Stage + Studio: A Louisville Ballet Blog- Camaraderie by Annie Honebrink

Every individual moves differently. Each body is unique. All paths of thought are distinct. Personal. As humans we often fall into similar patterns and tend to categorize ourselves into groups; however, no two beings are fully alike. Individualism is celebrated and valued in the arts. Louisville Ballet encourages and admires the special traits each company member brings to the organization. Ballet calls individuals together to create something bigger than themselves. Dancers are required to employ their strengths in creating a larger picture. Together. As one. The corps de ballet, or, body of the ballet, is at the core and heart of every classical production. These great ballets—Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and so many more—would be nothing without the corps de ballet. The swans, nymphs, willies of the corps strive to move with one breath. Every toe, each finger, is precisely in sync and in line with those of the other dancers. These roles are some of the most difficult and rewarding, due to the level of dependence and closeness forged between dancers. A similar bond is formed when dancing a pas de deux, or, dance for two. A couple dancing together must have complete trust in one another. They must be able to anticipate the other dancer’s movement before he or she takes a step. Perhaps this is the reason why the attachment developed between ballet dancers is so strong. A great level of dependence, trust, and respect is necessary for the art form to prosper.

Human Abstract has taken this element of teamwork to new heights. An overriding theme of group fellowship and camaraderie emerges from the dancers involved in this new work while sharing the most memorable and impactful parts of the process in creating the ballet. Helen Daigle fondly discusses the way in which the small group of dancers has come together and become very close. Kateryna Sellers echoes these sentiments, explaining how working consistently in the same small group has allowed the dancers to step outside their comfort zones. Watching others go for it has given a sense of comfort to the group, allowing them to release inhibitions. Learning to be vulnerable with movement and to put oneself out there has been a major benefit Brandon Ragland has taken from this process. Leigh Anne Albrechta explains how imperative teamwork is in Human Abstract. There are rarely set counts and occasionally no distinct rhythm in the music either; therefore, the dancers must sense one another in order to move together. At the beginning of the ballet the dancers “build themselves” with eight steps. There is no rhythm or beat in the music, and yet all seven artists must move together. This is the epitome of partnership. The dancers must do more than watch each other—they must feel each other. Albrechta emphasizes the amount of trust this type of work takes. “We basically have to know everyone else’s choreography,” she states. The crafting of Human Abstract began as a very personal procedure. Each dancer developed his or her own individual phrases of movement. They would then be prompted to layer their individual phrases with other people, morphing those personal developments into something greater. This path of creation can be used to highlight the push and pull between individual and community, as well as emphasize the harmony between the two.

Lucas Jervies’ creative process is, as Roger Creel describes, novel for this company. “You have to wrap your head around the fact that you’re not going to be told what to do,” Daigle explains about this new way of working. Jervies’ methods of creating have a large base in improvisation. The most impactful part of the creative process for Erica De La O has been Jervies’ ability to share his process with the dancers and educate them on the lessons he has learned from being a dancer and from these improvisational techniques. De La O appreciates the invaluable experience of having Jervies introduce the dancers to these new methods and allowing them to create. This system of creation produces a unique and special bond between dancer and choreographer. Jervies redesigns the movement the dancers construct. Through this redesigning, he provides the artists with useful coaching as he teaches them to broaden their horizons. De La O describes this as “DNA therapy”—the ability to break out of your DNA as a mover. Creel expresses how this form of working requires more responsibility from the dancers. Jervies asks the artists to generate a large amount of material and then manipulate themselves in it. For some of the dancers, this improvisational based method of creating is familiar; however, for the majority, this project has offered a completely new way of working and thinking. Albrechta reflects upon the open mindedness required for this process, which is like nothing she had ever done before. As Jervies restructures the dancers’ movement phrases, linking them to one another and merging them into a cohesive unit, he also adds layers of meaning to them. De La O is very inspired by Jervies’ use of dramaturgy and his drive to create a visual for the audience that will draw forth the essence of an emotion. He leads the dancers to find the proper movement that will reflect the desired emotion. Together they develop a physical language to express the words of the heart—those words that are often unable to be uttered, or even understood. Instead of using art to create emotion, Jervies uses emotion to create art. This opens a new world of creativity to the dancers. They are able to draw upon their own experiences to expose these emotions. In doing so, they are able to find healing and growth. Their characters, as their movement, morph into one another, expressing the connectivity in life, indicating that we all can relate, revealing that we are never alone. Just as Jervies directs the dancers to discover these unspoken feelings from within, the dancers will sweep the audience into their stories, into their movement. These seven artists will guide the audience to find their own experiences within Human Abstract’s story and to find that same healing and growth. As De La O states, “Art heals.”

The close knit group has many more memories from the past six weeks, including two black eyes. Ben Wetzel’s most memorable moment was watching krumping videos and trying to dissect the movement. Smiling, he remembers breaking down the movements, taking some elements, and trying to figure out how to reinterpret those elements on his body. “I’ve never done anything like that before,” he says. Perhaps the most significant experience the dancers have taken away from this innovative approach has been, as defined by Sellers, the learning process—about yourself, and about other people. Without the bonds of trust and comradeship developed between these eight people—dancers and choreographer—there would be no medium on which this inventive conception could come alive. As Jervies explains, the dancers must invest in the work for it to come to life. Without this innovative process of creation, these eight people would not have been given the means by which to establish such an intense and vital union.

Human Abstract is an important ballet for Louisville Ballet, the city of Louisville, and the art community in general. It has made a huge impact on the Louisville Ballet dancers involved, but its influence reaches the organization as a whole. Creel hopes that Human Abstract will reach a more diverse audience and expand ideas of what beauty and movement can look like. Albrechta desires that the versatility of Louisville Ballet will shine through this production. Daigle believes the ballet will get the audience thinking outside the box. “I hope it stirs up emotions that get conversations going,” states Ragland. He knows this ballet is intense and may be uncomfortable for some. He hopes that this gets people discussing why it makes them feel the way they feel. Perhaps this will teach viewers how to converse—a gift only art can give.

Valuable. Refreshing. Creative. New. Camaraderie. Safe-house. Memorable. Reinterpret. Manipulate. Responsibility. Vulnerable. Teamwork. Rewarding. These are the words that ring out from the artists of Human Abstract, the ideals that have shaped this ballet. This is what it means to make art move. This process of creating art is imperative for ballet to survive and thrive. It feeds the artists. They learn, as De La O explains, to be self-responsible for their own movement. They learn to give something back to a choreographer. They discover that movement is never-ending. Constantly shifting. There is more and more space to explore and expand. Human Abstract is at once deeply personal and completely public. Open. The dancers shed their guard, exposing themselves to one another. Next week they will take this vulnerability to another level and share their art—share their souls—with audiences. Art is meant to be shared, and as artists, we have a duty to share it with the world. It can be frightening and intimidating to share such a deep and private part of ourselves with others. It takes courage. These seven incredible Louisville Ballet dancers boldly and bravely have thrown themselves into this work. The city of Louisville should be proud to have such dedicated artists in its fold.

Behind the Scenes

Leigh Anne Albrechta
Leigh Anne has been with Louisville Ballet since 2009. She teaches yoga and was a gymnast through age sixteen. Leigh Anne’s favorite part of living in Louisville is the amazing food the city offers—specifically El Mundo!

Roger Creel
Roger joined Louisville Ballet in 2013. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking. Currently he is studying animal behavior as a hobby! Roger enjoys the compactness of Louisville. He appreciates the way communities overlap in this city, especially in the arts, and the fruitful collaborations and networking that derive from this.

Helen Daigle
This Anniversary Season marks Helen’s nineteenth season with the Company! Helen is a mother to two beautiful children, Keiran and Iris. She is an avid sports fan, particularly when it comes to college football. LSU and U of L are her teams. What Helen most enjoys about living in Louisville is her wonderful family (and U of L sports).

Erica De La O
Erica began dancing with Louisville Ballet in 2003. She loves to travel, especially to visit friends and family in her hometown—Los Angeles. Erica is also fond of getting to know other artists through collaborations and attending shows and galleries. She enjoys falling into their world and seeing art from their perspectives. Erica’s favorite parts of living in Louisville are the art scene, the lack of traffic (quite different from Los Angeles!), and the versatility of people.

Brandon Ragland
In 2010, Brandon joined Louisville Ballet. Something most of his colleagues didn’t even know about Brandon is that he is an Eagle Scout! In his spare time, Brandon likes to watch action movies. Like Leigh Anne, Brandon’s favorite part of living in Louisville is the food. His favorite restaurant is Café Classico.

Kateryna Sellers
Kateryna joined Louisville Ballet in 2005. She lives with her husband, Pete, and her kitten, Bitsy. Kateryna loves to read historical fiction and murder mystery novels. What impresses her most about Louisville is that while it is not a huge city, it boasts everything that would make her want to live in a big city, including the art scene, the food, and the boutiques and shops.

Ben Wetzel
Ben has been with Louisville Ballet since 2013. When not dancing, Ben teaches lots of ballet. He enjoys watching British murder mysteries, cooking new things, wine tasting, eating at new restaurants, and supporting other art organizations. Ben’s favorite aspect of Louisville is the walkability of the city. He likes the accessibility the city offers and the ability to get places quickly. He particularly enjoys the walking bridge and the beautiful skyline it offers.