Sanjay Saverimuttu with Tiffany Bovard in rehearsal for Alun Jones' The Sleeping Beauty. Courtesy Louisville Ballet.
When Sanjay Saverimuttu graduated from college, he had no idea that a professional ballet career lay in store. After training on a pre-professional ballet track throughout high school, Saverimuttu earned a degree in biology from Stanford University. But college only reignited the 29-year-old Louisville Ballet dancer's love of the art form.
Louisville Ballet dancers Luke Yee and Xavier Pellin in rehearsal for Human Abstract. Sam English, Courtesy Louisville Ballet.
If you follow Louisville Ballet on social media, you may have noticed a statement posted to its channels last week. Titled "An Open Letter Against Hate and Prejudice," it says "we cannot and will not be bystanders to hate and prejudice. As artists we have a duty to challenge preconceptions respectfully and to tell the stories of those individuals and groups who make our city what it is and what it should aspire to become."
The letter was posted after the company received hateful emails and phone calls over their upcoming performances of Human Abstract, an evening-length work by Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies that follows the relationship between two openly gay protagonists.
As a teen, Louisville Ballet dancer Lexa Daniels knew college was the right path for her. "I wanted to have a career in ballet," she says, "but I wanted to get a foundational education first." After considering several schools, Daniels realized that the University of Utah was the best fit. What tipped the scales in Utah's favor? "At that point in my life, I was looking for true classical ballet," she says, "and the other schools had a more contemporary approach. I also liked Utah's close ties with Ballet West. There's a lot of crossover between the company and the university."
Myriad factors go into choosing a college, from location and cost to campus amenities and potential double majors. But if your goal is to become a professional ballet dancer after graduation, you'll first need to determine which schools are equipped to guide you toward that dream. As you investigate your options, look for these key signs of a strong ballet program.
Ashley Thursby in Louisville Ballet's "Swan Lake." Photo by Sam English, Courtesy Louisville Ballet.
In her third year as a full company member of Alberta Ballet, Alexandra Gibson was amazed to learn she would be understudying Myrtha in Giselle. "Prior to that I had mostly played to my strengths in innocent, young roles," remembers Gibson, who didn't expect to actually perform the icy Queen of the Wilis. Yet when the first-cast Myrtha sprained her ankle a few weeks before opening night, Gibson was suddenly cast for six out of the nine shows. "Learning how to be cold, authoritative and mature in a short amount of time was as challenging as the choreography."
Every once in a while, you'll encounter roles that just don't click. Sometimes you will be cast against type, or thrown into a part that you don't feel ready for. Other times, unfamiliar choreography or movement styles may throw you off your game. In those instances, how do you remain unflappable and open to feedback in order to mold your body and mind to the role at hand? Three professionals get real about how they have struggled to do just that, and how they have grown as artists through the process.
Alexandra Gibson and artists of Alberta Ballet in "Giselle." Photo by Maximillian Tortoriello, Courtesy Alberta Ballet.
Curran rehearsing company dancer Erin Langston. Photo by Renata Pavam, Courtesy Louisville Ballet.
Last August, Louisville Ballet's artistic and executive director Robert Curran met with an anonymous donor in New York. He came home with a check for one million dollars. His lips are sealed, but the donation bodes well for the ballet's future under Curran, whose tenure only began in 2014.
In its nearly 65-year history, Louisville Ballet has experienced quite the evolution: It has transitioned from civic to professional company; is now housed in a spacious facility nestled between downtown and NuLu, the city's nascent but thriving arts district; and has the nationally respected Adam Hougland as its principal choreographer. As the new director, Curran has already laid out bold plans to strengthen the company, including an expanded relationship with the Louisville Orchestra and a broadened repertoire.
Walker in LAB's production of Swan Lake. Photo by Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy LAB.
Today's directors are increasingly looking for maturity, experience and versatility, and choreographers are drawn towards artistically intelligent dancers who can contribute to the creative process. Although ballet dancers have traditionally been wary of losing precious performing years by going to college before heading into the job market, it's becoming routine to see company rosters populated with college grads. For these three professionals, the well-honed skills they gained in school not only boosted their dance careers, but opened doors into a myriad of exciting paths for their futures.
Louisville Ballet has a secret admirer. On Friday, the company announced that it had received a $1 million gift from an anonymous, New York City–based donor to help support the new artistic vision of artistic director Robert Curran, who was appointed last year. According to a statement, the donation will not only help the company expand its repertoire, but also allow it to commission new works, “including collaborative projects with local, national and international choreographers, visual artists and musicians, and more.”
Kentucky audiences will see that vision in action this October. Curran, who came to Louisville after a long career with The Australian Ballet, where he was a principal dancer, opens his first planned season with his reimagined version of Coppélia. Not only will sets and costumes be designed by local artists, but the story will be set in 1917 Louisville, just before the United States entered World War I. “This gift not only recognizes the exciting potential of our new vision,” says Curran, “it also recognizes the strength of our entire arts community and the city that strongly supports us all.”
Robert Curran rehearses the company in Giselle. Photo by Renata Pavam, Courtesy LB,
After a 16-year career with The Australian Ballet, former principal dancer Robert Curran has moved to the U.S. as the newly appointed artistic director of Louisville Ballet, formerly led by Bruce Simpson. The 24-member unranked company performs both classical full-lengths and contemporary work, throughout a 30-week contract.