Sonnets in Dance

Photo courtesy of Louisville Ballet

Photo courtesy of Louisville Ballet

The power of Shakespeare is undeniable. For hundreds of years, his stories have inspired countless productions and other art pieces, a legacy that appears to endure and strengthen with each passing century. In honor of that tradition, the Louisville Ballet and Kentucky Shakespeare – incidentally, the oldest free Shakespeare festival in the country – are teaming up to artistically present Shakespeare in a way that is seldom explored: dance.

Roger Creel is the creator and choreographer of “Shakespeare in Dance,” one of two community-partner productions at this year’s Kentucky Shakespeare Festival. “I came up with the idea for a ballet that married period folk music and Shakespearean sonnets a year and a half ago,” attests Creel. “I called that preliminary version of the ballet ‘Sonnets in Blue.’” This incipient version of the ballet was performed at the Louisville Ballet’s Choreographers’ Showcase, and providence would have it that Kentucky Shakespeare Producing Artistic Director Matt Wallace would be in attendance.

After seeing “Sonnets in Blue” and being impressed with the idea, Wallace reached out to Louisville Ballet Producing and Artistic Director Robert Curran and invited the company to participate as a community partner with Kentucky Shakespeare. A year and a half later, that idea has grown into a full evening of dance on Central Park’s stage.

According to Creel, the first half of the evening consists of excerpts from the Louisville Ballet’s repertoire of Shakespeare ballets, mainly “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” These nods to the Ballet’s past will feature the work of previous artistic directors in an attempt to honor the tradition of the Bard in dance and the rich history of ballet in Louisville.

“The second half is a 40-minute version of what was ‘Sonnets in Blue’ but is now called ‘William’s Folly,’” says Creel. Creel goes on further to say that of the 154 sonnets that Shakespeare wrote, 108 of them are written to someone only referred to as the Young Man and 28 of them are written to a mysterious figure known only as the Dark Lady. In order to make a cogent story, Creel wisely chose to narrow the scope of the sonnets to a specific 22 and focus on the leading characters of Shakespeare, the Young Man and the Dark Lady.

“Shakespeare’s relationship with the Young Man lasts for three years, and he feels a wide range of emotions: deep love, affection and concern. He wants the young man to get married and procreate because in Shakespeare’s mind, passing on your seed is a way to conquer time,” says Creel while relating his artistic vision. “With the Dark Lady, the relationship is much more visceral. It’s carnal. It’s based on appetite and sexual desire. There’s even a moment when Shakespeare sees the Young Man with the Dark Lady together, and it makes Shakespeare fall apart.”

To create the complete package of “Shakespeare in Dance,” Creel collaborated with local bluegrass musician Scott Moore. “He is part of a bluegrass band called 23 Strings, and he also has a bluegrass duo with local cellist Charlie Patton. He wanted to make music for the ballet, so I came to him with a plot and some ideas of what I wanted the music to sound like,” says Creel. Together, they arrived at musical motifs to identify all of the characters that would afford the ballet a local but still authentic sound and feature the sterling work of Creel and dancers Tony Milder and Megan Massie.

“Shakespearean sonnets are seen as difficult to understand and complicated,” admits Creel. “So one of my goals with this ballet was to build a structure of dance, music and narrative around the sonnets so that each sonnet makes more sense. I want those who watch to feel something so that the language can make sense and the audience can begin to experience the power of poetry. It’s like a smack in the face. When done well and understood, it wakes us up. It shows that other people have felt as deeply as we have.”

In fact, that is the aim of the entire upcoming season of the Louisville Ballet: the enduring power and legacy of humanity. “The reason I’ve chosen to showcase ‘Swan Lake,’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is because it’s such a testament to the talent and legacy in the area,” says Curran. “We are celebrating three different generations of leadership and 65 years. It’s fantastic to acknowledge what has already been accomplished for this arts community and what we can still achieve.”

Simply put, there’s no better way to kick off the new season of the Louisville Ballet than by attending the completely free performance of “Shakespeare in Dance” at Central Park. Experience the visceral power of poetry for yourself and become a ballet fan for life. VT

The Louisville Ballet presents “Shakespeare in Dance” choreographed by Roger Creel August 10-14 at Central Park, located at 1340 S. Fourth St.

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