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    The thing Teddy Abrams wants everyone to know about this weekend's collaboration between the Louisville Orchestra and the Louisville Ballet is that it is BIG. Big in terms of ambition, big in the number of dancers and musicians required and big in the adventurous nature of the concept itself. Dubbed the Spring Collaboration, the two organizations are co-presenting three dance pieces, including a world premiere composed by Abrams and a rare production of Petrouchka, one of the classic Ballets Russes with music composed by Igor Stravinsky. 

    Abrams, Music Director of the LO, says that he's only seen videos of Stravinsky's big three (The Rite of Spring, Firebird, and Petrouchka) because they are not performed all that often. "People don't take them on. They're too vast, too big, too expensive. So for us, not only to take it on but to do a completely new version of it is a very big deal." 

    Another aspect of the "big deal" is that this Petrouchka will feature new choreography by Adam Hougland instead of the original choreography by Michel Fokine. Performed first by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1911, Petrouchka is an edgy, modern classic with roots in Russian folklore. 

    "The staging requires every bit of the stage. Adam has used every member of the entire company... I think there are 40 dancers in this. It's enormous, really impressive. The set, if you can call it that, is so magnificent – there's no way to describe it, you have to see it," Abrams insists. And while the orchestra will share the stage with dancers for the two shorter pieces on the program, they will move to the pit for Stravinsky. Not only will the company need every inch of real estate, the orchestra for Stravinsky's technically challenging music is also quite large. 

    Abrams is also enthusiastic about the other half of the program, with two pieces also featuring Hougland's choreography. Members of the Louisville Ballet will perform in Philip Glass's "Cold Virtues," originally composed as a violin concerto, but in its alternate version, featuring solo saxophone. And what's a Louisville Orchestra concert these days without a world premiere? Abrams and Hougland collaborated on a brand new ballet called "Unified Field." Drawing on a concept from the world of science, Abrams wanted to show the powerful ability of music to fuse different genres into an elegant unity of sound and vision. 

    "I decided to explore the multitude of styles, the interactions, and the ways to connect different styles of music while still making a piece that adhered to a conception. For me, the language of music transcends those styles... My idea was 'how can I take themes and actual core substance and explore it as it transitions between music that sounds like late Romantic, like Funk, like Blues and like Bluegrass?' And that's what this is – it goes through those four phases in miniature movements." 

    Just how does a choreographer respond to the challenge of a never-before-heard piece of music? "Adam and I talked about the plan for the piece and kind of plotted out the structure of it, but not the specific content. I recorded a piano version, which I orchestrated later, and sent him updates as the music was composed... so he could start to respond to the music and conceive of how the piece would look." 

    This weekend's performance represents some of the core tenets that Abrams has embraced in his leadership role: Be daring, be original, be interesting. And, unofficially, be smart. One reason the orchestra and ballet are able to put on such an extravagant event, is due to a very clever strategy cooked up between Abrams and Louisville Ballet Artistic Director, Robert Curran, in one of their earliest conversations. "One of the things that Robert said was a priority for him was in fact to ensure that the ballet always danced to live music,” remembers Abrams. “So I said, in the spirit of collaboration, why don't we just not worry about money right now? I can guarantee that we will provide a week that the orchestra will be playing anyway, and you can provide a week when the ballet will be dancing, and we'll share that week with you all, and so that way no one's hiring anybody." This meant that they could use the money saved in a joint venture to come up with something special – "Something really big... a much more adventurous and creative program than we'd ever attempt – or maybe that most organizations would ever attempt." 

    The Spring Collaboration will be performed on Friday, March 4 at 8 p.m. and on Saturday, March 5 at 2 & 8 p.m. at the Kentucky Center. Buy tickets online or call the box office at 502-584-7777. 


    Cover image: Courtesy of Louisville Orchestra (Left, Adam Hoagland; Right, Teddy Abrams (taken by Chris Witzke))

    Selena Frye's picture

    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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