Arts and Humanities
4:36 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

Louisville Ballet Artistic Director Bruce Simpson Programs One Last Season Before Retiring

The Louisville Ballet last staged "Giselle" in 2010.
Credit Louisville Ballet

Louisville Ballet artistic director Bruce Simpson, who retires in July, will leave behind a new season for his successor. The 2014-15 season opens in September with one of the most popular cornerstones of the classical repertoire. “Giselle” (Sept. 12-13) is a Romantic ballet about a village girl who dies of a broken heart, then is raised from the dead to seek revenge on her beloved, whom she saves instead.

Opening with a big classical number allows the new class of trainees to start off their tenure with the company on the right foot, so to speak. As for the veterans, they get a chance to grow - a dancer who was part of the corps de ballet for the last production might be ready for a featured role now. The company last staged "Giselle" in 2010. 

Opening the season with a classical mainstay has another benefit, too. The company doesn't quite know when the new artistic director will join the organization, but senior ballet master Uwe Kern and ballet mistress Mikelle Bruzina are more than capable of leading the company through "Giselle." 

"They can put it on in their sleep," says Simpson. "It’s standard. We’ve all been doing it for 20 or 30 years. That’s one of the reasons why it was chosen. We can’t guarantee when the new artistic director will arrive, so we did have to have something on the program that could be done without too much stress."

Choreographer Val Caniparoli, whose "Spaghetti Western" just made its world premiere in the company's "Complementary Voices" mixed repertory program last weekend, will return February 13-14 with "A Cinderella Story," a jazzy version of the fairytale he first staged with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 2004. Caniparoli is also the choreographer for the company's "The Brown-Forman Nutcracker" (which returns December 6) and a frequent Louisville Ballet presence. 

"With the new artistic director coming in, they’re going to be assessing the dancers, assessing the organization, trying to learn about the community, and they’ll be absorbing so much information that I did think it was really important to have some kind of artistic continuity," says Simpson. “With Val having worked with the company so much, and also having done our 'Nutcracker,' this is one of his pieces that is really fabulous.”

Caniparoli's Cinderella doesn't use the Sergei Prokofiev score. Instead, Richard Rodgers songbook classics were re-arranged by Ron Paley for a nine-piece jazz ensemble. Musicians from the Louisville Orchestra will accompany the dancers for this production, and Paley will conduct. 

"It's all bebop and blues and swing, and even some Spanish-flavored tango," says Simpson. "His inspiration here was like the Audrey Hepburn era of glamour, with Ginvenchy and Dior and Balenciaga and the big couture houses of the 1950s. It's a new twist on the Cinderella story but a glamorous one, and very funny."

The Choreographer's Showcase, in which the company dancers choreograph their peers in new works, has moved to March 4-7, because the traditional January spot has presented winter weather challenges in recent years. Studio Connections, the other less-formal, in-studio production, is scheduled for October 15-18, with a program still to be determined. 

"We usually do commission a few pieces and take a few pieces out of repertory for that program," says Simpson. "It  will basically follow the format it has had in recent seasons."

The community will be able to see the new artistic director's taste fairly quickly, though, in the mixed repertory production that closes the season. That performance will be April 10-11 in the Brown Theatre. 

"We haven't decided on anything. We've put money in the budget so the new artistic director can come in and choose ballets with their fingerprint on it, so there will be some artistic input in the first season for the new artistic director," says Simpson.