Stage + Studio, A Louisville Ballet Blog: Ben by Annie Honebrink


Strange—the way you can be surrounded by people and still feel alone.  They can be singing your name, smiling in your face, and yet your heart is a lump.  Heavy.  Void.  Still.  You try to play along as they push and they pull, but nothing can fill that vast space of loneliness.  Nothing can pull you from the abyss of hopelessness.  And then he looks at you.  And the silent stone starts to flutter.  And his lips touch your lips.  And for the first time you breathe.  Suddenly the old blacks, whites, and greys have flecks of red, blue, and yellow.  And you know it could mean nothing.  Because he is a Nice Guy.  Jovial, fun, charming, and bright.  Loved by all.  His voice is a laugh.  Life is a joke.  But your heart flutters anyway.  You can’t smother the rising hope.  So you dare let it climb.  Let it grow.  Let it fly.  You dare allow a dream sing from your soul.  You dare permit desire leak from your heart.  Your walls begin to crumble as one word quivers to the surface.  Maybe.  Followed by the precarious, What If.  And then he appears.  Startling you from your dreams.  The familiar insecurities flood in, and you evade encounter.  Charisma, confidence—seep from him.  Beckoning you in, while intimidating you away.  You back away.  Awkward.  Self-conscious.  Vulnerable.  But the dream will not leave you.  The hope pushes you on.  You could run.  Protect yourself from the chance of denial.  Never falling into that black pit of rejection.  But never soaring into the bliss of love.  You could live your life with the unmoving stone.  The stone is safe.  It does not bleed.  Cannot break.  Yet, neither can it swell.  Never can it soar.  Do you risk tearing down the protective walls?  Do you dare expose yourself to the possibility of loss?  Heartbreak?  Sorrow?  Anguish?  Despair?  Can you turn your back on the potential of seeing color?  Now that you have seen yellow, can you ever return to gray?  You take the leap.  Extend your hand.  Hold your breath.  He squeezes back.  Pulls you in.  Your walls tumble down.  Once and for all.  You let yourself fall.  Into him.  You give up your heart, relinquish your soul, take the leap.  He pushes you down.  Watches you fall.  And then picks you back up when he wants some more.  Then leaves you to fall again.  And keep on falling.  Into a pit that doesn’t end.  A pit where there is no color.  No light.  Only darkness.  Unending.  What do you do?  What can you do?  Because you gave him all.  All of you—all you were, all you are, all you were to become.  And it wasn’t enough.  You weren’t enough.  You feel the stone crack.  In a deep place you didn’t even know existed.  How can you live in a world so cruel?  How can you fight for a soul worthless as yours?  Strange.  The way you can find yourself.  Learn who you are, find the courage to become it.  And then have it all torn away.  Strange.  How much trust we put into other people.  Strange.  How much hope we put into love.

Ben Wetzel’s character in Human Abstract is partially derived from the words and ideas of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and the story of Romeo and Juliet.  In addition to these influences, Wetzel’s character is, as he describes, informed in part by the monologues, in part by the movement, in part by the songs, and in part by himself.  Wetzel had to explore how he related to the themes of love lost, self-acceptance, and personal exploration in order for the character to come to life.  Though the characters in Human Abstract are more conceptual than tangible, they are tremendously powerful.  The ballet’s story centers around Wetzel’s character, Ben.  The beginning of the ballet focuses on identifying and magnifying the work’s themes, as well as foreshadowing events to come.  About a quarter of the way into the movement the tale begins, and Wetzel’s character is more formally introduced.  What follows is a heart wrenchingly beautiful story.  Much of the story is jarring and often times uncomfortable.  Some moments leave the viewer uncertain how or what to feel, compelling one to delve within and contemplate.  In an art museum there are many pieces of art that one would never imagine having in one’s home.  However, these works are often some of the most powerful.  They hold much knowledge and teach the viewer important lessons.  Many times it is the pieces of art that are considered most “ugly” that are in fact the most beautiful.  It is easy to look upon the pain and destruction in the world as ugly.  As humans we forget to look for the beauty behind it all—the beauty in pain, beauty in suffering.

Human Abstract reveals beauty in themes and movement that may not initially be considered so to a large portion of the world.  Wetzel captivates his audience—in his movement, in his music, in his words.  In the foreshadowing and introduction at the beginning of the ballet, the dancer slides and rolls around in the turf while the other dancers form a semi-circle standing around him.  Wetzel’s limbs move like liquid mercury.  His body appears almost inhuman.  This could reflect a feeling of uncertainty—a lack of self-knowledge; an insecurity in identity.  The end of this beautiful fluid sequence is an omen of the darkness that lies ahead for this character’s path.  After this dark premonition, Wetzel delivers a moving monologue.  In voice and body, the artist builds an unabated sense of hope.  As a viewer, one’s heart swells with his; however, the audience also knows what the character does not— those sinister warnings for Ben’s future.  With this additional information, one’s heart will ache for the poor, innocent dreams expressed with such uninhibited abandon.  There are numerous more treasures to be experienced in Human Abstract from this well-developed, complex character; however these highlights set the spirit and tone for Ben.

Human Abstract highlights the incredible talents and versatility of the seven Louisville Ballet dancers involved.  Wetzel reveals some insight into his methods for preparing for the monologue sections of the ballet.  He began, as expected, by memorizing the words.  As he delved into this task, he worked to not hold onto any preconceived notions on how the lines should sound.  He tried not to get attached to one way of delivering the words.  Until the words were memorized, there was not much room for exploration.  Once memorized, Wetzel looked at the arch of the monologue.  He studied what the character was striving to convey, what was most important, and where the climax came.  Next, Wetzel focused on the monologue’s overall structure, discovering where it needed to build and resolve.  Throughout the process, he explored different ways of communicating the lines, as well as the meaning behind the lines.  Wetzel emphasizes the importance of being able to let go and find a new path, rather than trying to force a certain means of delivery to work.  He relates this to dance.  At times, a dancer must find a new way of thinking about a step, or scratch a way of moving entirely and restart.

Wetzel values the importance of collaboration between art forms and exposing oneself to different forms of art.  Such processes, he finds, take an artist out of his or her bubble and uncovers new ways to express an idea.  Wetzel appreciates the diverse ways in which ideas are explored and expressed in different artistic communities.  Certain concepts are more easily conveyed through different art forms.  There are ways of exploring ideas and impressions in a play that cannot be communicated in a ballet or a symphony—and vice versa.  Each art lends itself differently to artistic exploration of an idea.  The subject can be approached differently.  The benefits of uniting various channels of communicating art are countless.  Providing an audience with various manners in which to experience art makes the project more accessible to a greater number of people.  Wetzel believes that the blend of arts allows Human Abstract to reach viewers on different levels.  He anticipates that the ballet will take the audience out of their comfort zones.

Human Abstract is a ballet that will remain with audience members.  The characters are strong and poignant.  The story is compelling and powerful.  The movement is raw and fierce.  The ballet is evocative, haunting, and intense.  It illustrates many truths and realities of life.  Uncovered.  Unrestricted.  Unhindered.  No pretty bows or fake smiles to shroud or suppress; conceal or cover.  This ballet is Real.  Human Abstract makes one think.  Makes one feel.  Makes one remember.  It moves one’s heart.  Moves one’s feet.  Moves one’s soul.  That is what art does.  That is the power of art.  That is Louisville Ballet’s mission.