For the arts in Louisville, 2015 has been all about pushing forward.
It seems that there are more events happening than ever before — more performances, more exhibitions, more experiments and more collaborations.
Once upon a time in Louisville, there would be only one or two choices for a given evening’s entertainment. But these days, we might have events happening at all of our major venues at the same time, forcing the intrepid audience member to make hard choices. And that’s not to mention the smaller places around the city.
The Louisville Orchestra, Louisville Ballet, the Speed Art Museum, Kentucky Shakespeare, and Actors Theatre of Louisville have all gained new artistic leadership in the past few years, and those leaders are now truly making their voices heard.
There were unexpected leadership changes this year, too, with the sudden death of Kentucky Opera’s David Roth and the departure of Louisville Visual Art’s Shannon Westerman.
Some of the year’s most noteworthy productions were grand, ambitious works, such as the Louisville Orchestra’s take on Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” a sweeping piece involving hundreds of performers in a collision of musical styles. This was a piece of theater, not just a concert. I was in the audience with two friends who had no idea what was coming, and I loved the surprise and delight on their faces when the entire Louisville Male High School marching band filled the aisles.
Another spectacle that got audiences talking was “The Glory of the World” by Charles Mee, produced by Actors Theatre as part of the 2015 Humana Festival. Ostensibly a tribute to the Catholic writer Thomas Merton, “Glory” was a feast for the eyes and ears that delighted some theatergoers and infuriated others, with its nonlinear structure and raw physicality. I don’t expect I’ll ever see a giant rhinoceros puppet led across the stage in Louisville again, but “Glory” is getting another production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in early 2016.
Louisville Ballet took its hometown seriously with its locally focused take on the classic ballet “Coppélia,” reset in Louisville’s Germantown neighborhood just before the start of World War I. Not only was the story told in Louisville, but artistic director Robert Curran called on Louisville-based visual artists to design scenery and puppets that added to the skilled dancers onstage. It was remarkable to see a completely new production of a classic ballet, conceived and built just for Louisville.
Kentucky Shakespeare had another season of record-setting attendance at its summer home in Central Park, and another year of skilfully directed, expertly performed Shakespeare. I can’t decide if my favorite moment was the sparring between real-life couple Gregory Maupin and Abigail Bailey Maupin in “Taming of the Shrew” or the spooky incantations of the weird sisters in “Macbeth,” a scene that made me shiver in the summer heat.
Louisville got a little less weird this year with the closing of the Rudyard Kipling, an arts venue and restaurant that welcomed music, theater, poetry and everything in between. Longtime owners Ken and Sheila Pyle created an artistic home that allowed for experimentation and risk-taking, then passed it along to new ownership, but that’s a tough business proposition. It’s a good thing that Doug Schutte at the Bard’s Town is still keeping the flame alive, both with his resident theater company and making performance spaces available to other artists.
This is by no means a complete summary of what was worth talking about in Louisville arts this year. This city is fortunate to have a combination of vibrant creativity plus a relatively modest cost of living, enabling artists to live, work and collaborate here with a degree of freedom not possible in larger, more expensive cities. We have a solid community of big-budget, professional-class organizations, and an ever-growing community of homegrown, enterprising groups and individuals.
Even though it’s literally my job to keep up with arts events in Louisville, the pace is becoming faster than one person can take in. That’s a very good thing, and I look forward to expanding my (and your) horizons in 2016.