Intimacy might not be a word that one normally associates with ballet, but an intimate performance is precisely what Lexington Ballet has in mind when it presents Nonsense at the Downtown Arts Center this weekend.
Dance lovers accustomed to traditional ballet performed on picture-frame proscenium stages like at Lexington Opera House are in for a rare treat.
"You will never be closer to live dancers than this," says artistic director and choreographer Luis Dominguez.
Nonsense is a complex blend of styles. The music ranges from classical Vivaldi to rocky Tom Waits, and the dancers embrace that diversity by employing movement vocabulary of classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and even a couple of steps snatched from James Brown's unique repertory.
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"There is something for everyone," dancer Lauren Tenney says.
In addition to the recorded music that so many cash-strapped dance companies must use, Nonsense will include live musicians. Their presence adds another layer of live performance to the audience's experience.
Musicians, audience seating on three sides, a narrow performance space just inches from the first rows of chairs — it's a lot for a dancer to take in.
"You can see faces" of audience members, Dominguez says, marveling. "When they are leaning back, bored, you see it. When they are connected, on the edge of their seats, they feed you."
In the intimate confines of the Downtown Arts Center, the audience is as big a part of the show as the performers are.
But what is such a close view like for the audience?
"It humanizes the dance," dancer Kayla Max says. "You see us breathe. You see us sweat."
Dancer and University of Kentucky student Meredith Dunleavy makes an analogy with UK basketball: "I just had my first experience in the eRUPPtion Zone," Rupp Arena's notorious student section for UK basketball games. "It's so different than watching the game high up in the arena or on TV. You see how fast and how big the players are. You feel like you're part of the game."
The dancers say they hope Nonsense brings dance audiences that same kind of experience.
Watching a rehearsal in a space not much bigger than the stage at the DAC, one is struck by the dramatic tension between speed and stillness. The performers' faces become much more integral to the dance. The viewer sees the elation of a beautifully executed lift or the frustration of a bobbled turn. At times, there is a sense of being surrounded by the dance as the performers weave and glide through the space. There is something exhilarating about craning one's neck to see a dancer lifted high over your head.
Dominquez sums it up this way: "Dancing is exhausting, but it is also energizing. After a performance, you don't want to go to bed. You feel alive."