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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Up Close and Personal: Louisville Ballet’s Choreographers' Showcase Packs the House



2013 Choreographers' Showcase

Reviewed by Kathi E. B. Ellis.

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kathi E. B. Ellis. All rights reserved.

The annual Choreographers’ Showcase is fast becoming a hot ticket in town. The Louisville Ballet’s Facebook postings have announced all week that the Saturday performance is sold out, and at last night’s opening performance the bleachers in the Ballet’s Main Street headquarters were packed.

Artistic Director Bruce Simpson introduced the evening, putting it into context with the process through which the company goes to select and rehearse the ballets of the Choreographers’ Showcase. The most impressive piece of information he shared is that each choreographer is given an hour of rehearsal per five minutes of finished ballet; that’s a very short rehearsal period – especially for the pieces with large ensembles. He also spoke of the courage it takes for a choreographer to create a new work for public consumption. 

This year’s Showcase features eleven ballets by ten choreographers, two of whom are company trainees. Several choreographers have had works in previous showcases.

The evening’s highlight for me was Brandon Ragland’s Rumination to Zoe Keating’s Exurgency. The compelling thrust of the music was beautifully complemented by Mr. Ragland’s multi-layered sequences for pairs of dancers (Albrechta, Corbitt Miller, Reinking O’Dell, Sellers, Forehand, Ichihashi, Krieger and Stokes) with intricate partnering and figures that tested the tension between forward energy and stasis. The deep red and black costuming contributed to the visual strength of this piece. Thursday night’s audience responded with a collective exhale as the ballet came to an end, attesting to the power of this eight-minute collaboration between choreographer and composer. Mr. Ragland also contributed Shostakovich to the evening with music, not surprisingly, by Dmitri Shostakovich. Working with a larger ensemble, Ragland’s choreography enters a more neoclassic style, demonstrating fluid transitions between the two principal pairs (Natalia Ashikhmina and Evgeni Dokoukine and Erica De La O and Kristopher Wojtera) and various combinations of the larger ensemble. This piece was placed at the end of the evening, but the resolution of the ballet did not feel "final." Maybe it was the way this music selection ended, but the music did not resolve with a sense of finality – for the piece or for the evening – and this undercut the assured elegance of Mr. Ragland’s choreography. Nonetheless, both of his ballets this evening speak to his growth as a choreographer, and we can look forward to his Silent Conversation, which is part of the Ballet’s Breaking Ground program later this spring.

Also using Shostakovich’s music, the Andante movement of his Second Piano Concerto, is Ashley Thursby’s Andante with Amanda Diehl and Mark Krieger. Again, this was one of the more traditional choreographic contributions to the evening, and it was danced with elegiac lissomeness. The final lift was breathtaking in its sculpted simplicity and delicacy.  Three other ballets focused on pairs.  Katarina Walker’s Cling was an interesting counterpoint to the implicit similarity of theme in these two ballets.  Set to Woman of Aran (British Sea Power), Ms. Walker’s program note suggests that we want what we have until we want something else. Chelsea Cambron and Justin Michael Hogan explore multiple ways of clinging to a relationship through Ms. Walker’s interesting lifts and partnering sequences; and throughout there is ambiguity about who is clinging to the other, until the last moment when one decidedly pushes the other away, leaving – presumably to cling to the next person. Static Traits by Ryan Stokes explores yet another relationship. Mr. Stokes juxtaposes music by Bach (Sonata #2 in A Minor) with costuming that suggests a mid-20th century middle America. Kateryna Sellers and Evgeni Dokoukine seem to be locked into a troubled relationship in which the dynamics appear to be anything but static – unless the static nature of this relationship revealed in the ending that sets up that this dynamic will continue the next time, and the next. Rob Morrow’s Why Was I Born? answers its own question in the sweet relationship between Helen Daigle and Brandon Ragland to music by John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell. 

The evening opened with the charming Fairy Tale Suite set to Heigh-Ho! Mozart: Favorite Disney tunes in the style of Great Classical Composers. Trainee Claire Horrocks (who is also one of the featured apprentices on WFPL’s Audio Diary series, www.wfpl.org/term/big-break) captures a youthful exuberance in her choreography, encapsulating the program note that we never should grow too old for our childhood stories.  The other trainee represented as a choreographer in this program is Sanjay Saverimuttu offering Saligia with music by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm, a2 (Max Cooper Remix). This is one of two pieces (Ants in the Pants being the other) that essays an ensemble of seven. While this specific number is engrained within the theme of this piece, it is an ‘odd’ number, far more unwieldy than the more traditional trio, and I found myself always wondering why that particular combination was dancing and when (whether) the combination would change. Thematically, some sins were graphically identified while others were etched in a more abstract way. I suspect that the piece would be stronger if Mr. Saverimuttu committed to either interpretation throughout.

The largest ensemble piece of the evening was choreographed by Louisville Ballet newcomer Justin Michael Hogan.  A View, A Memory, A Choice is as its title suggests three vignettes, each set to music by different composers. The first two vignettes (Penguin Café Orchestra’s Perpetum Mobile and Trace Bundy’s Stone’s Serenade, respectively) move with a vigor and ease, dancers entering and exiting constantly in different combinations repeating, with slight variations, floor patterns, footwork, and gestures that collectively create a world of motion. The third vignette shifts in tone and style. Set to Satie’s Gymnopedie #1, Kristopher Wojtera and Amanda Diehl, encounter each other for a whimsical, tentative, almost-love story. Here Mr. Hogan demonstrates a completely different sensibility, choreographing an elegant pas de deux that finds space and stillness within it – a far cry from the busy-ness of the first two vignettes.  With an acknowledgment that Trois Gymnopedies is one of my favorite pieces of music, I have to confess that I found myself wishing that this vignette was separate from the first two so it might become part of a ballet Mr. Hogan would set to the complete Suite.

Shakin’ and the aforementioned Ants in the Pants bring a very different energy to this evening of short ballets. Helen Daigle’s Shakin’ ended the first part of the program with a group of girls ogling the moves of boxer Douglas Ruiz. With their costumes taking a bow to the 80s of the recently seen Flashdance, these girls clearly wanted to have fun! Creative partnering, non-traditional lifts, and a sense of the herd mentality when a group settles on who they want to go after – this short piece had the audience chuckling from its earliest moments. Especial mention must be made of the fun that Rob Morrow had in this piece…Ben Needham-Woods’ Ants in the Pants, dedicated to a younger (I assume) brother, was another light-hearted piece. From the top of the ballet when the audience observed the onset of the ants – a clever digital trick – it’s amazing that sympathy itching did not ensue throughout the house. The seven dancers conveyed a sense of fun throughout this piece, the all-over itching integrated into the dancing in a way that was both naturalistic and highly stylistic. The first part of the ballet was set to Michael Banabila’s Voltage Voltage. The second part, another pas de deux with Leigh Anne Albrechta and Kazuki Ichihashi, was set to Sascha Funke’s Mango. Again I found myself wondering why these two dances were put together under one title. I enjoy juxtapositions, and yet (as with Mr. Hogan’s piece) I did not find an internal logic to the juxtaposition, neither a parallel nor a contradiction that for me justified the union. Certainly the first part of Ants stands alone very effectively. I enjoyed the work of Amanda Diehl in the latter part of the ballet, in isolation, despite my distraction about its fit with the first section.

Collectively these eleven ballets provide the audience with a dynamic and thought-provoking evening of dance. The choreographers are exploring a wide-range of music and ideas with a strong company of dancers embodying those ideas. That the Louisville Ballet carves out time in a busy season of productions and educational work to nurture company choreographic talent is impressive. That Louisville audiences have the opportunity to watch young choreographers grow in their craft is something for which we should be grateful. Here’s to the 2014 Showcase!

2013 Choreographers Showcase

January 24 - 26, 2013

Louisville Ballet
Louisville Ballet Studios
315 East Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
502-583-2623

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