The Louisville Ballet opens its second annual Studio Connections program this week. The company will transform its East Main Street rehearsal studio into a black box theater for the production, which opens Wednesday and runs through Saturday evening.
“It’s a popular venue for a certain group of people who really enjoy seeing things up close, ” says ballet mistress Mikelle Bruzina. “You get a real sense of the work being done, you can see everyone’s expressions, and you feel even much more so a part of what’s going on on stage.”
“It gives a more personal encounter with [the dancers,]” she adds. “Audience members want to be invested in what they’re seeing, not just off in the distance, seeing a pretty picture.”
And Bruzina says it’s a valuable experience for her dancers, too.
“There’s no orchestra pit separation, no blackness you’re looking into like you would in the theater. They’re literally right there. You can see them as well as they can see you,” she says. “It can be very intimidating, but at the same time it can be very helpful in tuning your craft.”
The mixed repertory program combines classical and contemporary ballet, creating an invigorating production for ballet fans who like to mix it up.
“The nickname we gave it originally was what [artistic director Bruce Simpson] called ‘Suzie Separates,’ because it was a mishmash of ensemble work and pas de deux work,” says Bruzina with a laugh.
The program opens with Bournonville’s “La Sylphide,” one of the first Romantic ballets. The company will perform the second act, complete with flowing white tutus. They will close with Bruzina’s “Harmony of Contrasts,” a ballet she originally staged with the company in 2000 that explicitly examines the differences between classical and modern dance.
“I have the Sky People, who represent classical ballet, and the Earth People, who represent the modern,” says Bruzina. “They don’t get along, but then they come to realize they’re more alike than different.”
The two classical pas de deux on the program are from Bournonville’s “Flower Festival” (“It’s very playful.”) and Petipa’s masterpiece “The Sleeping Beauty,” with music by Tchaikovsky.
Every year, the Ballet stages a choreographer’s showcase, an in-studio production of original work designed and performed by the company. Two of last year’s showcase entries will also be staged in Studio Connections. Ben Needham-Wood’s “Apollo and Daphne” is a pas de deux based on the ancient Greek myth of a god helplessly in love with a nymph who transforms into a tree rather than marry. Rob Morrow’s ensemble piece “Rainbow Connection” will feature music from The Muppets.
Bruzina says these two pieces were selected from the showcase not only for their entertainment value, but also for the educational contrast they provide the daytime school groups that will see an abbreviated version of the program.
“It’s wonderful to be able to utilize that talent, for the Ballet and for them as well,” says Bruzina. “To be able to re-work a piece is always neat.”