Stage & Dance

For the first time, Ballet Under the Stars will feature both of Lexington's dance companies

Dancers with Lexington Ballet took the stage for rehearsals for Ballet Under the Stars on Tuesday night at Woodland Park. For the first time, the event will feature both Lexington Ballet and Kentucky Ballet Theatre. The two troupes will present much different styles.
Dancers with Lexington Ballet took the stage for rehearsals for Ballet Under the Stars on Tuesday night at Woodland Park. For the first time, the event will feature both Lexington Ballet and Kentucky Ballet Theatre. The two troupes will present much different styles. © Mark Cornelison

Years ago, this weekend's Ballet Under the Stars would have seemed inconceivable.

The ballet concert on the stage in Woodland Park will feature performances by Kentucky Ballet Theatre, which has been the primary presenter of the professional dance portion of the show for more than 10 years, and the Lexington Ballet, which has not been part of the annual summer arts event since 1997.

Kentucky Ballet Theatre was born of the dissolution of Lexington Ballet's professional company after a financial meltdown in 1998. For years after that, the two companies had little use for each other.

"This is a breakthrough," KBT artistic director Norbe Risco said during a recent interview with his Lexington Ballet counterpart, Luis Dominguez, on the Woodland Park stage, where their companies will perform.

Dominguez, who was not involved in any of the ballet upheaval in the late 1990s, took over Lexington Ballet in 2003. Since then, he and Risco have gotten to know each other and chat frequently. But this will be the first time they share a stage.

The impetus to join forces was fairly simple.

"The prerequisite is that you have a professional dance company," Dominguez said. "Up until last year, we did not have a professional company."

Last year, Lexington Ballet relaunched its professional wing with nine dancers; the company has grown to 16 for the coming season.

"Our philosophy is we wanted to offer a true representation of what we have to offer in professional dance in Lexington," said Amber Luallen, cultural arts director for the Lexington Division of Parks and Recreation.

"The audience for this event is the dance audience in Lexington and people who may have never attended a professional dance production before. To present both groups shows a broad range of what we have available."

With Ballet Under the Stars, Dominguez and Risco hope to demonstrate the differences between their companies and show that Lexington can support two ballet troupes.

"Most of our work is classic and neo-classic pieces," Risco said, and KBT's set will feature a pair of traditional pas de deux, or dance for two, including the Black Swan pas des deux from Swan Lake.

At the Lexington Ballet, by contrast, "We've been busy doing a lot of contemporary work, so our portion will be bluesy and jazzy," Dominguez said.

The Lexington Ballet's programs have included a concert of pieces set to rock 'n' roll classics and a dance set to one of Keith Jarrett's classic jazz piano albums, The Köln Concert.

"When Baryshnikov was directing ABT (American Ballet Theatre) and doing contemporary work, his board of directors had a fit," Dominguez said. "Now, it's a standard part of the repertoire, and to be a well-rounded dancer, you need to be able to do both classical and contemporary. But you also have to have that basis of classical ballet."

And if classical ballet is what you want, KBT will deliver.

"It's important for the audience to see a different group of dance styles to find out what they enjoy more," Risco said. "And it is important to be exposed to classical styles and music like Beethoven.

"We keep hearing, 'Oh, Lexington can't support two ballet companies. You should join together,' and I don't think that's true."

They hope that sharing the stage will put that argument to rest through the diversity of their programs.

Risco is the veteran hand at Ballet Under the Stars — he has been involved with it since 1997, when he was part of Lexington Ballet — so he's in a position to advise Dominguez and his dancers what to expect at the park.

There are obvious weather problems, including heat and the danger of water on the stage.

"He will find this is like any theater, only out in the open," Risco said. "Everything else is the same, with the music and lights. It's just a bigger space you are playing to.

"It is nice when you come up to the edge of the stage and the audience is right there, sitting on blankets and enjoying the evening."

This union of ballet companies might have been difficult to imagine 10 years ago, but reuniting is easy for the artistic directors to envision.

"Hopefully the Fayette County parks department will continue to do this every year and showcase the dance we have in Lexington," Risco said.

Dominguez said, "But we might surprise you and join forces again, sooner than you think."

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