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    The Shift

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    The Shift: a monthly column about how Louisville works.

    Andrea Schermoly arrives at the Louisville Ballet headquarters on East Main Street downtown right at 11:45 a.m. — rehearsal time. She introduces herself as Andy and says little else before leading the way to the studio. From these few words her South African accent is barely perceptible, the result of 10 years in L.A. and a life of traveling the world first as a dancer, then as a choreographer.

    Schermoly is wearing Uggs, a fuzzy brown coat over a track jacket and a glazed look that I will realize later, after watching her coach dancers for six hours, is a look of intense concentration on a performance being composed in her mind. Already today she has spent her morning drinking instant coffee and doing research on Spotify for composers whose work might fit the new piece — her first full-length work as a choreographer for the Louisville Ballet, to be performed next month as part of a choreographers’ showcase. Called “Great Bear,” it is an adaptation of the Native American story of Ursa Major, and Schermoly is working from the original text of artist and conservationist Olly Williams.

    In the massive white rehearsal room, lined with mirrors and heavy metal barres, dancers Trevor Williams, Leigh Anne Albrechta and Mark Krieger run through their parts and stretch. The black floor is capacious, but the perimeter of the room is occupied by props out of context — a bathtub that may be made from concrete, a fainting couch that looks like a ship, a few wooden boxes painted to look like buildings. Schermoly vanishes for a moment behind a curtain the size of a warehouse wall and it slowly draws closed over the room’s only window.

    Albrechta and Williams start without music, Schermoly trouble-shooting as they go. It’s surprisingly collaborative. She checks in about an awkward jump — perhaps the dancers need to be farther apart to accommodate a movement or a step? Schermoly’s professional move to choreography was precipitated by an injury, and she shows incredible empathy for the physical demands of the work on the dancers. Sometimes a dancer will do something off-script — a different landing, a surprising movement of the hand — and the choreographer will say, smiling, “That’s gorgeous — do that instead.”

    After an hour of testing the choreography, they’re ready to try it with music. Schermoly goes to her iPod, and an electronic beat booms through the room. The dancers move to its rhythm, running through the dance. When they’re done, Schermoly puts on a completely different piece, something orchestral. As they run through the same sequence, Schermoly alternates between watching intently, taking notes and going through the movements herself, as if to will a gesture onto the dancer’s body. When they’ve finished, the three talk excitedly about the music and how it brought the performance to life.

    “You literally looked like a deer,” Schermoly says to Albrechta with a laugh.

    “Well,” Albrechta jokes back, “I grew up in the country.”

    “Did you notice the difference between one music and the next?” Schermoly asks me later as she eats a salad in a conference room. At 3:30 it’s a late lunch, but it was what the rehearsal required. Long rehearsal days are typical, but, Schermoly says, this creative level of collaboration is not. “This is more playful. Usually you have six to 20 dancers. This is a very small group to be working with, which is nice,” she says. The dancers today so far have demonstrated impressive memory, adaptability and even an intuition for the choreographer’s vision.

    Schermoly implies that not all dancers have those skills and that she’s been lucky here in Louisville. Such praise must be hard-won, given her impressive résumé. She studied at the Royal Ballet School in London on a full scholarship and danced with the Boston Ballet and the Netherlands Dance Theater. She has choreographed work for ballets around the world (as well as a Justin Bieber music video). She also assisted on the movie Star Trek Into Darkness.

    When we return to the studio, Williams and Krieger are warming up. Though they’ve been here for hours, with the curtain drawn it’s difficult to notice the passage of time.

    Schermoly describes the next piece as a “romantic interlude.” The two male dancers look at each other and laugh. She goes to the iPod and an old-timey crooner comes through the speakers, like something you might expect to play from a gramophone. When the song is done they begin to build the choreography from scratch.

    Once a short sequence of movements has been established — which includes Krieger-as-bear play-mauling Williams, and a short mock-tap dance with imaginary canes — they run through it with the music. The combination of music and movements is so unexpected, so clever — a macabre take on a “romantic interlude” — that I almost start clapping. Though Schermoly and her co-workers have spent nearly every moment of their work day in one all-white room, and though one can’t necessarily see what they’ve produced, there is no doubt that she and the dancers have had real moments of success.

    They call it a day at 6 o’clock. Even if they could keep going physically, a line of children in leotards and tights is queued across the hall, jittery with anticipation for their Nutcracker rehearsal in the studio. Williams and Krieger have already slipped out, and as Schermoly heads for the door, she wears a glassy look of deep inward concentration.

    This originally appeared as the Shift in the December 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Adam Mescan,

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