combinations which the eight ladies embraced. The male corps of the Louisville Ballet continues to strengthen and deepen as more men have been added to the company in recent years. On the stage of the Brown Theatre, the final grand pas filled the stage with grandeur – a moment in which audience and company alike can take pride. The fun and exuberance of Lambarena was a fitting climax to this evening of celebration. Combining the classical clarity of Johann Sebastian Bach with arrangements of traditional African songs (Pierre Akenduegé and Hughes de Courson), Mr. Caniparoli (with African dance consultants Naomi Gedo Johnson-Washington and Zarariya Sao Diouf) marries the earthbound and ancestor-connected traditions of African dance to the long-lined, ethereal traditions of classical ballet. Whether the divertissements included a larger ensemble or one or two dancers, the full company clearly embraced this hybrid dance form, body language and smiling faces inviting the audience into this elemental world. At the risk of excluding other excellent performances, Mr. Ragland, Ms. de la O and Ms. Daigle were a delight to experience.

Artistic Director Bruce Simpson spoke briefly at the beginning of Friday evening’s performance, recognizing the tremendous support of the company’s ongoing and brand new sponsors in this 60th anniversary season – a very real necessity for the ongoing health of any arts organization. He also welcomed to the stage Representative John Yarmuth, whose reception was almost as enthusiastic as that of Ms. Whelan. Representative Yarmuth spoke eloquently and passionately about the role of the arts, not just as an economic driver, but also as the basis for academic achievement and effective citizenship. With this kind of affirmation, the support of businesses and individuals, and an increasingly varied repertoire (another new ballet is slated for the 2012-2013 season), we can all hope that the Louisville Ballet’s next sixty years will see even more growth and recognition than in its first sixty years, a true jewel of the greater Louisville arts community.

Lambarena, choreographed by Val Caniparoli.
Photo courtesy of Louisville Ballet.
60th Anniversary Celebration

April 13-14, 2012

The Louisville Ballet
At The Brown Theatre
233 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40205


Bunbury’s "A Southern Exposure" Is Certain to Please Audiences with Laughter and Tears




A Southern Exposure

Written by Kelly Kingston-Strayer
Directed by Juergen K. Tossman

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

A Southern Exposure is part of a family of American theatre seemingly born from Steel Magnolias: the Dixie-fried situation comedy. While its chief virtue may be the addition of worthwhile roles for women, it also relies on a distinct formula of sharp-tongued comedy leading into tragedy and pathos. This script, set mostly in Kentucky, delivers the goods efficiently enough; but it is the exemplary work of the cast of this Bunbury Theatre production that makes it work...

The central relationship between Hattie (Diane Strez-Thurmond) and her grand-daughter, Callie Belle (Abica Dubay), is the heart of the story. Hattie raised Callie Belle from an infant after her parents died in an accident, creating a parental bond challenged by tension resulting from both the wide generational gap and the fact that these ladies are opinionated and not afraid to express themselves. This also holds true for Hattie’s two sisters, the irascible Ida Mae (Della Brown) and the simple-minded Mattie (Alice Chiles). Conflicts arise from Callie Mae’s decision to move to New York City and her involvement with a Jewish man.

A slender comic scenario shifts uneasily into more serious matters of heartbreak and mortality, yet the marvelous quartet of actors handle the tonal shifts with care and feeling. Diane Stretz-Thurmond brings restraint to Hattie that nicely contrasts against the broader comedy of the sisters and the comparative immaturity and emotionalism of Abica Dubay’s vividly rendered Callie Belle. Ms. Dubay is a native Kentuckian working in L.A., and her charismatic work here, characterized by a fierce but languid sensuality, can only give us hope of her further return to local stages.  

Della Brown’s Ida Mae is a tart presence to whom falls the luck of the lines: almost everything she says is pointed and funny. Alice Chiles’ Mattie also has humorous dialogue, but it is the non-verbal moments, perfectly timed slow reactions and several memorable entrances in a variety of wigs and costumes, that have the greatest impact. It was an object lesson in how to hold the stage while seeming to do very little.

So the performance makes the most of the material and, in fact, to some extent expands and enlarges the situation with the result that the emotional relationship with the audience lands with great alacrity. Director Juergen K. Tossman sets the right pace and guides the cast with a sure hand, so that the playing is disciplined but still allowed to push the boundaries when appropriate. This sub-genre of Southern situation comedy is often harshly met in New York, but seems designed to play well in the heartland, where audiences are perhaps more receptive to stories and characters that are familiar reflections of their own lives and families. A Southern Exposure should enjoy such a warm reception during its run at Bunbury.

A Southern Exposure

April 13-29, 2012

Bunbury Theatre
at the Henry Clay
604 S. Third St.
Louisville, KY
(502) 585-5306

Theatre That Speaks to Today: Wendy Wasserstein’s "An American Daughter" Arrives at Little Colonel Playhouse at an Apt Moment


Playwright Wendy Wasserstein.




An American Daughter

By Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Bethany Morse

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

On the same day that Hilary Rosen apologized to Ann Romney after her comments concerning the latter’s lack of a professional career set off another example of the media’s inability to keep perspective, Little Colonel Playhouse opened a new production of Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter. The play – about a female candidate for Attorney General whose nomination is jeopardized by a seemingly minor mistake – while not the author’s best work is clearly still relevant in this election year climate. Though the mistake (inadvertently avoiding a jury duty summons) absurdly triggers a firestorm debate on the role of women in contemporary American society, it allows an examination of the key theme in this writers work:  that women of her generation were given new social obligations without being released from the old ones.

Sadly, this particular production fails to capitalize on this resonance with mostly tepid, indifferent playing and some misconceived staging.  Another week of rehearsal would have helped, as several of the cast struggled to remember lines and dropped cues freely, creating moments awkward enough to earn the audience’s empathy, if not their forbearance.  And Wasserstein is a playwright with a gift for dialogue – smart, witty talk with edge that demands a quick pace and confident delivery to achieve its full impact – so that such sluggishness and uncertainty proves nearly fatal in the final result.

There were a few times when one or two actors managed some good effect, mostly in singular moments bordering on monologue. Grace Poganski came the closest to realizing the snappy pace and comic rhythms of Wasserstein’s dialogue, particularly in one scene with a cigarette holder; and Brad Castleberry was a solid professional presence as the nominee’s father, a conservative Republican senator, capturing the tender integrity of the character, if not the slick experienced politico it calls for. Vanessa Ferguson began to find some emotional depth in a fairly well-executed monologue as her best friend. But these were but promising moments and were not enough to lift this production beyond miscasting and a fundamental misunderstanding of the material.

The structure of the play includes some cut-aways to television interviews that were staged off to one side of the proscenium and projected onto a flat-screen monitor. But the effect seemed not fully thought out and was more distracting than anything else, with indifferent framing that minimized the actors and emphasized the background. The set design was functional but was never convincing as a Georgetown residence.

Ultimately, this is a missed opportunity that fails to produce more than a handful of laughs from a funny script and reduces thoughtful social satire to its most ponderous relationship to the audience. While Ms. Wasserstein’s writing here can sometimes be pedantic, this material can work if played with sharp timing and energetic delivery, both sorely lacking in this presentation. With luck, the quality of the performance may improve through the run. But the full potential of An American Daughter appears to be out-of-reach in this all-too-earnest effort.



An American Daughter

April 12-22, 2012

Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Crestwood, KY 40014
(502) 241-9906