Mounting classical ballets is an epic undertaking. Just ask Lexington's professional ballet companies, Lexington Ballet Company and Kentucky Ballet Theatre. Each produces several ambitious full-length classical productions each year, ranging from the timeless staples of The Nutcracker to wholly new, original ballets.
But this weekend, both companies are taking a break from the mammoth scale of full ballet productions and offering audiences an intimate look into the individual talent, artistry and versatility of their professional dancers. Combining classical, neoclassical and contemporary styles, the featured dance pieces will showcase some of Lexington's best dance talent.
Luis Dominguez, artistic director for the Lexington Ballet Company, whose Dance Out Loud production at the Opera House will showcase his company of 22 dancers, says the event is a win-win for the audience and featured dancers alike.
"It's perfect for people who are scared about ballet, or they think it's boring," Dominguez says. "It will change their perception altogether.
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"They will be able to see so many different stories, hopefully, that will inspire them or bring some joy into their evening."
Dominguez says the title of the show, Dance Out Loud, was inspired by LexArts' annual campaign slogan, Art Out Loud, which featured an evening of collaboration among many arts groups when it launched last year.
Dominguez began exploring collaborations with other arts groups and eventually connected with Lexington Philharmonic concertmaster Daniel Mason.
"I think that playing the violin is, in its own way, a form of dance," Mason says. "Collaborations between musicians and dancers are responsible for some of the real high-water marks in the history of concert music and I think the link is a very essential one for both arts.
"Lexington has seen little opportunity for dance companies to perform with live music, and on those rare occasions when it could happen, it was magical."
Mason will perform one of the most difficult pieces of music for the violin: Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 3.
Audiences will enjoy a rare opportunity: to hear it live by a master violinist and to see it brought to life with original choreography accompanying it. The choreography is inspired by the bizarre true story of "killer" plants such as the Australian cassie tree, whose leaves can become toxic to animals and humans if the plant has been overeaten.
The evening runs a little more than an hour and features a revival of repertoire from some of the Lexington Ballet's recent seasons, plus numbers that showcase the dancer's stylistic versatility, such as Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
Just a few blocks away at the Downtown Art Center, Kentucky Ballet Theatre will produce Ballet Up Close and Personal, an intimate showcase of the company's artistry and athleticism.
"I wanted to experiment in a way to see how we might work with the venue at the DAC," Kentucky Ballet Theatre artistic director Norbe Risco says. "We performed in it before but not a full performance. I wanted to see if I can use it the way I want it. I think it's going to be fantastic."
The evening will feature a range of styles and themes, from classical with a twist to Latin and contemporary, including an excerpt from Dracula.
Risco says that in planning the evening, he tried to think from the perspective of an audience member, but he also kept in mind his goals to challenge his dancers.
"I always want to do a good show for the audience, but I want to give my dancers a challenge because that is how you keep a good company," he says.
"Preparation for this show has been a learning and growing experience for me," Kentucky Ballet Theatre principal dancer Kelsey Van Tine says. "Adapting to the choreography in Beethoven to the transitions to a salsa style and then to the strictly classical choreography is different than preparing for many weeks on just one style.
"It's been a lot of fun, but a lot of work."
Kentucky Ballet Theatre also will hold a talk-back with the dancers directly after the show to create meaningful connections between audience and performers.
"The intimate venue will give our patrons a chance to break the traditional proscenium stage set-up and enjoy dance in a space that features art at every turn," Kentucky Ballet Theatre executive director and dancer Brienne Lowry says. "Ballet in a black-box theatre opens the realm of possibilities for our future and beyond."