Arts and Culture

The Louisville Ballet will return to live, in-person performances for the 2021-2022 season after more than a year of virtual shows. This marks 70 seasons for the company.

The new season features full-length story ballets, an evening of mixed repertoire and the company’s annual “ChorShow” event.

“As one of the oldest, continuously operating ballet companies in the country, I’m incredibly proud that we are reaching this milestone — especially as we emerge from an historically challenging time,” artistic director Robert Curran said in a statement.

The new season opens with the ballet “Swan Lake,” running Nov. 11-14 at The Brown Theatre. 

Curran has put his own spin on this centuries-old work from the classical ballet canon in which a sorcerer has put a terrible spell on Odette, dooming her to be a swan during the day and taking her human form only at night until a man pledges his devotion and love for her

Set in “a futuristic world,” the artistic team uses laser technology to create the scenic design in Curran’s “Swan Lake,” which premiered in 2016. Its 2021 restaging will feature “updated sets and costumes that challenge concepts of light and dark, uniformity and the meanings we attach to both,” the release said.

Expanding on that, Curran told WFPL that his “Swan Lake” focuses more on the character of Prince Siegfried rather than the princess-swan Odette, looking at the “obligations that Siegfried feels to conform to a certain expectation.”

And you won’t see the iconic Swan Lake image of a corps de ballet in white tutus. 

“I’m wanting to move away from the black and white stereotype: White is pure and good, and black is evil,” Curran said. “So there won’t be any white tutus and there won’t be any black tutus.”

There will be pointe shoes, all made to match each dancer’s skin tone; and some of the swan-like gestures and movements that one might come to expect from a “Swan Lake,” he continued. But, “In the exploration of [who] is the perfect life partner for Siegfried, I think the femininity, the power, the grace, the loyalty of the swan is really more of a motif than literal.” 

“Swan Lake” is followed by the ballet’s annual production of “The Brown-Forman Nutcracker,” choreographed by Val Caniparoli. The holiday staple runs Dec. 11-23 at the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall. 

In the new year, the company will present “ChorShow” at its Main Street facility.  Choreographer Yoshito Sakuraba will debut new works during the production, which is Jan. 12-22. It will also feature dances choreographed by Louisville Ballet artists.

Next up is “Spotlight Series: Impressionism to Jazz,” running March 3-5 at The Brown Theatre.

The lineup includes the “Emeralds” section from George Balanchine’s 1967 “Jewels” ballet and Jerome Robbins’ “In G Major,” which debuted on the New York City Ballet in 1975. Also on the Spotlight Series lineup is a world premiere set to music by Louisville jazz musician Dick Sisto — the release does not name the choreographer.

The season closes with the world premiere of a “reimagined” “Sleeping Beauty,” choreographed by Louisville Ballet resident choreographer Adam Hougland at the Brown Theatre March 31-April 2. 

One thing seemingly lacking, particularly from the mainstage productions, is gender and racial diversity among the roster of choreographers. 

Ballet companies don’t have a strong track record when it comes to diversity at the top nor in the ranks of who creates the works seen onstage.

Dance Data Project’s 2019-2020 Season Overview Report found that 72% of the works featured that season at ballet companies were choreographed by men; 55% of world premieres were choreographed by men; and 83% of full-length world premieres were choreographed by men. 

In surveying a sample of 2020 dance festivals, DDP also found that the majority of works programmed and premiered were created by men. 

Following the racial justice protests across the country last year, many ballet companies and schools, including Louisville Ballet, put out statements in solidarity, and promised to do better when it came to diversity, inclusivity and equity. 

“I think it’s really important to look at a commitment outside the silo of a season,” Curran said when asked about this issue. 

Earlier this year, Louisville Ballet premiered a virtual “Rite of Spring,” choreographed by Andrea Schermoly, another resident choreographer with the ballet. It also features a more diverse lineup of choreographers during its presently streaming “ChorShow.”

Curran said, while “right now, on appearances, it doesn’t look like we’re featuring” a diverse roster this upcoming season, they will be. Basically: more to come, though Curran was skimpy on details. 

And there are efforts happening outside of the performance seasons to address the lack of representation and diversity at Louisville Ballet, Curran said, such as the Ballet Bound program.

Launched in 2019, the intent of Ballet Bound is to address racial and socio-economic disparities in dance training.

“Those are the kinds of things that they don’t all reflect on the stage just yet, but they do hopefully have a lasting, but certainly have an impact on the future of Louisville Ballet in this important area,” Curran said.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.