Robert Curran is clearly a Balanchine aficionado.
The Louisville Ballet artistic director’s program notes state that Balanchine will become a staple of future seasons. And this weekend’s three-Balanchine ballet program follows last spring’s “New World” program, in which Balanchine’s “Square Dance” was one ballet in that mixed program.
Like last season, Curran has once again reached into Louisville’s rich visual arts community to partner with an artist to create the visual elements of one of the evening’s ballets. While such interdisciplinary partnerships are becoming a hallmark of Curran’s aesthetic, the “Kammermusik” partnership with Chris Radtke is the second time the understandably careful Balanchine Trust has granted Curran permission to reimagine the original design elements of a Balanchine ballet (last season, Letitia Quesenberry created a new scenic design for “Square Dance”).
The company seems much more at home in the world of Balanchine than either last year or the 2012 performance of “Theme and Variation.”
The evening begins with arguably the most quintessential Balanchine piece, “Concerto Barocco,” set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1043. It’s also the earliest ballet of the program.
Originally created for students at the School of American Ballet, its deceptively simple formations and patterns merging and flowing in and out of each other for eight corps dancers is 18 minutes requiring precision, athleticism and grace. On Friday, these dancers were Leigh Anne Albrechta, Tiffany Bovard, Lexa Daniels, Erin Langston, Emily Reinking O’Dell, Kateryna Sellars, Shelby Shenkman and Ashley Thursby.
Joining the corps of women dancers are two soloists (Erica de la O and Jordan Martin) and, in the third movement, Benjamin Wetzel. I could have wished that de la O and Martin had more of a connection in this piece; although each dancer is paired with one of the two violin’s through lines, these two lines also connect and overlap in ways that were not always discernible with these dancers. Wetzel provided clean and effortless partnering for de la O.
The 1978 “Kammermusik No 2” to Paul Hindemith’s composition of the same name (Opus 36, No 1) was, for me, the jewel of the evening. Radtke’s costume design subtly echoed the original design of Barbara Karinska while shifting the color range significantly. This extended to the scenic and lighting design (Michael T. Ford, again adapting the original) reimagining Radtke’s 2010 “Ghost” into a backdrop for the ballet. Glowing with fluctuating intensities of reds throughout, complementing the costuming, Radtke’s three-dimensional wall is both present and ephemeral.
The male corps was in fine form for this intricate, interwoven, contrapuntal dance work, reminding us of their equally stellar work in Adam Hougland’s “Ten Beautiful Objects” in 2013. Balancing the eight female dancers in the prior work, the eight male dancers in this piece on Friday were Roger Creel, Edouard Forehand, Justin Michael Hogan, Mark Krieger, Rob Morrow, Ryan Stokes, Phillip Velinov and Benjamin Wetzel.
Christy Corbitt Miller and Natalia Ashikhmina were the counterpoint to the male corps. Ashikimina’s performance was exquisite; her connection to the music uplifted her performance so that music, movement and dancer were sublimely interrelated. Corbitt Miller and Ashikhmina were partnered with Kristopher Wotjera and Brandon Ragland, respectively.
Closing out the performance was Balanchine’s mid-century “Western Symphony” set to music by Hershey Kay, whose work skillfully integrate songs of the American West into more traditional ballet orchestrations. The delightfully humorous sketches of iconic “Western” motifs are reminders of the breadth of Balanchine’s choreographic interests, and his fascination with his adopted country.
A crowd-pleaser, the piece’s three movements brought together various combinations of the female corps and an energetic quartet of Roger Creel, Alexander Kingma, Edouard Forehand and Benjamin Wetzel, whose footwork was particularly sharp and precise.
The final variation, the en pointe solo, danced by Kateryna Sellars, is impressive, and Sellars was rewarded with a spontaneous round of applause. It’s always fun to see these dancers step into types with which they are not typically identified, and both Ashikhmina and Wotjera, in different movements, brought a sly comedy to the fore that delighted Friday’s audiences.
The three pieces were staged by Balanchine Trust répétiteurs — respectively Nilas Martins, Paul Boos and Kathleen Tracey — and Richard Tanner. The musicians were, as usual, under the baton of Tara Simoncic. After a tentative start in “Concerto Barocco,” the orchestra found its footing. Sharon Lavery was excellent as pianist for “Kammermusik.”
Curran would like to bring more Balanchine ballets to Louisville. I hope we get the opportunity to see them. And, in particular, I look forward to seeing the dancers explore and grow into certain pieces over time.