Doesn't everybody love a spooky story in October? The Kentucky Ballet Theatre sure does, and the troupe has prepared a Halloween witches' brew for Central Kentucky dance audiences this fall, a revival of its 2006 production of The Witches of Doon.
Set in 18th-century Scotland, The Witches of Doon is based on an adaptation of Robert Burns' delightfully scary poem, Tam O'Shanter. In Burns' story, adapted for the Kentucky Ballet by Lexington actor and director Ross Carter, Tam ignores his wife's warnings to stay out of trouble and goes out drinking with the lads. After downing a bit more whiskey than is good for him, he mounts his old horse, Meg, and rides toward home through the dark and stormy lowland night. Near the old church, Kirk-Alloway, Tam attracts the attention of a group of witches, who pursue him in a terrifying race to the bridge over the river Doon, which he must cross to escape their clutches.
Artistic director Norbe Risco says he and the KBT company love to combine dance and music from different cultures in their work. "Dance is more than just tutus and toe shoes," he says. The recipe for Witches includes ingredients from classical ballet, authentic Scottish country, highland and sword dancing, and even a pipe and drum corps.
The company has enlisted the expertise of choreographer and Lexington native Vicky Goodloe. She says she first fell in love with Scottish dance during a year spent studying with a couple of international students at UK in the 1960s. Goodloe's role is to teach the classical dancers how to step and fling like real Scots.
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"Classical ballet and Scottish dance have a lot in common," she says. "It all goes back to the Auld Alliance" between Scotland and France. The two nations agreed to go to each other's defense should either be attacked by their mutual enemy, the English. During that long period between the 13th and 16th centuries, the countries shared not only military strategy but cultural treasures, including the origins of ballet and Scottish folk dance.
As artistic director, Risco has the task of weaving the ballet and folk traditions into a unified evening of dance theater that pleases the audience and does justice to the plot.
The Scottish elements create the atmosphere, Goodloe says. "People will see the costumes and hear the music that says Scotland." But folk dance is more celebration than narrative. The ballet is more able to tell stories, and that is what Risco does best. "Norbe is so creative," Goodloe says. "A real genius."
The company includes 14 of Goodloe's colleagues from the Scottish dance community, and the professionals and students of the Kentucky Ballet Theatre Academy.
Risco says the participation of experienced Scottish dancers lends authenticity to the piece and also benefits KBT in a broader sense.
"We are always looking for stories from other cultures to enrich our repertoire," he says. "The story appealed to me because it is international and original."
The president of the ballet's board of directors, Jan Foody, agrees. "We want to make this our Scottish Riverdance," she says. "We want the Scottish community in Central Kentucky to know that we are doing dance theater, not just ballet."
"We were looking for a story for Halloween that was original," Foody continues. "We've done Phantom of the Opera. We've done Dracula. When we saw this adaptation of Tam O'Shanter, we knew we had found what we were looking for."