Sometimes the mailman leaves surprises. That happened to me earlier this month when an invitation to the Louisville Ballet's Valentine Gala arrived. I went and genuinely enjoyed myself.
The program was Shades of Gershwin, eight dances based on eight favorites by Gershwin. Each number evoked a different mood and feeling. There was also the premiere of Our Evenings and Goodnights, choreographed by our Artistic Director, Alun Jones, who also designed the costumes. His musical inspiration was some unforgettable music by Leo Janacek. The program concluded with a perennial favorite, The Grand Tour.
Fascinated, I wanted to learn more, so I arranged a visit with Alun Jones and the Opera's talented lighting designer Michael Ford. Jones began with this perhaps startling comment. "Ballet is for everybody. If it was not, I would not be here!"
How did he get started with ballet?
"My home town is in the midst of the Welsh coal mines. No one there knew about ballet, let alone been to one. I got to go to one when I was 12 and it was love at first sight. It still is almost 50 years later."
What would he like to say to anyone who is considering going to ballet for the first time? What should they do?
"Nothing. Just come and enjoy it. Let it penetrate your awareness. If you give it half a chance, it will delight and maybe enchant you.
I gave some athletic-minded friends who belong to a club with me their first tickets. Later on, they told me: 'it was wonderful; the athletic prowess of the dancers was unbelievable.' Another friend had had no use for classical music. The music enchanted him and he now goes not only to our ballets, but to other concerts."
Jones is charming; a highly articulate person of great courtesy. He has done almost everything that needs to be done around a ballet company. A superb dancer and a remarkable teacher of ballet, he is a noted choreographer or creator of ballet; with more than thirty productions to his credit.
How does he create a ballet?
"For me, it begins with the music. I listen to music every chance I get. I like all kinds of music. Sometimes when I hear music, I get the inescapable feeling [that] this would make a great ballet. That's what happened when I was bearing the piece by Janacek. And so, we have Our Evenings And Our Goodnights. My intuition also includes ideas about costuming, lighting and all that goes into a ballet. Sometimes I can do it very quickly; other times, the creative process involves many sleepless nights."
Isn't ballet as we know it a relatively recent art form?
"Yes, the first ballets were performed about 1830. By 1840, we find them in New Orleans. What was more natural than for them to go up the Mississippi, get on the Ohio and go East. The Falls was a natural stopping place and so the ballet came to Louisville as early as the 1840s."
Jones then observed that "when you go to ballet, it helps to observe carefully how the movements of dancers relate to each other. That is especially true in Our Evenings and Goodnights. It features the romances of three couples, each different, but there are also solo dances which convey personal feelings."
How does being Welsh contribute to his artistry?
"The Welsh are among the most musical people anywhere. Almost anywhere you go in Wales, people will be making music, either individually or in small groups. Welsh is a uniquely musical language."
Both Michael Ford, a Louisville native who has been with the company twenty-three years emphasized, and Jones emphasized: "it can also help to notice how the various expressions of lighting enhances the performances and adds to your enjoyment. Ballet is primarily a visual art. The ballet will speak for itself – if you give it a. chance! If you don't find our performances spontaneous, we haven't done our job! You probably won't readily realize how much our people do in preparing for a performance.
In a word, there's nothing quite like ballet. Come and see for yourself. It can create a world of beauty for you; just call 58-DANCE for more information!"