The first piece is the George Balanchine classic “Rubies,” originally performed by the New York City Ballet in 1976. It delivers — once again — on artistic director Robert Curran’s early promise to bring Louisville the works from the American master every year.
The other piece is a bold reimagining of “The Firebird.” The ballet, also composed by Stravinsky and originally choreographed by Michel Folkine, is a beloved classic and an important part of the ballet canon. To reimagine it for the Louisville Ballet illustrates Curran’s balancing act to honor ballet’s past while creating its future.
This new “Firebird” comes from Lucas Jervies, a recurring choreographer at the Louisville Ballet since Curran’s tenure began. Jervies has offered us original works like “What Light is to Their Eyes” and last year’s incredible “Human Abstract.”
Insider sat down with the choreographer to discuss the new “Firebird,” how he’s been influenced by studying theater, and the difficulty of recognizing and pushing back against misogyny in the world of ballet.
Insider Louisville: Where did this piece come from?
Lucas Jervies: I always knew the music. I can’t remember my first experience — I remember at 9 or 10 in ballet school, dancing to the music. As a 16-year-old, I made a piece at ballet school called “Call of the Sirens” to another piece of music, and it kind of explored, simplistically, the idea of the Sirens calling Ulysses.
I won a choreography competition with it.
And later, I wanted to remake that work and remembered “The Firebird” and wondered if that would be a kind of interesting take on.
IL: So you set it again?
LJ: I workshopped that and I think I was 18 or 19 at the time, and no one was interested in giving me a go back then, but I kept sitting with it, exploring it, even wrote a big synopsis of it at one point.
Then in 2014, Queensland Ballet commissioned me to do a small studio version, like the showcase here, for their company, and so I did “The Firebird Suite,” a 20-minute version, and I explored the Sirens idea. It went well and was received well.
IL: How did that production affect the piece or how you saw the story?
LJ: There is something inherently misogynistic about that tale, and I was worried about that.
IL: Is that kind of introspection something you do with every piece?
LJ: I didn’t read much as a kid. I was obsessed with dance, and I wasn’t interested in school. I would get to the studio, and that’s where my concentration and focus was. I barely got through a book. So it wasn’t until the last 10 years that I really started to educate myself and grow. So I was, like, hang on, there’s issues with this.
IL: Besides reading up, were there other influence there?
LJ: I was about to go to NIDA (Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art) and was meeting people who were into these things. One of the playwrights at NIDA was a quintessential feminist and great person. And she said something to me, I can’t remember … I call everyone darling and sweetie, but I would often call women “love,” and guys “mate” — maybe that’s what she called me out on.
It was just those little things about myself and my daily behavior, I guess, that had me questioning those things, which then made me question the work I was making.
IL: So how did that change “Firebird”?
LJ: I spoke with Elizabeth (Gadsby), and you know, lots of ideas came and went. The original Sirens, take the misogyny out of the Sirens, what is it about? Saving the sailors from war? Can we flip it somehow? Is it another consequence of war?
And we were talking about the refugee crisis, and it just kind of all happened organically actually. So it went from a really simple exploration of the Sirens to exploring the idea of being misplaced.
IL: You’re talking about Elizabeth Gadsby, the scenic and costume designer you’ve worked with on several projects?
LJ: She’s a genius. I think we’re credited as co-creators for this, which is correct. Elizabeth is more than a designer, or what people maybe think the definition of a designer is. She just was associate director on an opera in Sydney — she is a natural dramaturg, she’s very intelligent, she studied fine art and design.
She’s much more articulate than I, and she’s able to take my scattered thoughts and be patient with them as well, and help organize my thoughts. She’s really special.
IL: Why was the refugee crisis a good focal point for the story?
LJ: The more exposure the better. And I think if we can see it not just on the news, I think that might help. We’re so kind of, news is just news, it’s almost white noise, it’s just one bad thing after another. The more platforms or forms or places we can be exposed to these subjects the better.
That being said, I’m nervous not to exploit that subject for the sake of entertainment. I think it’s about keeping it open, not having an answer or a solution, so people can walk away with a conversation rather than a beautiful finale that ties it all up in a red ribbon and then it’s done.
IL: During a recent “Lunch and Learn” session, Curran called you a choreographer-in-residence. You’ve been a recurring partner through his tenure as artistic director, but that was never made official. Is that new?
LJ: It’s something Rob had said to me after my first piece here, I think. That he was really interested in that, and would I be interested in that, and of course we’d worked together before and we are friends, we believe in a lot of the same things. So yeah, I was always interested, and I really like the dancers, and some of the works have been somewhat successful.
It felt like a natural progression, and there was never really a moment when it was, like, OK, now you’re a resident choreographer, which is normally what happens. So I must admit when he said that the other day I was, like, “Alright. Am I?”
Jervies’ “Firebird” will be on stage at the Kentucky Center, along with Balanchine’s classic “Rubies,” on Friday, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 11, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets start at $35.50.