In its latest production, Nouveau Classique, Kentucky Ballet Theatre has stories to tell.
Without a story, says KBT artistic director Norbe Risco, "it's just a ballet class."
One story in Nouveau Classique is Muñecos, or The Dolls. Dancers Kelsey Van Tine and Orlando Viamontes tell this funny, flirty tale of a doll who comes to life and softens the heart of a stern toy soldier. Built on Latin musical rhythms, the piece finds charm and humor in the contrast between Viamontes' rigid military gestures and Van Tine's rag-doll posture and coquettish attitude.
The dancers say they enjoy its contemporary style and character.
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Liberated from the strict forms of classical dance, Van Tine says, she finds expressing the life and feelings of her character easier.
In dance, there is always a second story, one not intended for the eyes of the audience. It is a story of ice packs and heating pads. Long-injured knees are treated gingerly between rehearsal repetitions. Feet are taped like boxers' fists before being forced into toe shoes. The audience will never see bodies bent over, gasping for air. The tale told by a grimace upon landing after a beautiful leap is not for public consumption, but it is part of the story of the dance as well. These are artists who love freedom but understand discipline and sacrifice.
KBT principal dancer Rafaela Cento Muñoz agrees that the discipline of ballet is stricter than that of contemporary styles, but she is quick to point out that ballet is the foundation upon which the company's work is built. Ballet, she says, is the basis of a dancer's education.
"The dancer learns to move differently," she says. "The body learns."
When she dances with Risco, who is her husband, their art reflects a lifetime of learning together.
In the more classically styled pas de deux based on an aria from Bizet's opera Carmen, the couple slip easily into their roles as tragic lovers. Where Muñecos is filled with whimsy and light, the choreography of this Carmen is dark and dangerous. In rehearsal, Cento Muñoz and Risco collaborate with grace and intelligence. In performance, they dance with courage. There is no mistaking the trust these artists have in one another.
That trust extends to the rest of the company. As husband and wife work out the details of their demanding choreography, they are assisted not only by the mirror, but by colleagues Viamontes and Roberto Sifontes.
"Eso es — suave," the dancers, who are all natives of Cuba, encourage the partners in Spanish. "That's it — smoothly."
Each turn of the foot or attitude of the head is carefully sculpted.
Like the injuries in the rehearsal hall, the audience will never know this story either, but they will experience the results.
"We are professionals," Sifontes says with pride. "We know what we are doing."
Saerpil is the supernatural tale of a would-be seducer (played by Allen Rivas) who discovers too late that his target is not a beautiful woman but a deadly serpent (danced by Anna Patsfall). The music here is reminiscent of the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s. Both music and movement are heavily influenced by traditional Indian performance as a corps de ballet functions as prologue, as acolytes, and ultimately joins Patsfall to become the giant snake that enwraps Rivas.
It is a strange love story, but for Rivas, the story is king.
"That is what makes the dance credible," he says. The story is what helps the audience connect to what is happening on stage, he says.
Story also helps the dancers connect to "the action, the character, and our experience," Cento Muñoz says.
It is no accident that so many of these stories are about love. These are artists who love their work and one another. Their hope is that the authenticity of their storytelling will win the hearts of audiences as well.