Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Enthusiastic Cast and a Colorful Production: CenterStage Presents "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

Andrew Lloyd Weber & Tim Rice.
Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by John R. Leffert

Review by Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

This was my first time seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, though I’ve heard the music many times on countless Andrew Lloyd Webbers CDs and recognized most of the songs. If you’re not familiar, it’s a comical opera based on the biblical story of Joseph and his "coat of many colors." It satirizes the story in many ways but is a family-friendly musical. CenterStage’s current production plays up the comical aspect of the musical, and nothing stays too serious for too long.

The show opens with a chorus of children on stage dressed in bright pastel T-shirts, the children of Israel. Immediately, you know this isn’t going to be a realistic retelling of the story. As they sing, Joseph solemnly enters the crowd singing "Any Dream Will Do," the theme song of the piece and one of the more earnest songs of the play. He stops to gently touch a child’s face or bestow a benevolent look. It’s a little schmaltzy, but called for.

As the story goes, Joseph is a dreamer, literally, and the favorite son of his father. He is doing quite well until his dad gives him that coat of many colors – and his life changes. His jealous brothers sell him into slavery, and all those dramatic biblical-sized problems descend upon him.

Robbie Lewis as Joseph is a calm and confident performer with a solid voice. He might not be a knock out exactly, but he does the job. And there is enough tenderness in him to get the songs across, particularly in numbers like "Close Every Door," which requires a certain haunted quality. 

Other notable performers include Tyler Johnson-Campin, whose "Benjamin Calypso" was absolutely infectious. I had to Google the lyrics because I couldn’t get them out of my head. This kid had a ton of energy and really stood out among the ensemble members.  

Brian Bowles was also good as the Pharaoh, an Elvis-like celebrity who makes women faint with a mere glance. My big problem with this scene (and with a few of the songs) was that some of the lyrics were hard to understand. For an opera, that’s really important, because information gets missed. It took me a while to figure out what the pharaoh was talking about. Part of this may have been due to the accent. Bowles' Elvis impersonation, however, was pretty good and certainly committed.

The costumes are modern, with an ancient Egyptian twist, which fits in well with the style of the play.  The Pharaoh’s headdress is Egyptian-like but sequined in the vein of an Elvis impersonator. Overall, the effect of the costumes was to unite the players and support the dreamlike world of the play. 

There is, of course, a great deal of smiling and dancing in this show. The dancing, though not complexly choreographed, was well executed by the ensemble, all of whom were deeply enthusiastic.

This production is absolutely well done with a talented group of performers who, even if they don’t blow you out of the water, will make you crack a smile. Oh, and the kids were very sweet and expressive and added a great deal of life to the work. 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
February 21-March 3
The Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205
(502) 459-0660

Sunday, February 24, 2013

“Genuine, Authentic Anomaly” in the Work of Michelle Word

Michelle Word, Drosraceae, Mixed-Media, 2010.

Michelle Word: Applied Floralistics
New Works of Mixed-Media Collage Installation

Preview by Lisa Simon

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Lisa Simon. All rights reserved.

And now for something completely different…

How often do you encounter originality? Not some re-hashed, updated, appropriated, two-point-o version of thinking-out-of-the box freshness. I mean genuine, authentic anomaly.

I had to think hard about it to find those instances in my life. But what jumped to mind immediately is when I met (1) Christy, my insane teen-mom anarcho-vegan traveling mate; (2) Mary Carothers, my insane anarcho-omnivore professor of (social practice) photography; and (3) Michelle Word, my insane art school studio-mate.

When I first met Michelle she was wearing feathers in her hair, a skirt pulled up to her armpits and some sort of vest that some kindergarten teacher/grandmother made as a gift in 1987. When I first saw her work, I thought, “Where is the negative space? I don’t understand you at all. We are going to get along famously.”

That was ten years ago, and I am happy to report that she has only gotten weirder. Ms. Word’s artwork is mixed-media collage on Armstrong-levels of performance enhancing drugs. Collecting unlawful amounts of found paper, thrift store fabrics, odd objects and homespun mementos, Word sews it all together with discordant color, texture and an explosive compositional-sense that completely negates the regularity of the square canvas format. These works must be contained, because they are infectious. Like salted watermelon, you wouldn’t think it, but it works.

The only thing “regular” about her two-dimensional body of work is that they are contained within a picture plane. Their formal chromatic combustion gives the viewer pause – you have to figure this work out. What is the artist using and what is this image doing? Conversely, the aesthetic of Word’s collage installations is quiet, floral, exhibiting a sense of melancholic gravity that makes you want to sit down because the world is heavy and this work is so light.

Now, I must contradict myself for a moment to state that her work has artistic correlatives. Julie Mehretu and Matthew Ritchie, both compositional strati formers, would find Ms. Word’s work exceptionally compelling. Annette Messager would completely dig the installations and offer to share her stuffed animal collection with Ms. Word.

Now Louisville can see for itself. Michelle has a one-woman show opening at the Krantz Gallery, at Jefferson Community and Technical College. The opening is Tuesday, February 26, from 4 to 6 p.m. Come and meet the artist. She may possibly be wearing a Sunday hat, opera gloves and a mohair poncho.

Michelle Word: Applied Floralistics
New Works of Mixed-Media Collage Installation

February 26 – March 29, 2013

Krantz Art Gallery,
Jefferson Community and Technical College
1st and Chestnut Sts.
Louisville, KY 40202
Hours: Mon-Thurs, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Fri, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Moving Collective Offers “Accessible and Thought Provoking” Modern Dance Experience

Stories Gathered postcard

Stories Gathered

Moving Collective Dance Company

By Kathi E. B. Ellis

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

Moving Collective’s winter concert was at the Clifton Center on Saturday, February 23.  The theme was Stories Collected, and the concert featured two Moving Collective premieres, as well as the premiere of their first commissioned piece. In addition the program featured two guest groups, collectivo caliban and Alternative Movement Project, reflecting that the evening was about gathering together and sharing stories.

The strongest pieces of the evening were the commissioned Potters (seeds then wheats), choreographed by Rodney A. Brown; and Layers, choreographed by Moving Collective founder Teresa Bautista. Layers is a charming and quirky triptych of sketches about what happens when we cover ourselves in layers and/or strip ourselves of those layers – literal or metaphorical. It was clear that the Moving Collective dancers enjoyed this piece. Bundled in multiple layers of clothing, the dancers began the first section with elaborate mime of putting on clothes, and throughout this part the real clothes were swept off, ending with a human huddle at the top of which was a dancer leaning over the group with arched back – at which point a delighted chuckle went round the auditorium as it was revealed that her final layer was a pregnant belly. The second two movements explored the liberation that comes with no restraints. Potters (seeds then wheats) brought together Ms. Bautista with current Moving Collective co-producer Amanda Johnson and Nicole AndrĂ©, dancing together with an assuredness and connectedness that made this piece the core of the evening. Mr. Brown’s choreography combines a strong lyricism with angular accents that accentuated the physical contrasts of the three dancers.

The other Moving Collective piece, Rise, for which both music and choreography is somewhat coyly attributed to The Album Leaf, was an appropriate curtain-riser as all the dancers began lying on the floor. If this piece was collectively choreographed or improvised from the inspiration of the music, let the audience know! If the musician contributed to the movement, again, be transparent; such cross-discipline collaborations are of interest to those who support arts organizations. This slender two-part piece gives the Moving Collective an opportunity to showcase its dancers both as an ensemble and in multiple combinations of duets, trios and other smaller ensembles. In both this piece and in Layers, the company should seek a different convention than just a blackout between movements. Audience members were unsure of whether or not these pieces were finished or not, as there were multiple blackouts and "pauses" between each complete dance piece.

Alternative Movement Project, out of Minneapolis, contributed Darker Stage of Daylight and Lol-la-pa-LOO-za to the evening. Now in its third year, AMP is clearly a company that is very comfortable performing together, and it was refreshing to see more sophisticated production values for these pieces, a cohesive costume design, and lighting design to support the stories told. The trio of Megan Halsey, Jennifer Mack and Choulette Navarro in Daylight dances together with an ease borne of long-term colleagues. The larger AMP ensemble, in the second piece, also fills the stage with confidence. However, the choreography of both Ms. Howe and Ms. Lees is less than dynamic, and somewhat repetitive; and despite the extensive program notes I found little in the movement on stage to support the articulated themes.

Also joining Moving Collective is collective caliban. Placed in the program immediately following the short Rise, the performers took almost as long to set up the instruments and floor covering, and to carry on a chair, as their piece was to last; all of this was done in full view of an increasingly restive and somewhat amused audience. If the audience is to be privy to setting up a piece, then provide a change in lighting that makes this intentional; if not, closing the curtain signifies the need for a long set up period. In the Memory of Hope is listed in the program as having "improvography." The piece is comprised of a dancer, musician and poet. It is not entirely clear if all elements are improvised or if there is any set element. Setting dance to spoken word can be compelling – in part because we are acculturated to expect music. However, here it almost felt redundant; it was difficult to hear Ms. Canfield, and her circumlocutions of the dance space neither connected nor distanced her from danah bella (dancer and improvographer). Live music is always an advantage in dance performances, and John Priestley bowed metal bowls to create iterated and layered reverberations throughout the piece. danah bella has a compelling stage presence, which became the heart of a piece that is clearly of more significance to the performers than it is accessible to an audience.

In her program note, Ms. Johnson writes of Moving Collective’s goal to keep contemporary dance alive in Louisville. It is unfortunate that this intention is an ongoing struggle – as evidenced by the diminishment of The Kentucky Center’s modern dance programming over the years and by the number of local modern dance groups that have come and gone. Offering only one or two concerts a year (their next concert is in Lexington as part of the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts programming) makes it an additional challenge to garner followers who are not connected to the company through the dancers—which appeared to be the majority of Saturday’s audience. With choreographers like Ms. Bautista and Mr. Brown, Moving Collective offers Louisville audiences a modern dance experience that is both accessible and thought provoking. Their commitment to working with other modern dance organizations brings additional perspectives to Louisville audiences, and I look forward to seeing new and different collaborators at future concerts.

Stories Gathered

February 23, 2013

Moving Collective at
The Clifton Center
2117 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40206

Derby Dinner Pulls Off “Great Production of A Great Play”

Ricky Cona as Seymour and Jillian Prefach as Audrey
in Little Shop of Horrors. Photo - Derby Dinner Playhouse.

Little Shop of Horrors

Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Based on the Film by Roger Corman and Screenplay by Charles Griffith
Directed by Lee Buckholz

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

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

When cult director Roger Corman threw together a quick (shot in two days!) and cheap exploitation film called The Little Shop of Horrors way back in 1960, he could never have anticipated the cultural phenomenon he’d created. Not only did the film launch the career of Jack Nicholson, but this Faust-in-a-florist-shop story went on to inspire one of the most successful off-Broadway musicals of all time.

Premiering at the WPA theater in 1982, Little Shop of Horrors was the first major success for songwriting team Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who later went on to rescue Disney’s animated film division with their work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The show also inspired the much loved film version in 1986, which featured Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.

But none of that quite takes away from the sheer brilliance of the stage show. Mixing a Motown-flavored score with utterly brilliant (and sometimes a bit gruesome) black comedy, it’s easy to see why this show has endured. It even made its way to Broadway in 2003 (a feat accomplished by very few long-closed off-Broadway productions).  It’s a personal favorite of mine, so I was thrilled to get to see it again with a new staging at Derby Dinner Playhouse.

The show is set around and about a struggling florist shop in an urban skid row neighborhood, complete with homeless people shuffling around and sleeping on the sidewalk.  Here we meet sad, shy and socially awkward Seymour (Ricky Cona) as he longs for a better life. He also pines for his beautiful co-worker Audrey (Jillian Prefach), another lost soul dreaming of getting out of skid row. Their employer, Mr. Mushnik (Kevin Crain), the owner of the failing shop, is just about at his wits’ end.

Everything changes when Seymour discovers a new breed of flytrap, which he affectionately names Audrey II. When he puts it in the store window, business picks up. Unfortunately, Audrey II needs blood to survive, which Seymour reluctantly provides from his own fingers. Eventually, though, the bloodthirsty plant grows to an enormous size with an appetite to match.

Performances in the show are almost unanimously on the money. It took a while to get used to Cona’s nasally voiced characterization of Seymour, but he was completely endearing in the role. Prefach displays an amazing singing voice as Audrey and is quite lovely to look at too. It does seem she’s copying Ellen Greene’s portrayal from the 1986 film, but then again, I’m not sure there is really any other way the character can be played.

Also worth noting are Tymika Prince, Illy Kirven and Tamika Skaggs as Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon. They are three dropout street urchins who perform as the show’s Greek Chorus, giving constant comment on the action through their Supremes-inspired musical numbers.  All three are in fine voice and are crucial to keeping the show’s momentum building.

But the real stars of the evening have to be Rendell Debose as Audrey II’s speaking and singing voice, and Lem Jackson as the puppeteer who brings the monster to life. The two work together to create an amazing piece of visual theater that just has to be seen and heard to believe.  I also must give a shout out to The Hastey Pudding Puppet Company who created the amazing puppet creations. They are quite amazing.

The only real problem I had with the production was the miscasting of Matthew Bryan Feld as Audrey’s abusive dentist boyfriend, a character whose fate is a pivotal turning point in the storyline. The character is supposed to be a lovable villain, and while Feld appears to be a capable actor and has a great singing voice, he just doesn’t create any menace in the role. Rather he comes off as kind of a nice guy with a friendly demeanor; this may have been a conscious choice by both actor and director, but it really doesn’t work in the context of the show.

That’s a minor complaint, however, as overall this is one of the best productions I have ever seen at Derby Dinner – hands down. Director Lee Buckholz keeps his cast energized throughout, and the stage pictures he has created are nothing short of brilliant. His scenic design makes amazing use of the Playhouse’s inherent limitations, nicely complimented by Ron Breedlove’s lighting. I was skeptical whether this show could be done at Derby Dinner, but I’m delighted to say they have pulled it off in spades!

I will offer one note of caution:  If you are only familiar with the show from the 1986 film version, be warned that the show doesn’t have the movie’s bright and happy ending. I heard more than one comment from other audience members that they were shocked by the show’s rather bleak resolution. All I will say on that is the show’s original ending is much more true to the story than the one in the film version.

But if you are a fan of the show, or either of the films, or just want to see something really unusual in live theater, you can do much worse than Derby Dinner’s Little Shop of Horrors. It’s a great performance of a great show that might even warrant repeated viewings!

Starring  Matthew Brennan, Megan Bliss, Kyle Braun, Ricky Cona, Kevin Crain, Rendell Debose, Matthew Bryan Feld, Lem Jackson, Illy Kirven, Jillian Prefach, Tymika Prince and Tamika Skaggs.

Little Shop of Horrors

February 19-March 30, 2013

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN

Is Identity Crisis Always This Much Fun? Chasing Ophelia at The Bard’s Town

Doug Schutte and Ryan Watson in Chasing Ophelia.
Photo - The Bard's Tow.n

Chasing Ophelia

Written by Doug Schutte
Directed by Scot Atkinson

Review by Keith Waits

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

I missed seeing this play, a wholly original piece of material from Doug Schutte, in its premiere production almost (can it really be?) two years ago. Luckily, since it features a nearly identical cast, we can see what I imagine to be a very close approximation of the original. Allowing for the inevitable growth and development of these actors, it might even be an improvement.

A hapless fellow by the name of Ned Mark enters and seems to have little to no sense of himself. That is because he is a character devised by a writer, or ”Creator,” but incomplete. Lacking in motivation or details, the plot follows his journey after a young woman named Joy, who seems to be in the same pickle. She attaches herself to William Shakespeare and the character of Ophelia, and before long Ned begins to encounter all manner of people from Hamlet, Julius Caesar and MacBeth.  

The post-modernist examination of the relationship between fictional characters and the writer who created them is nothing new. But if you believe it has been thoroughly exhausted, think again. This script is smart, quick and very funny; and it succeeds, in part, because it chooses to occupy a limited world of literary reference: the works of Shakespeare. Not that such environs are not populated sufficiently enough to allow over-indulgence, but Mr. Schutte never over-reaches in his attempts to spin our minds in circles. He achieves a fine-tuned balance of circular narrative and populist sense of humor that engages the intellect without unduly straining credulity.

We know the cast is familiar with the material, but that doesn’t entirely account for the expert playing and comic timing. These guys are good. Director Scot Atkinson keeps the action disciplined but leaves the actors enough space to go slightly out on a limb. Ryan Watson as Ned displays one of the driest, surest deadpans in town and guides us through the convoluted plot machinations with confidence. Beth Tantanella brings effortless charm and energy to Joy, and the various alter egos she inhabits. John Scheker, the one cast member who was not in the first production, seems entirely at home here, and his authoritative, professorial presence is just right; while Tad Timberlake’s impossibly rich, plumy voice effectively contrasts against the silliness and only makes it funnier. The silliness factor is ratcheted up by Jason Cooper and author Schutte, who make such a good comedy duo that one wonders why Mr. Schutte’s obviously fertile mind doesn’t get busy dreaming up a new script that could highlight their effective chemistry. 

This highly entertaining remount opens The Bard’s Town’s third season of original productions. Besides their own shows, the cozy venue hosts various other companies and boasts a performance calendar with nary an empty weekend. I dare say that there is not another theatre space in town that can claim such a varied roster of and as many offerings from Louisville-based companies. That it houses a regular company committed to original work, often by local writers, is as important as the Shakespeare-centric menu offered in the first floor restaurant.   

Chasing Ophelia

February 21 – March 3, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

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

The World Premiere of Alice in Black and White in Louisville: An Interview with Playwright Robin Rice Lichtig and Looking for Lilith’s Artistic Director Shannon Woolley

Playwright Robin Rice Lichtig.

By Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

New York playwright Robin Rice Lichtig is in town, as her new play Alice in Black and White is set to have its world premiere at Louisville’s Looking for Lilith Theatre Company. The play is about 19th century photographer Alice Austen. I sat down with Robin and Lilith’s artistic director Shannon Woolley to talk about the play and its inspiration.

Arts Louisville: Your new play Alice in Black and White is premiering at Looking for Lilith. Where did you get the idea for this play?

Robin Rice Lichtig: I live in New York City and I was on a hike in Staten Island and I discovered this Alice Austen Historic House. It turns out that it was the house of a woman who became a photographer back in the late 1800s. This was before photography was easy. It wasn’t digital ,and women definitely didn’t do it because it was a tremendous amount of equipment. Alice, at age ten, became fascinated by photography. Her photos are in the house. 

AL:  What drew you to her?

RRL: I became fascinated with her not only because she was obviously an extremely strong woman to have taken up photography, but she also lived her life the way women weren’t supposed to then. She didn’t get married, which meant that she didn’t have the financial security. She lived her life on her own terms and it wasn’t easy. If the story weren’t true, it would be like a melodrama. The fact is, it’s true and so, it’s quite amazing! 

RW: Do you focus on her entire life, or just a part of it?

RRL: It’s about her life starting at age ten, right up almost until the end. There is a parallel story that takes place in 1952 of a gentleman who edited a book in 1952 with Alice Austen photos in it. So his story, and it’s kind of a love story, is paralleling Alice’s. They see each other across time because they both have this intense interest in common. Eventually her story moves forward in time and his does not. Eventually the stories meet. 

Shannon Woolley: The structure of the play operates like turning the pages of a photo album, the way it moves slowly toward the climax. 

RRL: The scenes are definitely lifted from the photographs.

RW: How did you, Robin, become acquainted with Looking for Lilith?

RRL: As a playwright, I’ve come down to Humana five or six times. I know Louisville and I know a couple of people who are playwrights. Kathi Ellis, the director, is a friend of one of those people. Kathi and I have known each other for a few years.

SW: About four or five years ago, Kathi was directing a show for Looking for Lilith called Fabric Flames and Fervor: Girls of the Triangle. Robin was in town for the Humana Festival and came to see the show. She thought Looking for Lilith’s style of working really works with the way that she writes. Robin said, "I’ve got this great script, let’s look at it."

RW:  You must have responded well to her work then?
SW: When we read Alice in Black and White, it was like, "Oh, this is a Lilith story." The woman speaking to us from history and the fact that two of the characters literally speak to each other across the time and space continuum was something that interested us. There’s also a lot about Robin’s writing that lends itself to movement and physical representation, which is something that Looking for Lilith does a lot of.  It just turned out to be a great partnership. 

RRL: The first rehearsal I went to, the actors started doing the very Lilith stylized movement and a chill went up my spine. I just loved it. I mean this is totally what I want and it completes the action – it belongs there.

SW:  We’re also using period cameras and they are a character in the play. The first rehearsal that Robin came to was also when we were first putting the cameras together with the talking and the moving. 

RRL:  I mean it’s very physically demanding to put the cameras together. The actors are doing an amazing job. I didn’t realize what a difficult job I gave them. 

SW: And they’re so beautiful, the cameras: brass, wood, and building materials that we don’t see all the time. 

RRL: I can see where Alice would have not only been in love with taking photographs, but with that equipment. I was an artist before I started writing plays. I built my own silk screen, and I loved that screen. It was almost like a child. I took it everywhere with me. She felt the same about her cameras. 

SW: It’s a tactile physical relationship that she’s got with them. 

RW: Did you both do a lot of research to get this going? 

RRL: The actors did, one of the men, and we should say we have two men in this play.  Lilith has never had men on stage before; I’m honored.

SW: We never had adult men. This is the first time we’ve had grown men, and it’s really wonderful. 

RRL: I didn’t want to do too much research, though. There is a danger when you’re writing a play of over-researching. You’ll see plays where you can tell the writer did a lot of research and then couldn’t put it aside to make the play dramatic. What you also have to watch out for is if there are still living relatives who might have trouble. I’m okay with Alice Austen. I was a little iffy about the 1952 guy.
SW: This is a somewhat new experience for Lilith because a lot of the plays that we create with the company are based on oral history. You always have the experience at some point during the run of the play where you look out in the audience and the person whose words you’re saying is sitting out there. It’s a jolting moment. 

RW: Do you work really closely together on this project?

RRL: I just came to two run-throughs. At this point, I’m just sitting back because it’s way past me having anything to say about it. We made a couple of little tweaks. That’s really it.

SW:  It seems to me like our vision for realizing the story meshes pretty well with the words. 

RW: Is this different from your other work, Robin? 

RRL: I would say the sensibility is not different. They all have a musicality. Some are much less realistic. This is fairly realistic for me. Not like my play Frontier where the main character is an Alaskan wolf. I choose subjects that that I want to know more about. 

RW: Do you relate deeply to Alice’s character?

RRL: Oh, yeah. I relate to her artistic passion and her stubbornness. 

RW: Would you work together again on another piece?

RRL: I have some plays that I think would work for Lilith. 

SW: This has been a really great process.

RRL:  I would love to workshop a piece at Looking for Lilith and be there when the actors came up with the movement. I just love that. I eat it up! 

Alice in Black and White
by Robin Rice Lichtig
Directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis

7:30 p.m. on February 28, March 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9, with a 2 p.m. matinee on March 9 as well.

For reservations, call The Kentucky Center for the Arts Box Office at 502-584-7777 or 1-800-775-7777 or go to

Adult tickets will be $18. Student and senior tickets will be $15. LFL continues their new community night initiative on Monday, March 4, with ticket prices of $10. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

12 Questions for Kristopher Wojtera

Dancer Kristopher Wojtera.
Photo courtesy of Louisville Ballet.

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Arts-Louisville. All rights reserved

Born in Poland, Kristopher graduated from National Ballet School in Gdansk. He danced with the Polish National Theatre, where he portrayed roles in a variety of classical and contemporary ballets throughout Europe. Upon moving to the United States, he became a soloist with Columbia City Ballet (South Carolina). He joined the Louisville Ballet in 2003 as a first soloist and soon after began performing principal roles. In 2007, Kristopher was invited to perform Swan Lake with the English National Ballet. He has performed as a guest artist with the Ballet Theatre Midwest and the Governor’s School for the Arts in Virginia, among others. Kristopher is honored to have participated in the National Choreographers Initiative held in Irvine, California, for four consecutive years. Now a company member of the Louisville Ballet, March 1 and 2 he appears in their production of Romeo & Juliet.

1.    How long have you been a dancer?
I began studying ballet at the age of 10.

2.    What first influenced you in your choice to dance?
Miss Elizbeta Alabuszew-Kutek, who at the time was a modern teacher at the Polish National Ballet School, walked into my Gdansk classroom and handed out flyers to audition for a ballet school. Enthusiastically, I begged my parents to take me to the audition. I felt this was something special and I wanted to give it a try. I innocently assumed ballet was preparation for the circus, so you can imagine my level of confusion and curiosity during the audition experience. But when I impressed Mr. Kazimierz Wrzosek in the rhythm tests, a feeling came over me, even at such a young age, that I had found something special that I could master.

3.    Where have you trained?
Polish National Ballet School in Gdansk, Poland.

4.    How much time do you devote to training each week?
Before a 90-minute ballet class I take a yoga class, work out at my home gym, or do exercises on the Pilates machine. My rehearsal day runs from 11:15 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. five to six days a week. That may vary depending on our rehearsal schedule leading up to a performance.

5.    What has been your favorite role?
Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake.

6.    Is there a dream role you are hoping to do?
Petite Mort by Jiri Kylian.

7.    What inspires you?
Motivation. I love when someone helps me achieve more than I ever thought I could.

8.    What do you think is missing in the Louisville dance scene?
More performances and greater awareness; I feel Louisville Ballet has a lot to offer to the community. But we need community support to be at the forefront of the dance scene in Louisville. We have a strong classical repertoire and very attractive contemporary abilities. I would like to see Louisville Ballet have more opportunities to show off all of its talents. 

9.    As a performer, do you prefer classical or modern?
I feel great reverence for traditional classical ballet. But as a classical dancer, I also enjoy the freedom of movement in contemporary works.

10. What is the most common misconception about ballet?
That men wear pointe shoes.

11. If you were not a dancer, what would you be doing instead?
Soccer player or pianist.

12. What is on your iPod now?
Violet Knives.

Kristopher Wojtera in Cinderella.
Photo courtesy of Louisville Ballet.

Romeo & Juliet

Choreography by Alun Jones and Helen Starr

March 1 & 2 @ 8:00 p.m.
March 2 @ 2:30 p.m.

Louisville Ballet
The Kentucky Center, Whitney Hall
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Tackling Magnificent Rhythm in the Classics

Ludwig van Beethoven

Classics: Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

The Louisville Orchestra
Jorge Mester, conductor
Christopher Taylor, piano

Reviewed by Keith Waits

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

Of all the nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven, the seventh has always occupied a special place in my heart. It was one of the works that first motivated my interest in classical music, and its propulsive rhythms and subtle tonality make it a good entry point for anyone initiated in the pleasures of the classical repertoire. It is interesting to discover that the few critics of the piece (it was enthusiastically received by the public when it premiered on December 8, 1813) were convinced that the composer was either mad or drunk when he composed it.

Before the main event, conductor Jorge Mester launched the program with a lively selection from his Juilliard classmate, American composer Peter Schickele. Perhaps better known as a musical parodist under the sobriquet, P.D.Q. Bach (originating from comical concerts initiated at Juilliard with Mr. Mester), Mr. Schickele’s Concerto for Chamber Orchestra samples a serious and prolific composer with work characterized by an interplay of European structure and distinctly American motifs. There were lyrical moments worthy of Aaron Copland and a particularly lovely passage highlighting a cello and oboe exchange (Interim Principal Cellist Michael DeBruyn and Interim Principal Oboe Jennifer Potochnic). At the finish, a clearly delighted conductor beckoned the composer, who was in residence, to take a bow to a warm and appreciative audience who were already beginning to stand for their ovation.

Composer Peter Schickele
The next prelude was Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major by Franz Liszt, performed by Christopher Taylor. Here we were served another composition that featured fascinating conversations between instruments. Liszt provides many grandiloquent passages and romantic flourishes for the full orchestra to be sure, and the Maestro and his players did them full justice. But the delicate interplay between the First Violin of Michael Davis and Mr. Taylor’s piano that we find in the Quasi adagio was handled with great care and built a thread between the two pieces featured in the first half of the program. Mr. Taylor left a strong enough impression as to wish another piano piece had been included and his presence onstage extended.

Yet there was still the Beethoven symphony to tackle. For me the 7th has always seemed something of a precursor to the magnificent 9th with its chorale final movement, and perhaps Mr. Mester presents it in this program to prepare us for the April 2014 performance of that final Beethoven masterpiece. Whatever the reason, it is a piece worth revisiting again and again. It is a symphony that is famous for its rhythms and in the first movement, Poco sostenuto – Vivace, we get a taste for exactly what has made this composer so popular for 200 years. The dramatic shifts in modulations immediately engage the listener; there is little preamble.

The second movement, the Allegretto, is famous in its own right, singled out and sometimes performed alone even before it was featured in the Academy Award-winning film The King’s Speech. That it was utilized in that film to underscore the delivery of a speech painfully built upon rhythmic exercises illustrates the complex but forceful structures that characterize the entire symphony.  

The pace quickens in the third movement, a scherzo, and the final movement, Allegro con brio, provides an exciting finish, a whirling dervish of strings that moves with a propulsive energy to the climactic rise of the horns and timpani and the full release of the full orchestra in a magnificent capstone to a rewarding concert. When Beethoven conducted the premiere, his histrionic techniques were much commented upon. Mr. Mester may not be as outlandish, but there were moments when he appeared to be leading the orchestra with every part of his body, pulling the players ever further into the powerful performance.

Classics: Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

February 21, 2013 @ 10:30 a.m.
February 22, 2013 @ 8:00 p.m.

Louisville Orchestra
The Kentucky Center for the Arts
Whitney Hall
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Tickets 1.800.775.777 or online