A Soaring New ‘Swan Lake’

_SAM2068When you tell your friends that you’re going to see “Swan Lake” at the Louisville Ballet, they’ll recognize the name – after all, it’s a timeless classic. However, they might be surprised to see an amazing twist on the production. This fall, the Louisville Ballet manages to create a radically new interpretation of “Swan Lake” while still paying homage to the beloved tale.

The plot is familiar – “It’s essentially a boy-meets-girl-in-tragic-circumstances story,” says Natalie Harris, director of marketing. In an unnamed kingdom, Prince Siegfried goes hunting in the woods and instead finds a princess named Odette. Cursed by the evil sorcerer Rothbart, Odette is trapped in the form of a beautiful swan. Still, the Prince and Odette fall in love, but are thwarted at the end by Rothbart and his daughter, the famous black swan.

This enthralling tale of love and betrayal is one of the world’s most famous ballets, with well-known dances like the “Four Little Swans” and a storyline that has been echoed throughout pop culture. However, the Louisville Ballet has a new, sleeker take on this project. “We’re acknowledging the influences of the world we live in now,” Harris explains. This interpretation leans more toward a sci-fi setting than a fairytale one – “It’s about technology, how we engage in the world, this escapism,” Harris says. “We’re using laser production technology on an empty set to create what looks like a 3D environment.”

So, instead of clunky set pieces rolling around on the stage, the ballet will use lights and lasers to create a graceful illusion of different settings. “It’s very mimalistic, and the costumes are also very stark and futurist06ic,” Harris says. “Lasers are placed throughout the stage, and then it’s filled with laser projection.” Louisville-based designers and media artists Ryan Daly and Garrett Crabtree have created the laser experience, making a unique and sophisticated setting. “It’s not like a rave,” Harris explains. “It’s the same technology but used in a much more artful way.”

In some parts, Daly and Crabtree’s lasers can even replace dancers. Rothbart’s character is traditionally not seen in human form; in many productions, he is replaced with a giant puppet or scary prop. However, the Louisville Ballet takes on this challenge more gracefully, representing the antagonist with an unsettling light. “It’s like a green color,” Harris explains, “and you don’t know if it’s his mood or his presence, but when you see this color you know that this is when the bad things are going to happen.”

Taking on this laser-filled production requires rebuilding some other traditional aspects of the ballet, like the usual feathery tutus, but local designer and artisan Tiffany Woodard has met this challenge head-on. “We do have traditional tutus for the swans,” Harris says, “but no feathers. It’s a basic white tutu.” Aside from the swans, she says, “The other costumes are full of striking lines; the color palette is very dark overall with bursts of color. In one, we’ve even used reflective material for the lasers.”

It’s important to note that the Louisville Ballet isn’t flouting tradition. “The classics are great,” Harris says, “and we embrace those. It’s important to preserve them.” However, this new interpretation of the classic is pertinent to modern audiences. “We have our phones in our hands – we have these little squares of light that pull us out of the world, and we want to think about the consequences of that. It’s a romantic, compelling story,” she says, “but it also acknowledges the influences of the world we live in now.”

The ballet is only running for a single weekend, so Harris urges audience members to get tickets early. “The quality of the dancing is going to be amazing,” Harris says. “Our company is a professional company, a resident company in the city – they live here, their kids go to school here. And they’re incredible athlete artists.” Audience members will surely delight in seeing how Artistic and Executive Director Robert Curran’s choreography will push the dancers to new heights.

Merging technology into this classic and beloved story is a challenge not every company could face, but the Louisville Ballet is masterfully designing the production. Lights, grace, love, and heartbreak – this production has it all. VT

The Louisville Ballet’s production of “Swan Lake” will be performed October 14-15 at the Brown Theatre. Tickets start at $35 and can be ordered at 502.584.7777, kentuckycenter.org or the box office at 501 W. Main St. 

Story by Graham Pilotte, Photo courtesy of The Louisville Ballet