Ballet Showcase: Dancers Stretch into Choreographer Roles

If you’re used to only seeing the Louisville Ballet dance in Whitney Hall or the Brown Theatre, the upcoming Choreographers’ Showcase is a chance to see the company in a whole new light as it premieres new work in its intimate, informal studio on East Main Street.

Twelve new pieces choreographed by members of the dance company will make their debuts. Choreographers’ Showcase runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with performances at 8 p.m. Space in the studio is limited, so advance ticket purchase is recommended (call the Ballet box office at 583-2623).

The showcase is an opportunity for the dancers, too, to stretch their artistic legs. For some, like first-year trainee Claire Horrocks, it’s their first crack at choreography. For others, like Brandon Ragland, having the support to develop new work in a professional environment is an invaluable step toward a career in dance that lasts beyond their final on-stage performance.

Ragland, 28, is dancing his third year with the company. He will premiere two pieces this week – one contemporary, one classical. In last year’s showcase, he premiered “Silent Conversations,” a contemporary piece about relationships and body language. Artistic director Bruce Simpson selected the work for a full staging in the Ballet’s upcoming mixed repertory program, April’s “Breaking Ground,” so now Ragland is revising and expanding “Silent Conversations” to take its place on stage alongside classics by Marius Petipa and a world premiere by resident choreographer Adam Hougland.

“In Choreographers’ Showcase, it’s a work in progress, so there aren’t a lot of costumes, there aren’t a lot of lighting options,” says Ragland. “Now it’s part of a production, so I have to think about lighting, I have to think about the design of the background, what type of atmosphere do I want to set on the stage.”

It’s good training for a dancer who eventually wants to transition into an artistic staff role when he finishes the on-stage portion of his career. Ragland tackled his first choreography project at 14, when the director of a Black history program at his church handed him a piece of music and asked him if he would like to choreograph a number.

“I asked, ‘what’s that?’” he said with a laugh. “I hadn’t even been training ballet very long at that point.”

He’s since refined his process. Ragland says he starts with a piece of music and an idea, but the ideas he brings into the studio on day one rarely emerge in the finished product.

“That’s the exciting part of how I work,” he says. “As I choreograph, it morphs into something else and then I say, oh, that’s exactly what I was trying to get at in the beginning, I just couldn’t explain it.”

“Which is why I’m a dancer – I can show it better than I can say it sometimes.”

Helen Daigle, Justin Michael Hogan, Rob Morrow, Ben Needham-Wood, Sanjay Saverimuttu, Ryan Stokes, Ashley Thursby and Katarina Walker will premiere new work in the showcase as well. In the 360-degree learning environment the company has created, Ragland will also perform in the showcase for his fellow choreographers. Creating new work for professional dancers is particularly beneficial to the choreographers, who might otherwise only develop new productions for students.

“You know what it’s like to work with professional dancers, dancers that are more capable at the time to do artistically and technically what you ask for,” he says. 

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