Stage + Studio, A Louisville Ballet Blog: Alun Jones and Helen Starr—Louisville Legacy by Annie Honebrink

“The Louisville Ballet is Alun Jones,” stated a dancer spokesman during Alun Jones’s directorship of Louisville Ballet.  Jones’s tenure as Artistic Director of Louisville Ballet, from 1978 through 2002, remains to this day the longest of any director with the company.  During these years, Jones, along with his wife, Helen Starr, developed the newly established professional company into a significant force in the arts community.  Under the leadership of Jones and Starr, Louisville Ballet experienced a considerable increase in repertoire, dancer contracts, season subscriptions, and company touring.  The couple continued the Ballet’s traditions of collaboration between art forms and guest artist involvement.  By the end of his second season as Artistic Director, Jones had arranged for Mikhail Baryshnikov to perform with Louisville Ballet two times, a historic endeavor.  The company’s season subscriptions leaped from 900 to 4,500 during Jones’s first year in his new position.  Following Baryshnikov’s second performance with Louisville Ballet, the number of subscriptions sprang to 9,000, the highest per capita of dance subscriptions for anyone in the United States at that time.  “This was a gala to end all of them, a landmark event in the history of Louisville’s arts, and a resounding success for artistic director Alun Jones, who took over as head of this company just a few short months ago,” stated William Mootz of the Courier-Journal in his review of Baryshnikov’s first appearance with Louisville Ballet in 1978.  After Baryshnikov’s visit to the Louisville stage, Mootz wrote, “Miss McBride and Baryshnikov lured us to Memorial Auditorium.  But the Louisville Ballet proved beyond doubt and beyond doubting that it was worthy of providing them a showcase…So all hail the Louisville Ballet.  And long reign Alun Jones and his ballerina wife, Helen Starr.”  Mootz’s hope was realized.  Jones and Starr would indeed have a long and extraordinary reign.  Their impact on Louisville Ballet, the Louisville community, and the art world as a whole is intangible.  This influence continues to inspire and shape the company today.

On April seventh and eighth, Louisville Ballet will complete its 65th Anniversary Season with Jones’s The Sleeping Beauty.  Jones and Starr have returned to the Ballet’s studios to set and rehearse this ballet.  It is fitting that the company will conclude this anniversary season by welcoming back two of the most influential contributors in its history.  Jones and Starr offer the dancers a wealth of experience and knowledge, invaluable tools for artists.  Vincent Falardo, Louisville Ballet’s ballet master under Jones, expressed his feelings concerning Starr, “She’s a wonderful role model, especially for the women…But for the men too, because of all the great choreographers she’s worked with and all the fine dancers she’s known.  She’s an inspiration.  She shares her knowledge with anyone who wants to listen.  She knows everything about dance history and is willing to pass it along.”

Louisville Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty remains extremely true to that same version performed over one hundred years ago.  Sections have been cut due to time constraints, rendering a two and a half hour version, rather than four; however, the parts that are performed acutely resemble the original choreography.  Jones and Starr have retained much of the original choreography and mime, with a few changes, such as the garland dance which was initially created for sixteen couples and sixteen children.  One key difference between Jones’s The Sleeping Beauty and versions first performed is the setting.  Though the ballet is set in a fantasy land with fairies and monsters, the first renderings of the ballet were based in seventeenth and eighteenth century, supposedly in France.  Jones decided to set his version in Russia.  The Prologue and Act I take place during the time of Catherine the Great, and by the last act Alexander III is in power.  Not coincidentally, this ruler was the Tzar when the ballet was first produced.  The Sleeping Beauty is an imperative ballet in the art’s history.  Jones and Starr have expertly preserved and maintained the historical components of the ballet.  When Louisville patrons come see this production, they will be stepping back into time.

Jones describes The Sleeping Beauty as the “greatest of the classical ballets.”  The formation of the ballet is genius, the score phenomenal, and the theatrics breathtaking.  Jones fondly recalls an account of the famous choreographer Frederick Ashton.  An upcoming choreographer asked Ashton if he would help him structure a ballet.  Ashton directed him to go and watch Sleeping Beauty.  The pace and construction of the ballet is simply brilliant.  This is significantly due to the collaborative nature in which the score was created.  The Sleeping Beauty was the first of the great Tchaikovsky ballets.  The renowned composer worked very closely with Petipa to create this amazing score, which is challenging for both dancers and musicians.  The company first objected to the music, decreeing it “too symphonic;” however, the incredible richness and diversity within this one piece of music has proven itself as one of the greatest scores of all time.

The impact Alun Jones and Helen Starr have had and continue to have on Louisville Ballet is immeasurable.  “I’m after first-rate works to expand our repertory.  Ballets that will raise our standard of dancing and, at the same time, provide us with a viable mix of classic, contemporary and new works.  My ideal is to create a completely cosmopolitan repertory for us,” Jones said after assuming directorship in 1978.  His dreams and goals were realized.  Under his leadership, the company flourished and grew exponentially.  Jones fondly refers to that period as a “wonderful time” and a “golden era.”  The dedication of the hard working dancers and the support of the board were imperative to the growth of Jones and the company.  Jones devoted himself to the Ballet, never turning down any offers and doing all in his power to make his, and in turn Louisville Ballet’s, presence known.  Helen Starr’s contribution to the ballet extends far beyond the stage; however, the art she generously gave to this city will always be revered and remembered.  “Helen’s body sings music from her soul,” stated opera singer, Edith Davis.  Actress Adale O’Brien described Starr as “a poem in human form.”  Perhaps the words of Susan Grubbs, a Louisville Ballet board member, state it best, “When I think of Helen, I think of the high standards that motivate everything she does.  They are what make her the remarkable woman she is, and they are what make this company one of the most sophisticated regional ballets in the country.”

When asked his favorite part of The Sleeping Beauty, Jones first describes the fantastic grand adagio for the fairies in the Prologue.  He then discusses the beautiful music of the vision scene.  At last he just states, “I like it all, actually.”  The arts provide a release from tensions and unpleasant situations.  They offer a respite, a world in which one can become completely lost.  The Sleeping Beauty will transport audience members into a world of fantasy.  The dancers will carry each wide eyed child and world weary adult into the story.  With the guidance of Alun Jones and Helen Starr, Louisville Ballet will bring history to life.

Jones, A.  (2017, March, 7).  Personal Interview.


Starr, H.  (2017, March 14).  Personal Interview.


Louisville Ballet.  65 Years of Making Moving Art.  Louisville: Butler Books, 2017.  Print.


Mootz, William.  “What a gala!  They should have danced all night.”  Courier-Journal.


“Ballet forces its director to take a ‘medical leave.’”  Courier-Journal.  27 June 1984,

Wednesday: 3.  Web.  13 May 2016.


Mootz, William.  “Ballet will test itself by dancing ‘Swan Lake’ Act 2.”  Courier-Journal.  20

September 1981, Sunday Morning: 115.  Web.  12 May 2016.


Blodgett, Lucie.  “Brava!  Bravissima!  Helen Starr retires from ballet.”  The Voice-Tribune.

1 April 1998, Wednesday: A-10.


Mootz, William.  “A Painful Farewell: Dance’s toll forces Helen Starr into retirement.”

    Courier-Journal.  30 November 1997, Sunday: 5, 11.