Tradition Meets Innovation in the Louisville Ballet’s “Breaking Ground”


kycenterfortheartsWhile most people’s experience of the ballet is something more traditional such as The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, the dance form has not remained stagnant over the years. New exciting choreography is being developed even now in Louisville, KY as was shown in this weekend’s Breaking Ground (April 12 & 13) presented by the Louisville Ballet.

First, the most important question: was it worthwhile to attend? The answer is a resounding yes! Not only was this a fascinating mix over 150 years of ballet history, but it had just the right amount of concrete story and abstract whimsy to take the audience on a fascinating journey.

There were excerpts from three traditional dances: Paquita, Spring Waters and Le Corsaire. Paquita was the longest here, with amazing technical skill and the most fully realized story considering it was an excerpt from a full 2-act performance. Spring Waters, while less than 10 minutes long, held some of the most impressive aerial leaps I’ve ever seen. Le Corsaire featured jaw-dropping non-stop spins that reminded me just how athletic you have to be to dance ballet.

These traditional pieces helped give perspective for the more contemporary pieces. The first was the world premiere of Silent Conversations, choreographed by Louisville Ballet dancer Brandon Ragland. It was a dark, complicated piece using shadows and very subdued outfits to immediately set the scene. Some of the motions were jarring for those in the audience who hadn’t seen contemporary ballet before. However, it didn’t take long to settle into the complex emotions and relationships Ragland was describing with his dancers: self-doubt, the way we string others along, the perfect life that’s flawed behind closed doors, the recovery of lost love and more.

Coming from an art background, the contemporary pieces were some of my favorite because I’m used to trying to translate subtle cues into full concepts. However, after the performance I was in an elevator with an older couple. The gentleman looked around and asked “Ok, so who wants to explain what that was all about?” Clearly, contemporary pieces aren’t straight forward, but we can all appreciate the artistry involved!

The last performance was also the world premiere of Ten Beautiful Objects by Adam Hougland, Louisville Ballet’s principal choreographer. Featuring an all-male cast, Ten Beautiful Objects was a new, edgy piece meant to be abstract and emotional. While it’s very much up to interpretation, it was clear the dark atmosphere and individualization of the dancers flowing in and out of the whole group was meant to showcase unique personalities among a larger collective. There seemed to be a battle between trying to be both part of the crowd and yet retain each one’s unique self.

I was in awe almost constantly during this production. My mouth hanging open in silent astonishment at the precision, strength, agility and coordination needed to make these pieces the fluid, powerful production they were. In an age of 3D, computer generated everything, it’s humbling to attend a ballet and be reminded of humanity’s amazing physical abilities. The artistry and athleticism make this not just a sport, but a great place to engage our abstract minds and develop our sense of wonder.

The Louisville Ballet has announced their next season and it looks to be a very exciting line up, so if you missed Breaking Ground, definitely come to see another production starting in September!