If sweeping, iconic ballets like “The Nutcracker” and “Peter Pan” form the “greatest hits” of local dance companies such as Kentucky Ballet Theatre, then the pieces that comprise this weekend’s production, “Urban Dancers,” form the rare B-side gems that hardcore fans clamor for.
Taking a cue from the success of KBT’s pared-down season opener, “Ballet Up Close and Personal,” KBT artistic director Norbe Risco and the company of 14 professional dancers return to the Downtown Arts Center this weekend for an intimate evening of rare selections that local audiences will likely not see anywhere else on stage — or even in this country — anytime soon.
Risco says the repertory was designed to challenge and showcase the company dancers’ athleticism and artistry while offering audiences an intimate exchange with lesser-known works.
“We want the audience to have that unique experience,” Risco says. “Those big, classical ballets are important, but all these dancers are hungry for new styles and challenges.”
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Clocking in at 90 minutes or so, with a 15-minute intermission, the program opens with the piece that won principal dancer Jorge Barani a silver medal from the Varna International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria — the pas de deux from “Harlequinade,” George Balanchine’s commedia dell’arte-inspired two-act ballet.
The first act moves along, with a contemporary pas de deux titled “Conflicts,” before a classical solo portraying Nikiya’s Death from the 19th-century ballet “La Bayadere.” The first act closes with a rarely seen grand pas des fleurs: a selection from the Victor Hugo-inspired 19th-century ballet, “La Esmeralda.”
They like to see the sweat flying and the glitter flying off the tutus. They see us breathing heavy, they can tell when we know we nailed a turn.
Brie Lowry, Kentucky Ballet Theatre executive director and dancer
Brie Lowry, company dancer and KBT executive director, says she has never seen “La Esmeralda” performed on this side of the pond.
The excerpt from what Lowry calls a “classical tutu ballet” features KBT’s principal dancers Barani and Kelsey Van Tine.
“It’s very rooted in Russian tradition,” says Lowry, and both Barani and Van Tine are “at top of their game.”
That doesn’t mean it was easy for them, though. Lowry says the work’s technical difficulty was challenging, even for the principal dancers.
“They’re not struggling,” Lowry says, “but they’ve had to really hone their skills to pull this one off.”
Lowry herself dances in Act Two’s opening number, which portrays the awakening of flowers in spring and highlights the talents of the company’s female dancers.
The evening closes with something unexpected: tango. Specifically, couples (with female dancers in pointe shoes) will perform the seven-movement “Calles de Tango” by Kirt Hathaway.
Lowry says the intimate setting is a win-win for audience and dancers alike.
“The audience loves it because they like to be close to us,” Lowry says. “They like to see the sweat flying and the glitter flying off the tutus. They see us breathing heavy; they can tell when we know we nailed a turn.”
Lowry also says that large spaces such as the Opera House, where KBT usually presents larger ballets, require dancers to “overact.” But the DAC is a small space that allows the dancers to be more natural in their expressions. It also gives them an opportunity to feel connected to the audience in a more personal way than larger venues allow.
“We can see the joy on their faces, the appreciation,” Lowry says. “Everybody wants to talk to you after the show.
“This is to make dance pedestrian and bring it into the mainstream. We have this chance to strip down the ballet, and our technique and artistry shine through.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.