Stage & Dance

Candace Chaney: An 'interesting' year ahead in Lexington theater and dance

Hannah Neff, left, Melissa Knestaut-Ajayi and Zach Shoner of Blackbird Dance Theatre rehearsed The Broken Queen, created by Lexington Jenny Fitzpatrick.
Hannah Neff, left, Melissa Knestaut-Ajayi and Zach Shoner of Blackbird Dance Theatre rehearsed The Broken Queen, created by Lexington Jenny Fitzpatrick. Herald-Leader

The coming year in Central Kentucky theater and dance brings to mind the famous quote by visual artist Paul Gardner: "A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places."

Gardner was talking about painting, but the concept of creative evolution — starts and stops, knowing when to quit and when to start over — is part of all creative processes, even arts organizations.

As 2015 dawns, the changing state of Lexington's theater and dance scenes is paused in a more "interesting place" than usual, due to major upheavals in several companies as well as new ventures in theater and dance.

Two of the area's flagship theaters, Actors Guild of Lexington and Balagula Theatre, have recently let their artistic directors go, because the groups could no longer afford to pay their salaries.

That leaves a hole at worst and a question mark at best in Lexington theater.

Actors Guild has been a dominant presence in Lexington theater for three decades. Only time will tell whether the company is truly "in hibernation," as board members have said, or whether that is a polite euphemism for permanently closed.

Balagula Theatre (Balagula.com) plans to forge ahead with a volunteer staff. Outgoing artistic director Ryan Case is on record as saying that the company is strong enough to move forward without its founders and creative masterminds, himself and Natasha Williams. Its January show, Friends, has been canceled. But board president Scott Turner says the rest of the season will go forward with some adjustments in venue. Shows that were previously scheduled for the Downtown Arts Center will be moved to the Farish Theater. The company's next show, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, is scheduled for late February or early March. Balagula will be a story to watch in 2015.

As these stories play out, two new theater companies are launching in 2015.

Theatre fans will want to catch Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley, Feb. 5 to 15 at the Downtown Arts Center, if for no other reason than to satisfy curiosity about AthensWest Theater Company (Athenswest.org), a new company founded by Bo List and Jeff Day with the support of LexArts. AthensWest aims to be a venue for area members of Actors Equity, the professional stage actors union, and professional-level theater for local actors who are non-union.

Likewise, the newly minted Lexington Theatre Company (Lexingtontheatrecompany.org) is expected to feature Equity performers in professional musicals each summer at the Lexington Opera House. Founded by Lexington native Lyndy Franklin Smith and her husband, Jeromy Smith, who both are theater artists who lived and worked in New York before returning to Lexington, the Lexington Theatre Company is scheduled to make its public debut with a Jan. 10 "Concert with the Stars" featuring Broadway and TV performers Laura Bell Bundy, Jonathan Groff and Mara Davi.

Another new venture is the expansion of Kentucky Conservatory Theatre's (Mykct.org) programming into the winter months with Winterfest, which will feature the musical Cabaret Jan. 26 to 30 and a one-man production of Hamlet Feb. 2 to 6. KCT has successfully transitioned its Summerfest from the Arboretum to Moondance Theatre; this summer's offerings include Monty Python's Spamalot and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. (Dates to be announced.)

Meanwhile, two quite different but institutionally thriving theaters, Lexington Children's Theatre (LCTonstage.org) and Studio Players, continue to build on more than six decades of success. I particularly look forward to LCT's regional premiere of The Cat in the Hat on Feb. 22, 28 and March 1, and Studio Players' (Studioplayers.org) world premiere of local playwright Ross Carter's What Would Jesus Pack? March 12 to 29.

■ As local theater experiences tectonic shifts, the dance scene remains anchored in the city's two professional ballet companies, Kentucky Ballet Theatre (Kyballet.com) and the Lexington Ballet (Lexingtonballet.org). Both companies have an influx of professional dancers this year, so it will be exciting to see how each company adjusts to feature new talent, including KBT's new principal dancer, Jorge Barani.

Their spring ballets feature popular story lines familiar to mainstream audiences. That's a recurring strategy designed to appeal to new audiences. Lexington Ballet's spring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, on April 11, should be visually stunning and should appeal to Shakespeare fans, while Kentucky Ballet Theatre's Beauty and the Beast, March 28 and 29, and Cinderella, May 30 and 31, also should be easily accessible to audiences.

Lexington supports two professional ballets, plus the Bluegrass Youth Ballet, but it lacks a professional contemporary dance company, a void that is beginning to be filled by Kate Hadfield's movement continuum (Kentuckymovement.com) and Jenny Fitzpatrick's Blackbird Dance Theatre (Mykct.org/blackbird.html). Each have recently mounted creatively ambitious and well-attended shows, signs that Lexington might be ready to embrace contemporary as well as classical dance.

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