Like the story of The Phantom of the Opera, there is a mystery behind Kentucky Ballet Theatre. How do artists from Cuba find themselves dancing in Lexington in a production based on a French novel?
Allen Rivas, one of two dancers in the title role, smiles at the question. "The world," he says, "it's just not that big."
Maybe so, but the world of The Phantom is big indeed. The ballet's production, a remounting of a show originally staged in 2003, embraces many styles, forms and questions. Is the Phantom a ghost or just a haunted man? Is his a story of swashbuckling romance or of gothic horror? Is he the star of Gaston Leroux's novel, of Lon Chaney's silent-movie classic or of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway musical?
In artistic director and choreographer Norbe Risco's Halloween chiller, the answer is "all of the above."
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"We include many musical styles: opera, organ, even just drums under the battle between the composer and the Phantom."
Risco was born and trained in Camaguey, Cuba. Many of his corps of dancers grew up there, too.
"Our style blends technique, flow and flair," Risco said, and his choreography flows from the grand gestures of neo-classical ballet to the erotic grace of tango.
Risco and Rivas will dance the title role on alternate nights.
Rivas says the role requires a dancer who can really act. "This is always true," he says. "Dancing is more than just turning and jumping."
For example, the dancer playing the Phantom must wear latex applications to represent his scarred face as well as the famous half-mask. How does the mask affect the actor? "Because of the mask, the Phantom is always there," Risco says. "Half of the real face is visible, but as soon as you turn your head, boom, there he is."
The dancers take their acting responsibilities seriously.
"I hate the Phantom!" Orlando Viamontes says with a grin, while menacing his fellow dancers playfully with a french fry.
Viamontes is dancing the part of the villainous composer who sets the wheels of the story in motion. There is genuine camaraderie and laughter when these artists get together.
"We are like a family." Rivas says of his company of eight professionals. "If anyone has a problem, they come to me. We resolve it together, not in the street."
This approach is one reason for Kentucky Ballet Theatre's continued survival. "And we don't owe anybody money," says board president Jan Foody, smiling, "because everybody works."
Each member of the dance corps is a teacher in the company's school, directed by Rafaela Cento Muñoz. She is Risco's wife, and together they teach the style of dance they learned in Camaguey. Their distinctive approach combines the dramatic strength of the Russian school of ballet with the fire and rhythms of their homeland.
It is just one more example of the way KBT is bringing diverse styles, forms and artists together to sustain an original and professional ballet company in the Bluegrass.