The Louisville Ballet returns to the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall with their new season, which opens in October with Val Caniparoli’s “Lady of the Camellias,” a tragic romance based on the 19th century novel by Alexandre Dumas fils about the courtesan Marguerite and her doomed affair with Armand, a provincial member of the middle class. The original story has inspired numerous adaptations, including Verdi’s opera “La Traviata.”
“People will know from [Caniparoli’s] ‘Nutcracker’ that he’s a great choreographer, but he’s also very good at telling a story,” says artistic director Bruce Simpson. “In ‘Lady of the Camellias’ he does that exceptionally well.”
Caniparoli choreographed a new version of “The Nutcracker” for the Louisville Ballet four years ago. It returns for the traditional holiday run in December. Simpson says it’s important to him to work with versatile choreographers like Caniparoli, who don’t insist on a one-size-fits-all approach for his mid-sized company.
“Val knows the dancers very well and knows the Louisville community very well from having worked here on ‘Nutcracker’,” says Simpson. “We’re not American Ballet Theatre with 75 or 90 dancers.”
“He uses the resources and the talent available in Louisville to give our unique look to his ballet. I love working with choreographers who don’t just visit Louisville, but are interested in the company and the community here,” he adds.
Another famous pair of star-crossed lovers takes the stage in March. This version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is choreographed by former Louisville ballet directors Alun Jones and Helen Starr, and hasn’t been performed by the Ballet in 10 years.
“Both Juliet and Marguerite seem to have a sense of destiny, of an inevitability of the story,” says Simpson. “Both of those stories are about women being in love and fighting against the societies in which they live in.”
“Romeo and Juliet” is another production uniquely positioned to showcase the heritage of Louisville’s company, which includes several veteran dancers like Helen Daigle, Amanda Diehl and Emily Reinking-O’Dell.
“They bring that intellectual property to the ballets in the repertoire, and that adds a richness to the quality of the performances,” says Simpson. “You can’t have an 18-year-old straight out of school doing Lady Capulet. You have to have someone with gravity and gravitas and substance to her career.”
Simpson says the big challenge in season programming is selecting ballets with a wide appeal that show off the strengths of his company.
“In the jigsaw puzzle of trying to put a season together to please everyone—your younger members of the audience, your traditional members and also the artists of the company—and pay attention to what the community likes, I’m excited to put together a season that has elements of everything,” says Simpson. “It’s important that we don’t always do the ‘Swan Lake’s.”
The season will close in April with Breaking Ground, a mixed repertory show featuring two classics by Petipa, an energizing Messerer pas de deux to Rachmaninoff, a world premiere by resident choreographer Adam Hougland and a new ballet exploring relationships, space and silence by dancer Brandon Ragland.
Like many of the classical 19th century ballets, Petipa’s “Paquita” was designed to showcase the ballerinas, so for balance, Simpson asked Hougland to create a showcase for the company’s male dancers. These two pieces will bookend Breaking Ground, which will also include two pas de deux, Pepita’s “Le Corsaire” and Asaf Messerer’s “Spring Waters,” a fast and furious duet which Simpson calls “a glass of champagne.”
Ragland’s “Silent Conversation,” grew out of last year’s annual choreographer showcase. This year’s event will be held in January at the Louisville Ballet Studio.
“Certainly it’s hard enough to develop dancers, but to develop choreographers is really difficult because it takes money and you have to take risks,” says Simpson. “We had a piece by Brandon Ragland that was so mature and so interesting, in spatial concepts and the way he used the dancers to tell relationships between people and silence.”