Louisville Ballet, the official ballet of the commonwealth of Kentucky, was founded in March 1952 as a civic ballet company. At that time, the Louisville Ballet employed guest artistic directors and choreographers on a production-by-production basis. In 1965, Larry Gradus was engaged as a full-time resident artistic director, overseeing a group of temporary dancers. Ten years later, under the direction of Richard and Cristina Munro, the Company achieved professional status by employing eight contracted dancers to form the ensemble company.
The Academy of the Louisville Ballet, now the Louisville Ballet School, opened the same year (1975), with Alun Jones as associate director. In 1978 Jones became Louisville Ballet’s artistic director, a position he held until his retirement in 2002. In addition to his duties as artistic director, Mr. Jones choreographed numerous works for the Company and did a great deal of costume and scenic design during his tenure with the Louisville Ballet.
The Louisville Ballet named Bruce Simpson as the artistic director of the Company and the Louisville Ballet School in spring 2002. Under the direction of Mr. Simpson, the Louisville Ballet continues its philosophy of presenting an eclectic range of exciting work underscored by a foundation rooted in the classical repertoire. Through the dedication of its dancers, staff, school faculty and board of directors, the Company continues to enrich the community.
The Louisville Ballet holds the great distinction of being the only regional company with which Mikhail Baryshnikov has performed in repertoire productions. He danced with the Company during the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons, after which the Louisville Ballet supported his performances in Dallas and Houston. The Louisville Ballet reaches an audience of nearly 50,000 people each year and has earned a national reputation as one of the Country’s leading regional ballet companies.
Louisville Ballet has 70 world-premiere ballets to its credit and a repertoire of over 150 works by such choreographers as Sir Frederick Ashton, Erik Bruhn, George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, John Cranko, Jack Carter, Kurt Jooss, Choo-San Goh, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, David Parsons, Eugene Loring, André Prokovsky and Domy Reiter-Soffer, along with Fokine and Bournonville ballets. Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Coppélia, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, Giselle, Don Quixote, Anna Karenina, Beauty and the Beast, The Three Musketeers and The Great Gatsby are a sampling of the Company’s full-length ballets. During Simpson’s tenure, the Louisville Ballet has commissioned fifteen world premieres from choreographers including Helen Pickett, Adam Hougland and Graham Lustig. In December 2009 the Company debuted an all-new production of The Brown-Forman Nutcracker choreographed by Val Caniparoli with costume and scenic design by Peter Cazalet.
In fall 2004 the Louisville Ballet named Adam Hougland the Company’s principal choreographer. As such, Mr. Hougland created numerous world premieres for the Company. Devolve premiered in March 2005, followed by Made to Be Broken in October 2005. The Louisville Ballet debuted his third commission, Fragile Stasis, in February 2007. The Company premiered Mr. Hougland’s Rite of Spring in April 2009 and Unyielding Radiance in April 2012 as part of the 60th Anniversary Celebration. This full-length production featured Louisville-native and New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan. Prior to his appointment, the Louisville Ballet commissioned Mr. Hougland to create Cold Virtues (2003) and to re-stage his inaugural piece of choreography, Beyond (2002).
Internationally renowned conductor Leslie B. Dunner joined the Company as principal guest conductor from 2009-2011. Maestro Dunner led the Louisville Orchestra for his debut ballet with the Company, Don Quixote, in September 2009. The Louisville Orchestra has performed with the Louisville Ballet for most full-length productions, including The Brown-Forman Nutcracker.
The Louisville Ballet Center is located on East Main Street in downtown Louisville. This $2.2-million facility, built in 1995, consists of a modern, warehouse-inspired building that houses two large rehearsal studios, the Company’s costume shop and wardrobe storage, and administrative offices. The Louisville Ballet Center received the Honor Award for Excellence in Architectural Design by the Kentucky chapter of the American Institute of Architects and was featured in the May 1997 edition of Architecture magazine.
Sharing the art form of dance with the citizens of Kentucky and Southern Indiana is a long-standing tradition of the Louisville Ballet. The Company’s educational programs reach over 12,000 schoolchildren annually through student matinee performances and on-site lecture demonstrations. Since the first outreach efforts in 1973, three distinct types of educational programs have developed to help teachers incorporate the ballet experience into their classroom activities: In-school programs are interactive workshops held in schools; in-theater programs are student matinee productions held at the Kentucky Center for the Arts; and in-studio programs are a behind-the-scenes look at the Company at home in the Louisville Ballet Center.
The Louisville Ballet School found a new home in 1999 at the St. Matthew’s Pavilion located in the East End of Louisville. With an enrollment of over 450 students ranging in ages from 18 months old to seniors, the Louisville Ballet School instructs students at all levels in a wide range of styles, from ballet to jazz to Zumba. The school welcomes all students, from those interested in pursuing a career to the person looking for a fun, creative way to exercise. Chosen each year by audition, the Louisville Ballet Youth Ensemble supports the professional company in larger productions and performs at the annual Southeast Regional Ballet Association (SERBA) festival, hosted by Regional Dance America, of which the Louisville Ballet is a founding member.
The Louisville Ballet celebrated six decades of dance in the Spring of 2012. This professional company, which now employs dancers from around the world, celebrates its rich history, its reputation in the global landscape of dance, and looks forward to another 60 years of excellence in performance, outreach and education.