By Kathi E.B. Ellis for Arts-Louisville.com
August 3, 2018
The penultimate offering of the 2018 Kentucky Shakespeare Festival season is the Louisville Ballet’s third Shakespeare adaptation. This year the team of choreographer Roger Creel and composer Scott Moore take on The Tempest, widely acknowledged as being one of a cluster of Shakespeare’s final plays.
As with previous adaptations, Creel diverts from the original script when necessary as a means to showcase the storytelling through dance. Many of Shakespeare’s complex verbal feats are not suited to direct translation into other mediums.
In this case, Creel makes the choice to begin the ballet embodying the backstory which takes Prospero a long Act I scene 2 to reveal. The upside to this is that we have the opportunity to view Prospero (Robert Curran) ignoring his political duties as Duke of Milan – which leads to his usurpation – and then how he and Miranda (Shelby Shenkman, Maya O’Dell as young Miranda) spend time together on the island as she grows up. This allows the audience to develop a relationship with these two central characters before they became embroiled in the action of the actual story.
With Lady Lear last year, Creel excised some plot lines. Maybe because The Tempest is shorter than King Lear, this year he chose to keep in all of the subplots. While Stephano (Clare Harper), Trinculo (Aubrielle Whitis), and Caliban (Brian Grant) definitely provided some comic relief, they, together with the court (Alonsa (Emily Reinking O’Dell), Gonzala (Emma Rose Atwood), Antonio (Sanjay Saverimuttu), and Sebastiana (Ashley Thursby),) appeared much less central to this telling than in the original. This opens up the question as to whether this Tempest could survive by focusing on Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand (Rob Morrow), Caliban, and Ariel (Trevor Williams.) Almost creating a Tempest suite. An analogy would be in this year’s Louisville Fringe Festival, the futuristic adaptation Robothello wisely focused on a narrow plot line and by doing so achieved success.
The incorporation of Step dancing (choreographers Chris Malone and Antae Dickerson) to embody the island sprites* who created the storms was largely successful. The energy and vitality that the nine dancers brought to the stage was palpable. The intense patterning of this form of dance is impressive, and was remarkably executed. The two sequences that were most compelling for me were: first the one in which they and Ariel were clearly connected in the creation of the storm, blending Step, modern dance, and gymnastic moves; and later in the play when Prospero conjured the island’s magic through the sprites, with the rhythms starting almost seductively slowly until the whole island was pulsing with the energy needed to conduct his spell.
The Prospero-Ariel dynamic was equally compelling. Creel created some fascinating lifts which both signaled the master-servant relationship and subtly created the illusion of Ariel’s aerial-ness, specifically the signature leap for Williams to perch on Curran’s shoulder. Williams, one of the Louisville Ballet’s trainees in this production, is showcased in the role of Ariel. He handles the brisk, pizzicato choreography with confidence and aplomb, his Act II solo bringing enthusiastic applause on opening night and a no-hands cartwheel/tumble elicited an audible gasp in the park.