The Show Must Go On

Louisville Ballet Company Dancer Brandon Ragland with KERTIS film crew and Artistic Director Robert Curran from “Kentucky! Volume 1” 2020. Photo by Shelby Shenkman.

How the performing arts are embracing the virtual stage for the fall 2020 season


By Sarah Levitch


once read somewhere that the Earth without “art” is just “eh.” Possessed with a poignant ability to connect people of different beliefs or languages, art persists in society as an instigator, uniter and healer. Art constructs another dimension of human understanding, one where words disperse into our subconscious and intuitive sentiments arise.

As this year reveals what has been hiding in the cracks, exposing our strengths and our weaknesses, we’ve been called upon by the Earth to examine our lives and let go of old habits or beliefs that are no longer serving us for the better. Moving through a time of darkness and uncertainty, the performing arts offer a guiding light towards the year’s end, refusing to be the ones let go of. These trying times have been a testament to the dynamic talent and passion behind the performing arts organizations in Louisville.

After speaking with the Kentucky Opera, Louisville Orchestra, Louisville Ballet and Actors Theatre, I discovered that the coming season of arts reflects and serves our community like never before. Embracing the virtual challenge, original and classic pieces take to the digital stage with the belief that art has transformative powers. Despite all we’ve endured this year, there is still hope. We are far from perfect, but with each step, we learn more about ourselves, adapting to a more equitable and sustainable society.

Open your heart, eyes and ears, and breathe in the crisp creativity of the Louisville performing arts. Here’s a sneak preview into what the season looks like.

The Louisville Ballet presents their “Season of Illumination” through cinematic dances in partnership with Kertis Creative and a continuation of educational programs. Their opening show “Kentucky! Volume 1” casts a spotlight on our city as an original dance tracing the history of four fictional families in Louisville. Brandon Ragland, dancer and choreographer, teased, “You’ll get to see how four families migrated to Kentucky to start their own families, and how they’re all interconnected toward my character’s story.” Artistic and Executive Director Robert Curran added, “We are creating something brand new that’s made by and with Kentucky artists, about Kentucky, for Kentucky.”

Louisville Ballet Company Dancer with Brett Marshall from KERTIS from “Kentucky! Volume 1” 2020. Photo by Shelby Shenkman.

Also in this season, the Ballet launches its new Ballet Bound Program. Curran explained, “We are offering an experience for 15 youths from underprivileged communities, Title I schools, to come into the ballet downtown and take classes. At the end of each program year, two to three of those 15 will be offered a full scholarship to the Louisville Ballet School. The intent is, each year, two to three students will join the school and, hopefully, the company at the end of their training.” All other outreach and community engagement programs will continue in the digital world as well.

Louisville Ballet Company Dancers Natalia Ashikhmina and Mark Krieger (background) from “Kentucky! Volume 1” 2020. Photo by Shelby Shenkman.

Curran concluded, “We are striking a balance between thinking globally but acting locally. We want to make sure the stories we tell are relevant to our community, but we also want to make sure they are featuring our world-class standards, whether that’s production value, the quality of the dances or the depths of the material we are putting into each of these films. If we can take your mind and heart away from the every day, just for a few minutes, we will have done our work and served our community in the way we do best.”

The Ballet will announce the shows as the season progresses via louisvilleballet.org or @louballet on social media.

Louisville Ballet Company Dancer Leigh Anne Albrechta from “The Brown-Forman Nutcracker” 2019. Photo by Sam English.

The Louisville Orchestra presents their season of filmed concerts and an online series of smaller performances around the idea of music for all. Teddy Abrams, conductor of the Orchestra, noted, “The entire concept of the season is built around public service, community service and giving as opposed to asking anyone to give to us.” Each concert will be filmed at Paristown Hall and presented virtually, as well as for free at the Sauerback Family Drive-In.

Kathryn S. Ohkubo of the Louisville Orchestra.

Although a digital concert shifts the paradigm, Abrams and the Orchestra chose to lean into this new medium. “We spent a lot of time thinking about how our concerts look and feel not just in terms of what happens on the stage, but also of how we capture it,” said Abrams. “If you’re going to make something that’s cinematic, you have to embrace the cinema of it.”

Louisville Orchestra Conductor, Teddy Abrams.

Having a concert available virtually invites people from around the world to tune in. Whether they’re fans of the legendary bluegrass musician Sam Bush performing in early November or the classic sound of Soul, Motown and Funk to be played free for everyone in late November, there’s a little something for everyone.

Abrams also spoke of an expansion of their education programming saying, “We have a very comprehensive collaboration with JCPS. This year, we can reach a lot more kids digitally. Development has increased because we can teach and coach students from all kinds of backgrounds who’ve never had access to individual lessons.”

Abrams continued, “This is about using music as the ultimate bridge. I am absolutely, 100% focused on using the Orchestra’s capabilities as artists, musicians and communicators, to bridge those divides and get our city to realize we can all believe in something and show the rest of the world that’s who we are.”

The Orchestra will announce events and performances as the season progresses via louisvilleorchestra.org or @louisvilleorchestra on social media.

The Kentucky Opera presents their season “Amplify Your Voice” through mini-webisodes online and on social media, rather than full-length operas, exploring three themes: faith, justice and family. Calling upon the community to share their stories, Director Barbara Jamison commented, “We thought we’d use these three themes that appear quite frequently in opera, and ask the community what their perspectives and stories are. We will connect those stories to the existing repertoire and create our own interpretation of that operatic repertoire.” Through the website, you can share any photos, videos, photographs, letters, etc. that reflect your experience with these themes.

Barbara Jamison.

With hopes to gather safely in the spring of 2021, the Opera aims to present three live performances, a mix of original and existing pieces, each surrounding one of the themes and a possible black-tie fundraiser with KORE Gallery. Despite an uncertain next few months, the Kentucky Opera is committed to returning to the stage when safe, with intentions to continue collecting stories and tying it back into the Opera.

Gregory Gerbrandt as Older Thompson in Kentucky Opera’s production of Glory Denied on stage at the Brown Theatre Nov. 8 & 10, 2019. Photo by Bill Brymer.

“Operas are stories set to music,” Jamison reflected, “and the music elevates the story and helps us feel more deeply. When we do it well, it engages our minds in thinking and feeling deeply about the topics. How can we look at an opera, see the bigger truth and use it as an opportunity to gather around an idea?”

To support and stay up to date on new content, check their website kyopera.com or follow @kyopera on social media.

Actors Theatre of Louisville presents a trans-media season of virtual plays, radio plays, interactive games, weekly podcasts and unscripted episodes. Erica Denise, director of learning and creative engagement, shared that the Facebook Live and Unscripted conversations have been, “interactive with the audience because in real-time the audience can type their questions or comments on the topic being discussed. We’ve been very responsive to what has been happening in our city with police brutality and the pandemic.”

Adapting to the virtual world, yet still grasping to the classics, “Dracula” and “A Christmas Carol” will be presented as radio plays, harkening back to a time when the radio was the central form of communication and will allow the listener’s mind’s eye to imagine the stories. “COVID-Classics” takes a contemporary angle on one-act plays by master playwrights Guillaume Apollinaire, Anton Chekhov, Luigi Pirandello, August Strindberg and Thucydides. Robert Fleming, executive artistic director, directs the enduring love story “Romeo & Juliet” with a twist.

Erica Denise.

Actor and Writer Lance Newman II teased, “in Fleming’s vision, the Montagues are from Louisville’s West End, a predominantly Black, low-income neighborhood, and the Capulets are from Louisville’s East End, a predominantly White, middle to high-income neighborhood. Familiar plays bring warm feelings to the theater’s regulars, but in that comfort, we find the ability to slide in a bit of truth they might have chosen to ignore.”

The season also presents original pieces such as “Ali Summit,” depicting a 1967 conversation between Muhammad Ali and other Black athletes surrounding the Vietnam War, and “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?” a one-person show reflecting the experience of an immigrant family through rap, hip-hop and the spoken word.

Fleming concluded that, “All of our season is a reflection and celebration, as well as an opportunity to demonstrate resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism reckoning happening across the nation. It has been exciting during a very challenging time to still have this plethora of creativity flowing while connecting with and serving the community.”

Stay tuned through their website actorstheatre.org or by searching Actors Theatre of Louisville on social media.

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