This weekend, Lexington's two professional ballet companies, Kentucky Ballet Theatre and the Lexington Ballet, will join with the city's Division of Parks and Recreation to present Ballet Under the Stars.
Held in Woodland Park since its inception in 1990, Ballet Under the Stars is a cultural late-summer staple; other arts events have come and gone during its tenure.
Norbe Risco, artistic director of Kentucky Ballet Theatre, credits the event's consistency and affordability as part of its staying power: Ballet Under the Stars has never changed venues, and admission is only $5.
"With the quality of the show you are getting, it is worth much more than that," Risco says. "You're watching live performance with great dancers. What is a better value than that?"
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Risco says he thinks that each year, the event's low admission price and its high-quality programming win over new arts patrons in a town known more for basketball than ballet.
"If you are trying to bring the cultural value of ballet to a town that is not accustomed to it, you have to be mindful of these things," he says. "If you charge $20 or $30 for Ballet Under the Stars, people are not going to go."
But plenty of people have attended the event in its 24 years, bringing picnic dinners or lounging on blankets under Woodland Park's towering trees with their children or pets.
Risco and Luis Dominguez, artistic director of the Lexington Ballet, are both confident that audiences won't be disappointed this year.
"It's going to be a crowd-pleaser," Dominguez says of For the Red, White and Blue, a patriotic 30-minute classical ballet that he choreographed. Set to music of "march king" John Philip Sousa, Dominguez's original choreography follows eight of Sousa's musical "campaigns" as performed by the Boston Pops orchestra and features numerous dance variations among Lexington Ballet's professional dancers.
"I'm very excited about the work that we are putting in," says Dominguez, who costumed his dancers in red, white and blue to match the American theme.
"It's not easy," Dominguez says of the piece. "The ladies are en pointe, and there's lots of partnering, lifts and quick changes. They have to really be focused. It's good, solid, hard work — classical ballet."
This is the fourth year that the Lexington Ballet and the Kentucky Ballet Theatre have shared the stage for Ballet Under the Stars. The two companies were born of the dissolution of the Lexington Ballet's professional company after a financial meltdown in 1998. They both now have professional troupes. Kentucky Ballet Theatre was the primary presenter of Ballet Under the Stars from 1998 to 2009. In what Risco called a "breakthrough" at the time, the companies began mounting the event together in 2010.
The groups take turns opening and closing the event. First up this year is the Lexington Ballet, which will open Thursday and Friday, while Kentucky Ballet Theatre closes the show. On Saturday and Sunday, Kentucky Ballet starts the performance and the Lexington Ballet closes.
While the Lexington Ballet will feature a thematically unified 30-minute piece with multiple variations built in, Kentucky Ballet Theatre will present a selection of shorter works that highlight the company's artistic strengths and versatility, Risco says.
"We as a company have always had that push to try to keep the show one of the top 20 in the South," says Risco, who choreographed original works ranging from the fiery, Latin-flavored Majos to two classical pas de deux with dramatically opposite stylings to the neoclassical Vitam, a portrayal of the cycles of life.
"We always try to raise the bar and give the audience something new and different each year," Risco says. "We want the audience to be mesmerized."
IF YOU GO
Ballet Under the Stars
What: 24th annual outdoor dance concert featuring Kentucky Ballet Theatre and Lexington Ballet, presented by the companies and the Lexington Division of Parks and Recreation.
When: Aug. 1-4. Pre-show at 8 p.m., main curtain at 9.
Where: Woodland Park stage, off Kentucky Ave.
Admission: $5 at the gate.
Learn more: Lexingtonky.gov.