Three in February

By Margaret Brower

Though "A Men's Concert didn't quite meet expectations, the other two pieces Louisville Ballet performed in February, "Les Illuminations" and "Serenade," made for an evening of technically and dramatically strong dance. Jeff Holland Cook, concluding his second season as conductor of the Louisville Ballet and the Louisville Orchestra were also very strong and gave a particularly fine performance of Tschaikovsky's "Serenade in C for Strings."

"A Men's Concerto," choreographed by New Yorker William Soleau, was primarily a vehicle for the company's men. A perpetual motion over silence and Vivaldi Concerti Grossi, it combined elements of classical ballet, modern, jazz and sport. The ballet had moments of humor and thrilling athletics, but lacked physical continuity. At one point, a dance was confronted with soccer balls entering one, two, then many at a time from stage left. But just as the humor began to catch on, the mood changed.

In short, the movement on stage couldn't match the relentless and lyric qualities of Vivaldi's music. The dancers worked well with what they had and Tom Barber gave a particularly strong performance.

"Les Illuminations," a creation of company artistic director Alun Jones, told a simple story. A woman finds a fleeting moment of happiness in the companionship of a gruesome hunchback, only to lose both to the rage of a society set against her union. Soprano Edith Davis gave a fine performance of Benjamin Britten's accompanying score set to the words of French poet Arthur Rimbaud.

Jones said his story was "about society (and) its nervousness towards people who were different." Rimbaud's words "had nothing to do with the story of the ballet," he added. He "just fell in love with the music." According to conductor Jeff Cook, the artistic contribution of Rimbaud's verse "was more in the sound of the words than it was in the meaning."

A striking opening tableau immediately demonstrated Jones' stylistic use of space and form, which continued throughout the ballet. Supported by excellent lighting, costumes and set design, the ballet was a melding of dance, art and music.

Jones' fluid choreography took full advantage of his company's physical and artistic strengths. Cameron Caldwell, as the narcissist who rejects the hunchback, was not only technically dazzling, but every bit the self-adoring blonde. Jennifer Glaze gave an effortless performance in her variation. And Helen Starr, with her tentative advances and groping arms, was truly blind.

Last, but by no stretch of the imagination least, was George Balanchine's "Serenade." Quintessential Balanchine, it was set to Tschaikovsky's "Serenade in C for Strings," which even the most casual classical music fan would recognize. And it was remarkably technically demanding of its dancers. The Louisville Ballet, however, was up to the challenge.

"Serenade" was a battle between the traditional and the unexpected. The curtain rose on seventeen dancers scattered about the stage. The costumes and hairstyles were classical ballet, with long tutus reminiscent of "Les Sylphides," but all the niles of classical ballet were ignored. Broken wrists altered the line of the arm and feet were turned in.

As the ballet progressed, the company demonstrated its ability to capture the choreographer's perfection of form, creation of abstract visual design and dedication to music. Long lines of dancers matched each others' moves in unison, arabesques reaching exactly the same height, arms following identical curves. Feet closed into precise fifth position on just the right count. And bodies intertwined until the individual form was lost in the greater picture. Staging assistance from former Balanchine dancer Elyse borne lent the necessary authenticity.

Jennifer Glaze gave another fine performance with strong support from the two leading men, William Baierbach and James Klosky.