Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tapping into the Community: Fund for the Arts Kicks-Off the 2013 Campaign

Barbara Sexton Smith, Mayor Greg Fischer and the dancers
 after the tap-dance finale. Photo- Fund for the Arts.

By Kathi E. B. Ellis

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

The last week in January means that the Fund for the Arts is gearing up for the year’s campaign. And this past Tuesday, January 29, was no exception with a kickoff celebration in the historic Brown Theatre.

President and CEO Barbara Sexton Smith reminded the almost full house (she claimed to see only one empty seat in the 1400 seat Brown Theatre!) that the Fund has existed since 1949 and has raised more than 180 million dollars for the arts in its 64 years of operation. 

Admittedly “preaching to the choir” – with representatives from workplace campaigns, arts organizations, Fund board members and volunteers, and enthusiastic students in the balcony – the evidence of the wealth of arts opportunities within the Greater Louisville community was on display on the stage of the Brown, with very few talking heads. This celebration is about the arts.

Almost every Fund Cultural Partner participated in the celebration, with the Louisville Ballet providing almost a full corps for the Waltz of the Flowers (The Nutcracker), to smaller ensembles, the Mozart Flute Quartet (the Louisville Orchestra making a welcome return to this celebration after last year’s absence) and the two person play, Love Always, performed by two engaging Walden Theatre students.  When the Louisville Youth Choir can provide a full, or seemingly so, student choir to perform during the school day and Actors Theatre fields a combination of its education department and Apprentice Company members, it’s unfortunate that neither the Louisville Youth Orchestra nor Kentucky Shakespeare were represented. Mention must also be made of the hardworking visual artists who represented LVAA (Chris Chappell) and KMAC (Bart Galloway) – and without wishing to stress these artists, who created original work as the audience streamed in, the question is whether it would be possible to project their painting onto the screen so that more people could be more aware of the visual arts served by the Fund.

The undeniable highlight of the celebration was Ben Sollee’s performance. Including, equally effectively, the students and adults in the house, he seamlessly demonstrated that the cello is made for all genres of music. The celebration came to a close with a high-energy ensemble of Motown hits.  But more was yet to come. This year’s campaign chair, Greg Heitzman (Louisville Water Company and MSD), demonstrated that we all have a desire for the arts, with good gamesmanship beginning a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The gathered special guests on the stage – including JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens, Congressman John Yarmuth, Mayor Greg Fischer and others – looked relieved that they were not expected to join in, as the curtain swept up to reveal an unexpected grand finale of tap dancing. Fund staffers said that a call was sent out to dance schools throughout the community for dancers interested in participating that could commit to a handful of rehearsals and to the performance. The finale began with an impressive duet, followed by row after row of dance students filling the stage. If a community can bring together so many young artists for a one-time performance, then we truly are on the way to becoming a great American City – as the Fund’s tireless CEO never tires of telling us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eric Booth at SETC: Can You Teach Creativity?

Eric Booth will speak at SETC in Louisville.

By Carmen Marti

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Carmen Marti. All rights reserved.

Eric Booth’s biggest role is played off stage.

A teaching artist (artist–educator) is a practicing professional artist with the complementary skills and sensibilities of an educator, who engages people in learning experiences in, through, and about the arts.
—Eric Booth

When the 64th Annual Southeastern Theatre Convention, the largest theater conference in the United States, convenes in Louisville in March, it will open with the work and words of Eric Booth, the actor who has become known around the world as the father of the teaching artist profession.

On March 6, Booth will not only run the day-long Teachers Institute seminar “So what does Creativity have to do with Learning?  With Teaching?  With the Future of Education?” – he will also address the convention as the opening night keynote speaker.

Teaching and helping artists work as educators – in the academic classroom, corporate boardroom and nonprofit conference room – is a role Booth has been playing now for more than three decades. “I realized my curiosities were reaching beyond a theater person’s work,” he explains about his transition from stage to consultant, author and businessman. “I was hungry for more.”

So Booth taught himself to be a teaching artist, started consulting, became an author and established a publishing house. He has taught at Stanford, NYU and Juilliard, among other universities; gained an honorary degree from the New England Conservatory; and was founding editor of Teaching Artist Journal, the first peer-reviewed journal for teaching artists. “My work is relatively random,” Booth says. “I take projects no one has done before.”

His gift, he says, “is to be able to talk to arts leaders and practitioners in an inside/outside way. I learned the inside of being an artist the hard way. Now I’ve spent so much time on the outside with outsiders, I know that world too.”

Booth has learned in particular how to navigate the world of education, the area he will address in Louisville. His main message:  What does creativity mean? What are the creative skills? How do you develop creativity and where can it developed? How does that fit in the development of young artists? If you’re a teacher, are you willing to become a resource for developing creative capacity in the schools where you teach?

“If all goes well, people will have a fresh vocabulary for doing the things they already do well,” Booth says. “The skills [administrators] want education to train are the skills artists train. I hope to enable participants to intensify certain aspects of their work and make it applicable in areas where they’ve had difficulty. I hope to provoke experimentation they can open up in their work.”

Essentially, Booth will be in Louisville to underscore the fact that creativity is gaining credibility and artists can capitalize. “The professional world is finding that theater people are extremely valuable in other fields,” Booth explains. “They are coming to us finally. After all these years of standing on the periphery, we’re more and more drawn into the conversation. Until now, others outside the arts were teaching creativity.”

In some ways, it’ been a matter of semantics and adjustment. “We’re teaching creativity, not art,” Booth explains. “Art is indulgent. Creativity is something we need.

“But basically I do the kind of work I’d do in any creativity workshop. They’re theater exercises, but I don’t call them that. We role-play; we do team building. We don’t have to step off the line of our artistry or change what we do well.  We can expand what we do well. If we go beyond preconceptions about artists, there’s a lot we can do. It’s not just the sheer instrumentality of more gigs, but redefining how artists think of themselves and their skills, which provides a bigger container than we usually play in.”

And it provides results in the classroom. “There’s a sense that teachers of theater arts have ways to highly activate students,” Booth says. “We’re in a slow transition time. The dominant framework condemns the arts to remain on the periphery. The emerging framework – and the one I try to draw people into – is:  Do you believe that every child deserves a highly engaging school day? Is there a connection between high engagement and better learning? What do you know about the research on high engagement? It makes the arts look good. We have a powerful set of tools for high engagement.”

And research is beginning to back Booth up. The first long-term study of arts in the classroom, UCLA professor James S. Catterall’s “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art: A 12-Year Longitudinal Study” (2009), has shown that long-term involvement with the arts has a life-changing impact.

“Every year now there’s a new study,” Booth says. “There’s recognition that we don’t have a clear direction for making schools better. We’re actually falling further behind. That usually prompts change. I’m not at all as discouraged as some of my colleagues.”

In fact, Booth is encouraged. “I’m asking for people to use what we do and look for opportunities outside their original thinking,” he says. “We’re in a time of interdisciplinarity. It’s a disservice to not respond to the opportunities provided.”

The SETC 2013 Teachers Institute is a pre-convention seminar designed to engage, challenge and invigorate those who teach the arts as well as those who teach through the arts.  The daylong program is open to the public, as well as convention attendees. Continuing Education Units and/or Professional development documentation offered.   

Monday, January 28, 2013

Coffee Cup Theatre Delivers Solid Introduction to Mr. Durang

Playwright Christopher Durang.


By Christopher Durang
Directed by Dan Welch

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Craig Nolan Highley.  All rights reserved.

Christopher Durang.
Now there is a playwright who draws a lot of controversy. His scripts are usually dark and funny, but he has been accused of misogyny and worse when it comes to the female characters he creates. Plays such as Laughing Wild and The Marriage of Bette and Boo, for example, present us with women who are shrewish, insane, or just pitifully socially crippled. And while his short plays don’t really treat women any better, I’ve always found him to be better in small doses.
That brings me to the Coffee Cup Theater Company’s current production of three of Durang’s short plays. The quality varies from piece to piece, but the show as a whole is a nice introduction to the playwright’s unusual style.
The first portion is the introductory piece Mrs. Sorkin. Performed as a monologue by Cate Willard, it introduces us to the title character as she greets the audience and informs us about protocol and purpose behind the experience of attending the theater. She’s lost her notes, so she relies upon her somewhat scattered memory to give us a quick history about theater, drama and ancient Greeks, and how closely Dramamine is tied to drama. She also tells us that Mr. Durang is her nephew.
This section has a few scattered laughs and sets up the proceedings nicely, with a nuanced performance by Willard. As a nitpick, she really needs to try not to click her tongue quite so much; it got distracting after awhile. The director had her come back out in character to talk to the audience during the scene changes, but she was embarrassingly ill-equipped to ad-lib through the downtime. I think a simple blackout or an intermission would have sufficed.
Next we get For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, a wacky parody of all things Tennessee Williams. Here we meet Lawrence (Nick Johnson, in a sweet but rather flat turn), a hypochondriac mother's boy who never leaves the house and reveres his collection of swizzle sticks. Jamie Shannon gives one of the show’s best performances as Amanda, Lawrence's vivacious and long-suffering mother. Lance Flint is also well cast as Amanda's other son, Tom, a handsome, angry young man who wants nothing more than to get away from his dysfunctional family. Lilly Goban, on the other hand, screeches through her role as Lawrence’s half-deaf, lesbian, would-be love interest; a difficult role, to be sure, but one that requires a lot more subtlety than Goban provides.
The third play is hands-down the best of the three: Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, a biting critique of Catholicism and organized religion that starts out as just funny but gets progressively darker as it moves toward its violent ending.  We are introduced to Sister Mary (Shannon again, sinking her teeth into this role even deeper than in the previous entry), a world-weary nun presenting us with a lecture on the beliefs of the church. Her sermon is interrupted by the arrival of four of her former students, who seek to embarrass her in retaliation for the way she treated them in their youth. Most memorable are Diane (Lydia Kennebrew, in a heart-tugging performance surprisingly nuanced for the material) and Gary (Flint again, playing almost the other side of the coin to the character he played in the previous act). Can’t really say too much about this one without giving away too much, but suffice it to say this is my personal favorite Durang piece and it’s done well here.
Any production at the Rudyard Kipling struggles to create a convincing set and lighting design, and this show is no exception. However, director Dan Welch keeps things moving nicely and has elicited some really good performances from his cast. There were times, though, that I wished his performers would not rush the comedy; several sight gags and punch lines were plowed right over and lost.
Ultimately your enjoyment of the show will really depend on your tolerance for the playwright’s indulgences, but this is an acceptable production and worth a look.
Starring Lance Flint, Lily Goban, Zach Gombosky, Nick Johnson, Lydia Kennebrew, Allison Moore, Jamie Shannon, and Cate Willard.


Tickets are now on sale and reservations can be made by calling (502) 299-8501 or e-mailing Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors (cash and checks only).

Coffee Cup Theatre
At The Rudyard Kipling
422 West Oak Street
Louisville, KY

PYRO Is in a New Space and Bette Levy Invited Some Friends to Come Along

Natural Inclinations- Kimball's Anniversary, James Grubola.
Natural Inclinations: Bette Levy and Friends

Pyro Gallery

By Keith Waits.
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Among the many treasures to be found in the First Trolley Hop of the New Year, the first exhibit of entirely new work from the recently relocated PYRO Gallery may (arguably) be the highlight. The space has been open with a collection of members' work for a few weeks now, but a new exhibit, “Natural Inclinations,” features the work of PYRO member Bette Levy and three friends from outside of the group: Vallorie Henderson, Kay Polson Grubola and James Grubola.

Into the Woods, Vallorie Henderson.
The new space, in the Sign-A-Rama building at 609 East Market, is smaller and broken up to include a smaller room filled with work apart from the primary exhibit, and an alcove off to one side. Exposed ductwork hovers over a rough-finish concrete floor, and the impact of the room itself is diametrically opposed to the old PYRO gallery, which, while beautiful, was also a less adaptable space than this more grounded and cozy environment.

Those nooks are used to good effect with this combination of two and three-dimensional work. Ms. Levy’s large wall pieces occupy the walls opposite the entrance, and the largely earth tone palette and sumptuous visual textures invite you in to the space. In "Mosquito Creek in Flood," careful stitching belies the elemental feeling of the piece – so suggestive is it of animal hides hung inside a primitive domicile. The metaphor to the natural world carries through her other work and, in fact, the work of all the artists in the show.

Mosquito Creek in Flood, Bette Levy.
The felted, machine-stitched vessels of Vallorie Henderson sweep across the room, mostly on pedestals; while Kay Polson Grubola’s colorful and eccentric insect and seedpod constructions move you into the tight end of the alcove, where you are subtly forced into close inspection of James Grubola’s graceful and detailed drawings.

Relationships among the materials and color reinforce this flow so that the viewer’s eye discovers connections of tactile surfaces in the fiber pieces, then vivid color forming an alliance between the sensual felt vessels and the hand-painted organic forms of Ms. Grubola’s delightfully impractical jewelry. The final bridge is more thematic, also an important unifying element here, as Mr. Grubola’s beautifully intricate gold and silverpoint drawings examine thickets and vines that could be home to the previous artist’s bugs and seed casings.

On PYRO’s website, each artist describes the layering in their work, and that deliberate buildup of the physical and visual texture brings home how the natural world is embraced both in their subjects and in their materials. Bette Levy’s largely abstract work utilizes walnut inks and techniques that stain or burn the materials, while Ms. Henderson employs natural materials in work that follows Cherokee tribal traditions. The organic elements long found in Kay Grubola’s work are here newly transformed into sparkling, hand-painted jewelry, most spectacularly presented in a custom-designed (by the artist) wooden case that stands on angled legs, suggestive of the limbs of one of her insect forms. Placed into impossible juxtaposition on rings and pendants, similar forms are the most obvious example of layering, while James Grubola’s patient development of lines drawn with a medium consisting of precious metals completes the journey through nature on an elemental level.

Belisama, Kay Grubola
PYRO Gallery is open 12-6 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday or by appointment. The gallery is open late during opening receptions and First Friday Gallery Hop. Admission to PYRO is free and open to the public.

Natural Inclinations: Bette Levy and Friends

January 4 -February 17, 2013

PYRO Gallery
909 East Market Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sophisticated Choreography and Virtuoso Dancing are Memorable, Despite Technical Glitches, as John Keen Brings His Company to Louisville

John Keen & Company. Photo courtesy of Keen Dance Theater.

Keen Dance Theater at Ursuline Arts Center

Reviewed by Kathi E. B. Ellis.

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

The Keen Dance Theatre performance on Friday evening (January 25) was, in a sense, a homecoming for founder John Keen, who is a Louisville native and who studied at the Youth Performing Arts School. It was also an introduction to Louisville dance aficionados of his New York-based high-energy ensemble dance company. There are few Louisville-based dance companies, and The Kentucky Center’s touring dance program brings in fewer companies than in past years. As such, this event was a welcome event to Louisville’s dance calendar. However, there were too many glitches throughout the evening for this to be a completely successful event.

Advertised at 7:30p.m., it was not until 8:20p.m. that Mr. Keen’s father took to the stage to acknowledge that the program was starting late. With an audience that numbered many family and friends within it, allowances will be made for any challenges facing the company.  But expecting the audience to wait for almost an hour after the published start time, with no public explanation, is taking loyalty and patience too much for granted. 

In addition, there were technical problems throughout the evening. On several occasions, the wrong soundtrack began, once in the middle of a dance piece, leaving dancers waiting on stage to begin a new sequence.  Light cues seemed somewhat random, suggesting that the company was adapting to what the Ursuline Performing Arts Center already had programmed rather than implementing a design that was created for each dance.  Although the program indicated that there would be a ‘pause’ between each piece, Mr. Keen needs to consider costume changes as he arranges the program in order to diminish the awkwardness of those pauses.

The highlight of the evening for me was the most recent piece in the program, the eponymously named Keen (2013).  In this piece, the ensemble was, indeed, at its most keen. Costumed in brilliant blue, with swirling movements that at times paying homage to African dance forms, the dancers were at their most cohesive, and Mr. Keen’s choreography was at its most sophisticated. In this piece, his command of the ensemble as a whole together with the variations for smaller combinations of dancers lifted the evening to its highest level; the final image of the company was stark and specific, and brought an almost audible gasp from the audience.

The one piece in the program not choreographed by Mr. Keen was J. P. Flores’ Breathing and he also danced the piece. Set to Pachelbel’s Canon, this piece suggests that dance is indeed the breath of life, with fluid movements from the most expansive to the most contracted. Mr. Flores is one of KDT’s most assured dancers, and this solo piece naturally plays to his strengths as a dancer. There were two other solo pieces in the program, both named for the respective songs on which they were set. (More information about music selections would have been a welcome addition to the program notes.) In the first half, Maeve Boldron danced Nobody Does It Better. Ms. Boldron brought intensity and a playful sexiness to this piece that caught the audience’s attention. Steven Jeudy danced Someone To Watch Over Me in the second half, a piece that suggests both the need for that someone and the loneliness when that someone does not materialize. Mr. Keen has clearly choreographed this specifically for Mr. Jeudy, highlighting his extension and pirouettes, specialties that were also showcased each time this dancer performed.

The other pieces in the program were four ensemble pieces. The evening began with Apocalyptica, which unfortunately had the most technical glitches, interrupting the flow of the three-part piece, two ensemble sequences interspersed with a solo by Mr. Flores.  In his program notes, Mr. Keen talks of his organic process, creating space for the dancers’ natural reactions to shape the pieces. Coupled with the range of experience within his company, this is not always felicitous. At times, the kinesthetic responses ripple through the ensemble in a way that supports the moment; at other times, it just looks as if some dancers are not quite in sync with the others. And this was most noticeable in this piece. Much more powerful was the all-female A Woman Scorned. Described as a piece in which women deal with emotional and physical wounds, the dancers clearly had internalized these conditions, and this was the most somber piece of the evening. The two pieces that bracketed part two of the evening get to the essence of this company – they love to dance – I Heart Dance and 4 On The Floor.  The first number was a joyful celebration of dancing culminating in a final image that brought the dancers into a traditional circle with Mr. Jeudy in characteristic pose in the center. The evening ended with an exuberant homage to disco; with jewel-tone costumes that took us back in time, the dancers individualized their disco moves within an overall arc of dance party music. Their enjoyment of this final piece was palpable and engaging.

Keen Dance Theater

January 25, 2013

At The Ursuline Arts Center
3114 Lexington Road
Louisville, KY 40206

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Lively Mix of Film Music From Conductor Bernhardt and the Louisville Orchestra

Featured solist, Michael Chertock.

 Nightlites: Classics Goes to the Movies

Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Featuring Michael Chertock, piano

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

As popular and accessible as film music often is, it is arguably taken for granted more frequently than other forms. Throughout the history of the medium, a good number of musical scores have proved to be truly memorable, rising to iconic status as cultural markers and helping to define the popular culture. Yet our relationship to such music is almost entirely through the digital sound of our local cinema or our home theatre systems. So it is a rare and welcome opportunity to hear some of this music performed live by a first-class orchestra, where the warmth and resonance of the concert hall can open our ears to layers of detail that are sometimes obscured by the onscreen action.

Conductor Bob Bernhardt’s program for this concert draws upon well-known pieces from the classical repertoire that were famously pressed into service: Also Spracht Zarathustra by Richard Strauss(from 2001: A Space Odyssey); Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major (Elvira Madigan); and several equally well-known original film scores: Gone with the Wind, Exodus.

The opportunity to hear such compositions removed from the context of the film narrative they were intended to support allows appreciation of the force and impact of the music that is only sometimes possible in the cinema itself. A particularly fine example was on display this evening when pianist Michael Chertock and the Louisville Orchestra delivered a performance of Exodus: Tone Picture that seemed even richer and more nuanced than the original. Mr. Chertock’s fluid and delicate playing lifted the piece beyond the sometimes over-emphatic nature of Ernest Gold’s composition and allowed us to hear the familiar work with new appreciation. And this a highlight of an evening that included strong renditions of the aforementioned Mozart Piano Concerto, as well as the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Both were beautifully executed, but it is a testament to Mr. Chertock’s formidable talent and Mr. Bernhardt’s care in selection that this film score stood up alongside such masterworks without shame.

Another high point was the inclusion of Pietro Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalaria Rusticana. The piece figured prominently in The Godfather, Part III, and Mr. Bernhardt introduced it as “the most beautiful five minutes of music in opera” – a statement that might strike some as a risky thing to proclaim just before performing the piece. But the conductor and his players proved the point with a reading that was graceful and stirring.

Mr. Chertock finished his evening with a lighthearted piece by American composer Michael Daugherty entitled Le Tombeau de Liberace – 4, Candelabra Rhumba. There was no listing in the program, so what, if any, film it appeared in is up for question (a search of IMDB provided no results). But the Liberace homage was another shift in tone in a program that was eclectic and unexpected. The Latin rhythms of the material showcased the percussion section as much as the piano keyboard and were an effective interjection of liveliness and humor just before the finale.

Said finale, a suite from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl by Klaus Badelt, was a last-minute substitution and therefore also not listed in the program. Here was the only disappointment of the evening. Routine and bombastic music that only barely rises above the average big-budget action film score, it was given an energetic reading here that brought out the sweep and pace that are its only distinguishing characteristics; but it failed to provide a proper finish. Whatever difficulties prevented the advertised Symphonic Suite from Lord of the Rings (conductor Bernhardt was not telling) from being included were a wet blanket on an otherwise well-chosen selection of material that nicely balanced the populist appeal of film scores with their better-regarded classical cousins.

Nightlites: Classics Goes to the Movies

Thursday, January 24, 2013, at The Brown Theatre
Friday, January 25, 2013, at The Ogle Center

The Louisville Orchestra at
The Ogle Center, Indiana University Southeast
Grant Line Road, New Albany, IN

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, 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 CafĂ© 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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lift Every Voice and Sing

A Place in Time:  Twenty Stories of Port William
by Wendell Berry
Berkeley, California:  Counterpoint
368 pp.; $28

Reviewed by Katherine Dalton

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Katherine Dalton. All rights reserved.

Some of these stories are so funny.  I thought I had better say that before I say anything else, because Wendell Berry, being a serious-minded man much occupied with justice, is often elegiac.  But if a lot of his fiction is occupied with loss, there is always gain in it, and a lot of that gain comes in the form of both love and humor. 

I defy any of you to read the story “Down in the Valley Where the Green Grass Grows” and not laugh out loud. And I feel sure that in a notebook somewhere, or in the back of Mr. Berry's extensive memory, is every single funny turn of phrase he has heard in his long life.  He is a man deeply in love both with his place and the language of his place; and where there is language, there is a joke with a kick in it.

The last previous collection of short stories (complete to that point) came out in 2004, and the last novel was Andy Catlett, published in 2007; Mr. Berry is 78 now, so this new collection is not just a pleasure but an event. When I read the collected stories several years back, I was struck with their continuity, not just of character, but of theme and style. Wendell Berry has been a remarkably consistent writer. Apparently, at some point when he was in his twenties, the imagined community of Port William jumped full grown out of his head. 

But then Port William has its roots in a real place, though it is not a real place. It is the small towns of Henry County, Kentucky, distilled through the mind and memory of this native son, and through the mind and memory of his parents and grandparents and brother and neighbors too. Mr. Berry said once in an interview (and I am paraphrasing from what I hope is an accurate memory) that Port William was his own community as it would have been if it were able to know itself articulately, and speak of itself to itself. That self-knowledge and self-descriptive speech is not realistic in the real-world sense, but it is truthful. 

Some of that truth is sorrowful, because living is always going to be significantly about loss; and if a writer's job is to witness to life as he sees it, Mr. Berry has never been one to duck a hard task. But then again he can be so joyfully funny. In the story about Big Ellis's courtship, Berry writes:  “Big was late getting married. Marriage was a precaution he didn't think of until his mother died and left him alone to cook and housekeep for himself. And then he really began to hear the call of matrimony.”

The story of “Burley Coulter's Fortunate Fall” begins, “It has been a long, long time since old Uncle Bub Levers was called on to pray at the Bird's Branch church for the first and last time in his life, and he stood up and said, 'O Lord, bless me and my son Jasper. Amen.'”

But humorous or poignant or both, all the Port William stories are about relationships knitting together a world that is constantly unraveling in our fingers. They are often most optimistic in their sorrow, because few writers know better than sorrow is the Siamese twin of joy:  that whatever is dearest to us we fear most to lose, and will lose – and yet we had it. No writer is more sensitive to the gratitude of having had.

A Place in Time is full of wonderful lines. Among the passages I have marked is this one, said by Burley Coulter about his young nephews:  “At first they believed everything I said, and then they didn't believe anything I said, and then they believed some of the things I said.  That was the best of their education right there, and they got it from me.”  We are getting it, too.

Monday, January 21, 2013

“Acridly Funny” Production of Witness Opens at The Alley Theater

Christopher Folan, Jessica Vautard & Joey Arena in Witness.
Photo by Natalie Schoenbaechler.


By Terrence McNally
Directed by Joey Arena

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Craig Nolan Highley.  All rights reserved.

If you’re looking for a short evening of theater with enough intelligence to keep you scratching your head, you could do worse than check out The Alley Theater’s current production of Terrence McNally’s early play, Witness.

Having premiered off-Broadway in 1968, it is normally paired with another of McNally’s early plays but is presented alone here (hence the short, under-an-hour runtime). It does seem a little dated (it's an obvious satire on the Kennedy assassination), but mostly succeeds thanks to a game cast and good direction by Joey Arena.

Right from the start we know something is off. A repairman (Scott Davis) is trussed up and gagged in a chair. His captor is a young man (Christopher Folan) who hopes to assassinate the President of the United States during a motorcade that will be passing by just under his apartment window, and he wants a witness to his own sanity in committing the act. We are led to believe that the young man has been driven mad by endless newspaper reading and television watching. He knows all about the cabinet crises in Lebanon, but he doesn't know right from wrong. He hopes to resolve his baffled impotence with a high-powered rifle shot.
Two other potential witnesses show up on the scene: first, a hilariously surly window washer (Joey Arena), who coolly surveys the tied-up man straining to free his bonds and seems oblivious to his gagged pleas and his plight; and second, an attractive telephone saleslady (Jessica Vautard) who lives upstairs and seems equally unfazed by the situation. An atmosphere of hysterical malediction gradually infests the room, leading to an unexpected and hilarious climax.
The show is almost undone by a flat and one-note performance by Christopher Folan as the central young man character; the script calls for him to be speaking almost constantly and yet his voice never varies. The opening monologue, for example, consisting of his side of a telephone conversation, drones on and on and tries the audience’s patience. He shows potential, but really needs to increase the emotional range in his performance.
The rest of the cast makes the show worth watching. Director Joey Arena is hysterically funny as the gruff window washer who has seen (and is ready with an opinion on) everything; and Scott Davis keeps your attention in what could have been a throwaway role as the bound and gagged repairman. He never says a single word, but his eyes and facial expressions speak volumes. Finally, Jessica Vautard makes the most of her eye-candy role as the invited guest who shows up late in the play and provides a possible love interest and potential way out for the would-be assassin.
The set by Jeffrey Harris and the lighting effects by Sterling Pratt, along with Arena’s direction, make excellent use of the small space of the Alley Theater, and certainly deserve to be seen by more than the tiny audience that attended opening night.
Despite the grisly theme, the play is acridly funny in the playwright's suggestion that society is teetering toward terror, anarchy and nihilism. And as Arena asks in his director’s notes: Has the outlook changed in the last forty years? Come see this show and see what you think.

Starring Joey Arena, Scott Davis, Christopher Folan, and Jessica Vautard.

January 17-25, 2013

The Alley Theater
1205 E. Washington St.
Louisville, KY 40206

Funny and Heartfelt Crimes Comes to Clarksville

Playwright Beth Henley

Crimes of the Heart

By Beth Henley
Directed by Russell Scott Spencer
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

If there’s one thing my Southern Drama class taught me in college, it’s that every play written within the genre is a tragedy. But what if it’s funny and heartfelt? And what if the characters are laughing at the end with icing on their faces? Is it still a tragedy? Clarksville Little Theater is producing Crimes of the Heart this month, and they have willingly stepped up to the challenge of producing a play with dark dramatic moments and laugh-out-loud bits interspersed throughout.

The play centers on the McGrath family, a trio of sisters who have seen more than their fair share of hardships. Whether it is attempted murder, suicide, infidelity or crushed dreams of stardom, the three sisters share a bond that is unbreakable despite trying times. Cathy Butler-Weathersby plays the oldest sister, Lenny. The caretaker for the ailing grandfather and coming to terms with her thirties, Butler-Weathersby shined in the play’s comedic moments. She was strongest in lighter scenes as when she playfully tries to stick a candle in a cookie or when she angrily throws chocolates at her sister Meg.

Lenny has two sisters, Meg and Babe, played by Heidi C Platt and Rachel Hatcher, respectfully, each touched by their own bit of tragedy and scandal. With Platt, there was a full grasp on Meg’s brash and wild personality, but I would have liked to have seen the performer focus on her fall from glory as a rising star in Hollywood. Although she is very entertaining to watch while she zips around the room in her colorful outfits fetching cokes and asking for bourbon, there was a want for depth as she struggles with the fact that her dreams and hopes of becoming a star might not ever be conquered. Hatcher’s portrayal of Babe, on the other hand, required maturity. Babe is a senator’s wife swept up in a controversy of both adultery and racism. Hatcher did her best to resemble a woman in the midst of such hardship, even though her portrayal of such struggles carried less weight in heavier scenes. When paired with Brandon Saylor as Barnette Lloyd, a lawyer and admirer, scenes between this potentially flirtatious couple fell short of any kind of flattery. Saylor, on the other hand, provided a strong support for the production as a whole.

As this is a play about bonds between family members, the production is at its best during scenes in which all MaGraths are on stage, with the addition of Lauren Van Fossen as Chick. Van Fossen definitely deserves kudos as the busybody cousin. Though she is in fewer scenes than the other ladies on stage, she provides energy as high as the notes she sings offstage before her entrances. The chemistry between these women provides sweetness to a play where conflicts are definitely harsh and hard to swallow.

Crimes of the Heart

January 18-20; 24-26

Clarksville Little Theater
301 E. Montgomery Ave
Clarksville, IN 47129

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dumb Comedy with Brains: The Comedy Duo of Nick and Corey Tell Some Stories

Nick and Corey Tell Some Stories: Short Plays, Tall Laughs

A Bottoms Up Theater Production

Reviewed by Keith Waits.

Entire contents copyright © 2013, Keith Waits, all rights reserved.

If you are looking for laughs in the local theatre scene, the improvisational scene is alive and well: The Louisville Improvisors, Damaged Goods, and Derby City Dating Scene are active, and late nights at The Alley Theater, while not strictly improv, rely heavily on that same spirit.

Nick Potter and Corey Music are doing something a little different. This show, under the banner of their company Bottoms UpTheater, is scripted material that picks up a tradition seldom seen in today’s popular culture: the comedy team. Think Martin & Lewis or Abbott & Costello. Two performers portraying characters that are likely based to some degree upon themselves, using their actual names, but that are fictional alter egos allowed to indulge in behavior that would get normal people arrested. The comparison is more apt when one considers that most of their work consists of increasingly polished comedy videos that can be found on the Bottoms Up you tube channel and which have recently developed to a level of quality that would be welcome on the acclaimed Funny or Die website
The Overly Helpful Bathroom Attendant is a particular favorite of mine).

This live version, which has been in the works for more than a year, having been delayed from an earlier date in July 2012, is slightly uneven but mostly successful at finding the laughs. The material seems somewhat less pointed and direct in its satire than the video work, although there was some nice commentary on ongoing cultural obsessions with chic vampires and zombie paranoia, and a zany and suitably overly complex meditation on time-travel paradox. It is a potent mix of sketches of varying lengths, some qualifying as short plays and some as brief and unexpected one-off jokes.

The best material is constructed around a provocative idea or notion, which is then used not only to build comedic effect but also to define the Nick and Corey personalities and how their unique dynamic would play out in a particular circumstance, such as Nick and Corey Are Homeless, or Nick and Corey At A Restaurant (yes, each bit is titled thusly). The latter piece is particularly sharp in its conflict, showing Nick being a total d**k when being waited on by his best friend, Corey. Nick is typically a near sociopath who thinks little of getting the more innocent Corey fired or roping him  into robbing a bank with no warning. Yet whatever the consequences, the friendship always survives.

Perhaps the two characters might be better defined and contrasted against one another; as it is, they often seem too much alike in their personalities, and their finish-each-others-sentence patter reinforces the similarity. If that is the desired effect, they have achieved it; but the most memorable material features that conflict and contrast and has resonance as a result. They also probably say “dude” way too often. Even for slacker characters such as these, it wore out its welcome.

The level of performance is high energy and fast-paced, with strong and reliable support from four members of the Bottoms Up company: David Miller, Patrick Bayne, Colby Ballowe (who wrote one very thoughtful piece entitled, of course, Nick and Corey Did Not Write This) and Kate Holland, who opened the evening with a charming theme song.

Nick and Corey Tell Some Stories: Short Plays, Tall Laughs

January 17-20, 24- 26

The Bard’s Town Theatre
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205