Luis Dominguez took his final bow in the Lexington Ballet's production of The Nutcracker Sunday afternoon.
The Guignol Theatre curtain dropped, he hugged his leading lady, took a deep breath and said, "I shouldn't be out there."
Dominguez's performance as the Cavalier in the Ballet's annual Nutcracker production was emergency service. The dancer hired for the role, New York-based Jason Jordan, was injured in the opening night performance on Dec. 11.
With no other options, 46-year-old Dominguez, the Ballet's artistic director, put on the Cavalier's white tights and ornate jacket to dance the next eight performances.
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"I retired from the stage nine, 10 years ago," said Dominguez, who was once a member of the world-renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem.
One person who had no misgivings about Dominguez taking the stage was his leading lady, Lauren Tenney, who is a quarter-century younger than Dominguez.
"It felt like I was dancing with someone my age," said Tenney, 21, who danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
One thing that made her comfortable with Dominguez was they had been dancing together in rehearsals. The Lexington Ballet has a company of seven professional dancers, but none are men.
Dominguez has rehearsed with them for the past two productions this season, and turned the male leads over to guest artists who came in a few days before the show for the performance.
"After rehearsing together for more than a month, Luis and I are really familiar with each other, so it was very comfortable out there dancing with him," Tenney said.
The Cavalier is a demanding role, highlighted by an athletic pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The audience didn't see some of Dominguez's grimaces as he lifted Tenney, though he was happy to have no notable spills.
Asked what was the hardest thing about the part, Dominguez said, "everything."
Some people associated with the ballet enjoyed the chance to see the artistic director take the stage again.
"I've watched video of him dancing, but had never seen him perform," said Lexington Ballet board chair Michael Potapov. "I would say, 'You should get back out there,' and he'd say, 'No, I want to be the one putting on the show.'"
And he still does.
Dominguez says the situation — the Ballet actually lost two dancers booked for the Cavalier part before Jones — highlighted the need for him to hire at least one male dancer for the company.
Sunday afternoon though, it was Dominguez soaking in a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd in the Guignol, the main stage in the University of Kentucky's Fine Arts Building.
Dominguez says he and the company will enjoy a two week vacation before getting to work on the Ballet's next production, Nonsense, Feb. 5 to 7 at the Downtown Arts Center. And that is a production Dominguez will only direct.
"I can't do this anymore," he said, laughing while still standing on the stage.
He really had taken his final bow.