The Production of Success

TVT_8442When one attends a performance by the Louisville Ballet, he or she encounters tremendous dancing, dazzling costumes, extraordinary sets, wondrous lighting and enchanting music. When so engulfed in the spectacle, it’s easy to overlook how the product being witnessed is the result of months – and often years – of preparation by a team that is both collaborative and creative.

Artistic Director Robert Curran is busy prepping for the ballet’s season opener, “Coppélia,” which runs October 2-3 in The Brown Theatre – and has been doing so for five years. He began drafting his concept for the ballet long before he was hired at the Louisville Ballet and has been fine-tuning his vision for the last several months. When preparing for the production of a ballet, Curran will often collaborate with professionals and designers in very early stages in order to jointly formulate a vision. For “Coppélia,” however, Curran knew exactly how he wanted to tell the story and, for him, “It was just about finding a team of people I felt really comfortable sharing that vision with.”

TVT_8508One of those people is Jacob Heustis, a visual artist and bassist for local band Wax Fang. For “Coppélia,” Heustis is designing the set and is bringing a unique perspective to the position from his visual arts background. Curran was especially drawn to Heustis for the project due to the artists’ fascination with the same historical time period as when the ballet takes place. This rendering of “Coppélia” is set in 1917, just after the cubists and futurists arrived in the United States, “So Jake’s passion for that era of cubism has added a fantastic element of design to this production and another layer in the story that makes it more rich and valuable and helps me tell the story,” Curran exudes. “And his research process combined with my research process has delivered a product that is very, very unique and very abstract. It’s going to be a feast for the eyes.”

But before Curran can even move forward with a designer or collaborator, one of the first steps of any production is securing funding. “Like, can you afford it?” he poses. “You have to start with whether or not you have the kind of budget that you need to create the vision that you want to create or whether you have to start the tug-of-war process.”

At times, however, Curran enjoys the challenges faced when funding isn’t so easy to acquire and in fact relishes the opportunities that they present. “When you start to get some obstacles in your way, you start to think more creatively about how you can communicate what you’re trying to communicate,” he asserts. “Which can stimulate some really interesting conversations and some really good ideas, so I’m not really scared of limitations, be they financial or otherwise.”

TVT_8443Fortunately for Curran and the entirety of the Louisville Ballet, financial limitations won’t be a problem in the immediate future thanks to an anonymous $1 million gift made to the ballet in the middle of last month. There are parameters, though, of the gift in that it is intended to be used to support the artistic vision of the organization. “Really, it’s to support our first two mission statements,” Curran explains of the gift. “The first being to deliver traditional offerings to the community in our subscription season – the “Coppélia”s, the “Nutcracker”s, all of the traditional repertory evenings that we normally deliver to the community. And it’s also to support the second part of our mission statement, which is a commitment to new work.”

Beyond the obvious financial reasons, there are other factors of the gift for which Curran is exceptionally grateful, not the least of which being the art it allows him to deliver to his dancers. “I’ve been given some very good advice over the years that there are two really important things you need to deliver to stimulate an artist,” he describes. “You need to deliver really good quality work. Dancers don’t do it for the money. They do it for the quality of the art, and that’s where this gift is helping me.” Although tremendously important, art is not always enough.

“But the other thing you have to deliver is a quality of life,” Curran contends. “You have to be constantly striving that they can pay the bills, that they can have existence, that they can have families, and that’s why things like Raise the Barre are so important.” Raise the Barre, currently in its fourth year, is the company’s way of bolstering its dancers’ salaries – the average salary of a Louisville Ballet dancer is $15,000, a figure this event seeks to improve. It will take place on September 12 at the Louisville Ballet’s studio, and all proceeds will go toward the salaries of the dancers.

Whether preparing for Raise the Barre or rehearsing for “Coppélia,” Curran is always on his toes, working to ensure the operation of a successful arts organization and the artistic and physical fulfillment of its dancers. After all, as Curran puts it, “I don’t think it’s too tongue in-cheek to say they are the most valuable 48 feet in the city.” VT