Louisville Ballet’s new ‘Swan Lake’ explores virtual reality — with lasers

By Eli Keel for Insider Louisville

The ongoing evolution of the Louisville Ballet under artistic and executive director Robert Curran continues this weekend, Oct. 14-15, as Curran and company unveil a new and exciting version of “Swan Lake.” It takes on our fascination with the digital world in the classic context of the story of Prince Siegfried and Odette.

This “Swan Lake” will continue the ballet’s trend of collaborating with local artists and include ambitious laser projections to create the setting and help explore the virtual world of Curran’s choreography.

Curran tells Insider that despite the lasers and new ideas, the bones of the story remain.

“It deals with family obligations, and love and betrayal, and redemption,” he says. “That’s carried directly across, (and) structurally we’ve got exactly the same structure: first and third acts being in the real world, and the second and fourth acts being in a fantasy world.”

For readers who were lured by the lasers and maybe aren’t quite as familiar with the story, here’s a quick primer. “Swan Lake” tells the story of Prince Siegfried, who is being forced into an arranged marriage by his mother, the Queen. He goes to blow off some steam hunting and sees a flock of swans transform into beautiful women, including Odette, with whom he, of course, falls immediately in love.

Odette has been enchanted by an evil sorcerer named Rothbart; she’s a swan by day, and a woman only at night. The story can go a couple different ways from there, and different companies have all put their spin on it since it premiered in 1877, though just about every production has some version of the Black Swan — either Rothbart’s evil daughter or Odette’s evil twin sister — who tricks Siegfried into pledging love to her while she’s disguised as Odette.

The original story is based on common folklore and stories Russian peasants told each other to entertain and escape from their situations, even for just a few minutes. Us modern peasants have a different way of escaping from from it all: technology.

“What I’m trying to do with this production is look at how we create fantasy worlds today, with technology and virtual reality,” says Curran. He was particularly inspired by one movie and its take on escape. “I keep coming back to the movie ‘Her,’ and (the idea of) falling in love with an inanimate object that has been created.”

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