by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
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Your Troubles Are Your Progress Barometer & Catalyst For Your Full Potential
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Photos provided by Lexington Ballet
A REVIEW OF LEXINGTON BALLET'S
2018 PERFORMANCE OF THE NUTCRACKER
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
The stars in the heavens are dancing through space, the earth never ceases to spin. All life is dancing: the trees with the wind, the waves on the sea, the birds, the fish, all are performing their own dance of life.*
This quote encompasses the joyful, hope-filled atmosphere expressed through Lexington Ballet’s 2018 performance of The Nutcracker. I attended Lexington Ballet’s remarkable Sunday matinee performance at the lovely and intimate Lexington Opera House.
Whether you’ve seen this famous ballet or not, I encourage you to get your tickets to see Lexington Ballet’s unique performance. Shows are scheduled annually to run through December. The cast’s energetic and passionate dancing, the colorful array of gorgeous costumes, and the romantic settings and props will put even Scrooge or The Grinch in a festive mood.
E.T.A. Hoffman’s story, The Nutcracker originated in Russia. Composer Peter Tchaikovsky wrote the music. Tchaikovsky’s music is now famous and recognized by even the youngest of listeners, thanks to technology, cartoons, and commercials. But experiencing Lexington Ballet’s live performance is one of the best ways to re-introduce or expose audiences to the real deal.
The Nutcracker was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa. It was commissioned by Moscow’s Imperial Theatres director, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, in 1891. In sync with the story’s historical premier the week before Christmas 1892, the Lexington Ballet’s version opens with a family Christmas party. The story is about young Clara’s Christmas Eve, and her dreamy perspective of the world and romance.
I’ve seen the ballet several times, performed by visiting international dance troupes, as well as the televised 1977 American Ballet Theatre production featuring Mikhael Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland.
But, Lexington Ballet’s show stands out as special for several reasons, including the pure innocence bursting forth in a way that only young people are able to express. The nearly tangible love and joy penetrated my adult heart and moved me to tearful emotion throughout the entire show. I was touched by the unlimited hope and passion for life symbolized by these talented young dancers, as they clearly poured their entire beings into each dance.
It’s the youngest cast I’ve seen perform The Nutcracker. Elementary age children portray mischievous party guests at the opening Christmas scene. They also dance in well-coordinated groups of ‘mice’ and ‘toy soldiers.’ Their focused, harmonized movements impressed this former music educator, who knows well the challenge of training youth for performances.
Contrasting to how audiences recoiled from seeing children on stage at The Nutracker’s Russian premier, Lexington Ballet’s masterful inclusion of their well-rehearsed presence added to the magic of the uplifting stage drama, creating the illusion of real characters.
Lexington Ballet’s dancers range from elementary age through junior and senior high school to the ensemble and professional cast’s millennials, capping at early 30s. This wide-range of youth adds to the boisterous energy of their show. That youthful energy is one of Lexington Ballet’s signature drawing points. The unlimited power of youth is palpable in their dance performances. Witnessing the expressive, energetic drive of these young dancers pierces the heart with hope and love.
Speaking of stellar young talent, ninth grader Anna Karen Kinghorn’s portrayal of Clara was mesmerizing. Her delicate, graceful moves, along with her radiant innocence and cheer made every one of her performances a sheer joy to watch.
Rounding out the opposite spectrum of the age range was her able, gifted partner, Lexington Ballet Company cast dancer, Casey Myrick. Myrick portrayed Clara’s father in the opening scene, and the Nutcracker Prince with a dignified, dramatic, yet benevolent power, both in dance and demeanor. The partnership of Myrick and Kinghorn’s dances was natural, smooth and seemingly effortless.
Lexington Ballet’s show involves a diverse cast, spanning many ages, cultures, body types, and dance styles. Kudos to the artistic director, Luis Dominguez, for his incredible gift for choreographing each scene, style, and for pairing dance partners in a way that allows each cast member to beautifully shine.
That is no small accomplishment, as the program notes show the shuffling of two separate casts, denoted by colors (red and gold) and groups of young children. Dancers are assigned unique roles depending on which color the performance will feature.
Lexington Ballet Company dancer, Ayako Hasebe Lloyd exquisitely performed as the dainty Dew Drop Fairy in Sunday’s matinee show, but will instead dance the Arabian for Red shows. The story unfolds seamlessly as cast members alternate capably and believably from solo roles to ensemble dances.
The artistic vision of Dominguez is orchestrated beautifully as exhibited by both ensembles and solo dancers. Alexandra Orenstein’s sumptuous version of the Arabian dancer was electrifying, colorfully capturing a sense of the unusual aspect of a different culture. The Lexington Ballet Ensemble, and all the soloists in The Nutcracker, performed wonderfully, and depicted a spirited, lively spectacle of a magnificent drama.
Photos courtesy of Lexington Ballet. Rat dancers photo by Mark Mahan.
On the array of ages involved, professional dancer and Lexington Ballet instructor, Lloyd, is adamant about the Lexington Ballet’s mission to “send the message that ballet is for everyone. It’s inspiring for the younger ones to see the mature dancers.”
Lloyd says that Lexington Ballet supports “layers of everyone’s dreams—younger ones aspire to be angels, angels aspire to be one of the featured roles. Even pros have aspiring goals while also being role models for others. It’s a community of inspiration for others and to keep dance alive in the community.”
She adds, “Audiences get the chance to support the youth’s dreams, and experience holiday magic; like being part of something beautiful they can take home with them and spread to others.” She says that the holidays are a wonderful time to “entertain guests with getting out together to enjoy this live ballet experience with the beautiful score by Tchaikovsky.”
The Lexington Ballet dancers will inspire you to “Live with a dancing spirit. Every living thing is dancing, and you must keep dancing too, for the rest of your life!”*
As an audience member, taking in the artful explosion of pure passion from the Lexington Ballet dancers left my heart full. What better way to enjoy the Holiday Season than with the spirit of hope, community, and enthusiasm for life that these dancers represent?
Find upcoming events at: LexingtonBalletCompany.org
Lexington Ballet Company is a professional dance company and a ballet school with non-profit 501(c)(3) status since 1975. The Lexington Ballet’s mission is to present high caliber productions, educate youth in the art of ballet, and engage with the community through outreach.
Lexington Ballet offers classes ranging from kindergarten through adults. They support a variety of community alliances, including in-School Programs, For Educator Field Trips, Countdown to Kindergarten and Scholarships.
Bring your school, church, or group to a performance!
Special performances are scheduled during weekdays so that schools and non-profit groups may attend. Each performance will have a detail introduction and question and answer time with the Artistic Director and performers. These programs meet Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS) for Dance and Theatre. Study guides are available in English or Spanish(if requested in advance).
Find more Nutcracker books, CDs, DVDs, here.
A REVIEW OF LEXINGTON BALLET COMPANY
By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
My mother and I attended New Works and Other Voices, a free performance by the Lexington Ballet Company, Saturday, October 27, 2018, at LexArts on 161 N. Mill Street, Lexington. I had no idea what to expect, as I was unfamiliar with the program.
From the moment Lexington Ballet Artistic Director, Luis Dominguez spoke, I knew immediately the audience was in for a robust explosion of cultural spirit. As he introduced each choreographer, musical background of each composition, and the meaning behind each dance, his love and respect for art was exuberant. The featured choreographers are also company dancers and instructors at the Lexington Ballet. As each one spoke before the cast’s performance, the heartfelt sincerity and passion for dance was palpable.
But the dancers’ performances topped that. Beyond demonstrating a graceful physical flexibility, they overwhelmed the room with youthful passion, and shared their hearts through dance. It is rare to attend a concert that rises above technical mastery to resonate directly with the heart. But Lexington Ballet Company cast did just that, with every performance of the concert.
I don’t know anything about dance. But, I gathered from each selection of the concert, that these young people have vigorously worked to overcome their physical limitations. That was obvious from their movements, and their polished achievements are worth the spotlight of attention.
The colorful costumes changed throughout the concert, adding oomph to the visual cultural expression onstage. The unity of the dancers was impressive. They created a harmoniously flowing motion with bodies of different shapes, heights and age. They made it look easy.
The atmosphere within the room transformed through the purity of the energetic dancers. In today’s world filled with self-inflicted barriers, darkness and disunity, Lexington Ballet’s performances immersed the audience with spiritual and emotional therapy. The power of their artful dances, evidently rooted in the expression of each artist’s heart and soul, led the audience through an array of emotion.
I could feel my own heart open, and sometimes be astounded by their phenomenal talent. It is this kind of artistic performance, based on communicating heart to heart, that has the power to bring hope to our society. “Music is an expression of the human spirit; it speaks directly to the heart and proves that we can transcend national and ethnic barriers. It plays a critical role in building peace.”1
This is a strong factor in the argument for arts promotion. Lexington Ballet Company’s program offers solid training in dance to youth. But observing their concert last Saturday, they go far deeper than that. They provide their dancers with holistic development toward becoming true artists.
I cannot think of a single thing our society needs more than raising capable, spiritually empowered youth. The development of young artists connects wellness of mind, body, and spirit. Experiencing art as a performer or audience member is rehabilitation for the soul. Art is a great place to start in our complicated world, toward building bridges between humans. Art is healing and energizing for all, as it is a collaboration between humans in the most vulnerable form.
Choreographer/Dancer Casey Myrick introduced the first piece, Anxious Desires, by musician Sufjan Stevens, which featured modern dance movements grounded in classical dance styles. Myrick said the work was inspired by a Buddhist concept about anxiety stemming from desire and how anxiety can actually work to fulfill our desires. The performance was a unique, outside-the-box mentality of dance that evoked discomfort lending to intrigue. Dancers bodies and expressions emoted fear, doubt, distress, and finally, resolution and relief.
Choreographer/Dancer Alexandra Orenstein introduced UnderTones, her work set to an excerpt from jazz composer, Keith Jarrett's solo piano work, Lausanne Concert. The improvisational music builds on a rhythmic droning, with Jarrett’s infamous knack for outflowing melodic lines. Orenstein’s organic, abstract modern approach to movement for each dancer emerged naturally, in sync with the music’s pulsating crescendo and layered texture.
Talented dancer, Ayako Hasebe Lloyd’s stunning entrance in a bold red dress, and her ensuing solo dance to Sand, mesmerized the audience. Luis Dominguez and Lexington Ballet School Director and Ballet Mistress, Nancy Dominguez "developed the collaborative piece as a pas de seul”2 for Lloyd.
The first section of the dance, Sand, was set to Luis Ni’s G Minor Bach, and choreographed by Nancy Dominguez as an homage to her mother, who passed away with Alzheimer’s last year. Next, Zoom-Out, set to a song by Drummond Dominguez, was choreographed by Luis Dominguez. Lloyd’s movements were elegant, bursting with passion tempered with artistic maturity that shook the room with her life-force.
Lloyd’s commanding performance segued fluidly into Kaylie Conner and Sean Sullivan’s romantic Pas de Deux, performed to Nightflight, by Drummond Dominguez and Ethan Gustavson. The performances, highlighted by vivid red costumes, led flawlessly to the final group piece choreographed by Nancy and Luis Dominguez, to Fernando Delgadillo’s La Inspiration.
During intermission, my mother and I engaged in a natural conversation with strangers around us. Was it the dancers’ performances, emanating with openness and intimacy, that made it so easy for strangers to interact?
We went well beyond small talk to discover that the couple behind us had a 28-year old son who’d been diagnosed with 4th-stage cancer. This led to our sharing that we had lost my 28- year old brother to a car accident in 2004. We opened up and shared honestly with each other in the short dialog.
We took our seats as Lloyd introduced the meaning behind her choreography to Our Blue Hearts by Japanese composer, Joe Hisaishi. “This work is inspired by the blue stained-glass hearts that hang in the Lexington Ballet studio windows as a memorial to a past student.”3 The dance featured the largest cast of the evening, and in particular, the youngest performers.
Lloyd talked about how the personal loss of her brother inspired her choreography. She shared warmly how grief affects many, and it was her intent that the piece would help audience members cope with loss and feel supported. Her introduction and the dance performance were mystically in sync with the conversation my mother and I had with the couple behind us.
The choreography and dance were deeply touching. Depicting the sorrow of loss as relationships end, the stage evolved from soloists to exponentially growing numbers of dancers exhibiting grief through facial expression and movement. As Hisaishi’s music progressed with a symphonic swell, a solo dancer was hoisted atop a group of dancers, like pallbearers carrying the deceased. The audience was moved by its emotional intensity.
The dancers, in delicate blue costumes, swirled onstage from scene to scene, ending with a harmonious, joyful, full cast of camaraderie. It symbolized, to me, the victory over tragedy with the power of friendship, community, and spiritual transformation.
My words do not do justice to the eloquence and impact of the Lexington Ballet Company performances. “We can know a country’s rise and fall by whether its tones are happy or sad.”3 The Lexington Ballet Company's display of artistic beauty, poise and soul expressed the gamut of moods, yet landed on the joyous, the united and hopeful.
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1 Daisaku Ikeda, peace advocate, Buddhist philosopher, educator, author, poet and leader of
Soka Gakkai International
2 Extracted from LexingtonBallet.org
3. Extracted from LexingtonBallet.org
4 Nichiren, 13th century Buddhist leader
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