Arts and Culture

When you think ballet, you probably think of classic productions featuring dancers — tutus on, toes pointed — moving to impressive orchestral variations.

But that’s not always the case.

To highlight ballet’s evolution and technical range, Louisville Ballet’s Artistic and Executive Director Robert Curran has created an wide-ranging, mixed repertory program called “Stars and Stripes.” It will open the company’s 65th year, which begins Sept. 9

“Stars and Stripes” starts with George Balanchine’s classic “Themes and Variations,” which is choreographed to the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky — the last movement of “Suite No. 3 in G Major,” to be specific.

Curran says that while “Themes and Variations” is undoubtedly classic in its inspiration — from its steps to its deliberate evocation of “The Sleeping Beauty” — it pushed classicism to its limits. The result is a ballet that highlights Balanchine’s skill for creating technically challenging, playful works that capture the essence and evolution of the form.

“It’s continuing our commitment to annual programming of Balanchine,” Curran says. “Also, showcasing the ‘stars’ of Louisville Ballet. The lead roles in that ballet are very, very exciting, very challenging and a great opportunity to showcase the talent we have here in Louisville.”

The program will close with Twyla Tharp’s innovative “In The Upper Room.” Choreographed in 1987 to a score by composer Philip Glass, the original New York Times review read, in part:

“Whether assembling in little groups or sweeping in and out, the dancers kept swaying, jumping, hopping, twisting, turning and swinging their arms. Unstoppable as whirlwinds, their choreographic storms usually encountered no obstacles.”

But wedged right in the middle of Balanchine and Tharp is a world premiere. It’s a piece called “How They Fade,” choreographed by Curran and set to the music of the San Francisco experimental group YASSOU.

YASSOU’s sound has been described by critics as “spectral, sexy and seductive” — terms you don’t typically hear when people are talking about “The Nutcracker,” for example.

Curran says “How They Fade” is a piece exploring the complex emotions associated with nostalgia, a topic that’s incredibly personal to him.

“I feel like I have a connection to it,” Curran says. “I have a naturally occurring emotional reaction to things and I really like that — like, I might think of a movie, instantly remember exactly how I felt [watching it the first time] and have a physical reaction to it that is both pleasant and not.”

Curran says “How They Fade” will be a physically dynamic and demanding exploration of how those feelings of nostalgia affect human connection — how we process our relationships, past and future.

To aid in the storytelling, he enlisted the help of Louisville-based visual artist Letitia Quesenberry to create scenic design. The Louisville Orchestra will be playing live with YASSOU.

“For me it’s really about continuing that commitment we have to community-wide artistic collaboration,” Curran says.

More information about “Stars and Stripes” and the rest of the Louisville Ballet’s upcoming season is available here.

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.