Getting to the Pointe

By Todd Zeigler
Staff Writer

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Dancers in the Louisville Ballet perform incredible feats of physical dexterity on a routine basis. For its Spring fundraiser, the Ballet will plant its feet firmly in the community and tradition it has called home for more than 60 years.

The Louisville Ballet will host the first – and what it intends to be the first annual – Bourbon & Barre B Q fundraiser Saturday, Jan. 18 at The Pointe in Butchertown. The debut event will be an intimate, locally-focused affair showcasing the organization’s longstanding place in the community as well as partnering attractions from around Louisville and Kentucky.

The fundraiser will feature a performance from the Ballet troupe, comments from artistic director Bruce Simpson and entertainment, dining and festivities from some of the premier names in Louisville’s cultural scene.

The Bourbon & Barre B Q concept came out of the organization’s desire to find a distinct, enduring brand for the Ballet. Last year’s event featured a “Romeo & Juliet” theme, coinciding with the company’s production, and 2012 celebrated the ballet’s 60th anniversary.

The idea for a perennial spirit-centric theme came from Simpson and Douglas Riddle, Ballet board member and president of Bittners. Bourbon is a hot topic anywhere in the Commonwealth and the State Ballet of Kentucky was looking for something immediately associable, much like Actors Theatre’s Lobster Feast and Kentucky Opera’s Carnevale.

CF Callihan, Louisville Ballet’s Director of Development, says that what distinguishes the Ballet from other professional arts organizations in town is that, instead of bringing in national and international talent for productions, Louisville Ballet artists are locally based and trained. Beyond that, the company wanted to adopt a calling card that was simply exciting and fun.

“We want to pay homage to bourbon,” Callihan said. “Both bourbon and the ballet are local and homegrown. We want to keep that theme going. In 10 years, we want the message to be that bourbon is about supporting the Ballet.”

The Ballet has a longstanding relationship with bourbon on which to build. The “Brown-Forman Nutcracker” has been a staple of the holiday arts schedule for 30 years, and the distiller’s support is responsible for every aspect of the prodution, from the stitches in each outfit to the giant scenic backdrop scrims. Callihan said the Ballet is constantly looking for ways to highlight its relationship to Brown-Forman.

“Old Forrester has been around since the 1800s. We hope we can be around that long,” he said.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Highlights of the Bourbon & Barre B Q will include special cocktails by Brown-Forman, light appetizers and a silent auction to start. The premiere attractions begin with a bourbon-themed dinner provided by chef Dean Corbett of Corbett’s: An American Place. Corbett “went all out” for the Ballet’s Raise the Barre event last fall, according to Callihan, and is coming back in force for Bourbon & Barre B Q.

“When you think of the Ballet, you think of high-level, high-quality. Dean Corbett is the same,” he said.

Dinner will be followed by words from Simpson. Though set to retire at the end of the summer, Simpson will forgo final personal reflections to focus on the excellence of the Louisville Ballet and its people.

“He loves the company and loves his dancers,” said Cara Hicks, spokesperson for the Ballet. “His words will be a celebration of all that and the atmosphere he has fostered. The company always comes first.”

A special gift from Simpson that will showcase the talent in development at the Ballet will come in the form of access to a private rehearsal run by Simpson and Val Caniparoli, choreographer of the “Brown-Forman Nutcracker.”  Tickets to the rehearsal will be up for grabs as part of the live auction following Simpson’s speech.
The Louisville Ballet holds open rehearsals in which anyone interested can see performance pieces in development. The private rehearsal with Simpson and Caniparoli will only be available to about 10 people and is a one-time-only opportunity to see the two working together.

Hicks said open rehearsals give people a different idea of how hard the dancers work and the physical fitness they achieve. “It gives you a completely new respect for what they do,” she said. “Also, we have a few mothers and fathers in our company, busy people, and you can see the passion and dedication they give to ballet every day.”

That passion and dedication is cultivated in-house, as the Louisville Ballet is a homegrown organization. Unlike other companies who contract principals and soloists, the Ballet is composed of a core company and a group of trainees. The unpaid trainees come and work for several years to hone their craft before auditioning to be part of the core troupe.

“They want to be here and be onstage,” Callihan said. “And everyone has a chance for the big parts.”

Bourbon & Barre B Q attendees will witness the dancers’ passion and dedication firsthand as the ballet company performs live at the event. In past years, the company has performed selections from its annual Choreographer’s Showcase, a once-yearly event at the Ballet’s studio on Main Street created by the dancers, with the dancers, for the dancers. With the fundraiser occurring early this year, Hicks says the Bourbon & Barre B Q performance could be a sneak preview of this year’s showcase.

The timing of the Ballet’s fundraiser so early in the year was a strategic choice on the organization’s part, Hicks said. With Springtime always a hot season for galas and fundraisers, the Ballet wanted to be at the front of the pack. The organization’s fundraiser has traditionally happened in March to coincide with its Spring production. which led to an unexpected additional amenity last year: televisions broadcasting the Big East title game, featuring the Louisville Cardinals facing off against the Syracuse Orange.

“It’s a good thing we won,” Hicks joked.

Other live auction items will include limited edition bottles of Old Rip Van Winkle and Van Winkle Special Reserve, donated dinners from some of the city’s finest restaurants, a special Oaks Day package from Churchill Downs and more.

The live auction’s focal point is the dancers’ Shoe Fund. According to Hicks, it costs the ballet approximately $60,000 a year to provide an allowance for company members to buy Pointe shoes, the unique footwear which enables the dancers to perform physically demanding routines on the tips of their toes. Finding the right shoe to provide the proper support for one’s feet makes the shoes the most crucial tool used by ballerinas. Principal dancers will go through 30 pairs in a season for rehearsals and performances.

At a cost of $100 per pair, they are not a gift taken lightly by the dancers.

“The dancers will come up to people (at fundraisers) and say how crucial they are,” Hicks said.

The allowance is one of many ways the Ballet provides for what is ultimately a family inside its walls.

“Our dancers live and work here,” Hicks said. “We have nine babies in the bunch. Everyone has made Louisville their home.”

With “Pointe” such a part of the organization’s everyday vernacular, it was an interesting bit of serendipity and a “fun discovery” to book the event at at The Pointe event venue in Butchertown, Hicks said.

“It’s a unique venue and helps us keep Bourbon & Barre B Q local and intimate,” Callihan said. “Butchertown is our part of town.”

The evening will conclude with dancing to tunes from DJ Matt Anthony, host of WFPK’s “Friday Night Sound Clash.”

Individual tickets ($200) and corporate tables of 10 ($2000) for Bourbon & Barre B Q are available at