Louisville Ballet kicks off 65th season with ‘Stars + Stripes’

By Eli Keel for Insider Louisville
September 6, 2016

The Louisville Ballet kicks off its 65th season this weekend with the mixed program “Stars + Stripes,” featuring the works of George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp and a world premiere from the Ballet’s executive and artistic director Robert Curran. Along for the ride is local collaborator Letitia Quesenberry and San Francisco-based art-pop band Yassou.

The production — which takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9-10, at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts — begins with “Theme and Variations” by Balanchine. The Louisville Ballet last performed this classic piece during its 2011-12 season.

“It’s becoming a tradition for the Louisville Ballet anniversary celebrations,” says Curran. “It was performed at the 60th anniversary as well, and it’s a ballet the company really excels in.”

“Theme and Variations” also represents Curran following through on his promise to include the works of Balanchine in every season. He says the dancers are excited to get their yearly chance to tackle the choreographer’s demanding work.

“They share my passion for Balanchine as an American icon in ballet,” adds Curran. “And the diversity Balanchine brings to our ballet technique is something they like.”

The 30-minute ballet is a big piece, with 26 dancers. It first premiered in 1947 and has enjoyed a healthy life since its creation. Curran calls it the “perfect opener” for the concert and the season.

And, on that note, he says Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” is a perfect closer for the show.

“It’s Twyla’s deliberate homage to all these different kinds of dancing — tap dancing, hip hop, her fascination with ballet, modern,” Curran explains. “It’s really kind of an all-round, all-style, all-genre experience for the dancers.”

He believes the piece allows the dancers to show off their ability to handle diverse movement styles, “which is something I’m constantly trying to showcase: how versatile these dancers are, how amazing they are at switching from style to style and from motivation to motivation and from abstract to narrative,” says Curran, who calls the dancers superstars. “They really are superstars in their ability to do that, and not every company has that level of versatility.”

The Balanchine and Tharp pieces should both look great on stage, but some ballet fans are slightly more excited for what will come sandwiched between them: Louisville’s first chance to see Curran’s choreography. The middle of the program features the world premiere of Curran’s “How They Fade.” He isn’t shy about his feelings surrounding the premiere.