When the 2019-20 season of the Louisville Ballet got moving, Brandon Ragland’s original work, “Force Flux,” debuted amid an exciting mixed program at the Brown Theatre. Then he was chosen as a member of the 2019 Hadley Creatives.
On Sunday, April 28 — only three weeks after he danced the role of the Prince in Louisville Ballet’s “Cinderella” — he debuts “Within Reach” as a part of ArtsReach’s third annual “Dance Out Loud,” which features performances from a collection of Louisville-based dancers and choreographers, as well as community-based dance programs that ArtsReach runs throughout the year.
Is it any wonder that Ragland also is being awarded the Lift a Life Foundation Emerging Leader in the Arts award at the fourth annual Awards in the Arts on Saturday, April 27, at Churchill Downs?
Insider caught up with Ragland to hear about his weekend plans, his big year, how he plans to lead now that’s he’s “emerged,” and what he feel’s about Louisville’s arts community.
“When I first got here, my intention was not to stay here long term,” he says. “I figured, ‘Oh, I’ll be here maybe three years, four years at the most.’ But now I consider Louisville home, and it’s been a place where it’s fed me as a city artistically, personally and spiritually as well. I’ve grown to love living here.”
The Birmingham native started dancing at 13. After college at Butler University’s respected ballet program, Ragland headed home to dance with the Alabama Ballet for three seasons before he came to Louisville.
“In college, I had always heard of Louisville as being a very reputable company. And it was in close proximity to Butler, so a lot of the graduates from Butler would go on to dance here,” says Ragland.
First, under former Artistic Director Bruce Simpson and then the current Artistic and Executive Director Robert Curran, the company has given Ragland many opportunities as a choreographer, culminating — so far — with “Force Flux.”
“I’m also a teacher in the (Louisville Ballet’s) school. Through that I started to build a network,” he explains. “That was something I always wanted to do, as well as take part in some more community engagement type things.”
ArtsReach Director Julia Youngblood spoke briefly with Insider about ArtsReach and Ragland’s part in “Dance Out Loud.”
“The main thing that ArtsReach has always been working on is making sure there is a consistent presence in community sites and community centers … and that (students) have a way to be engaged after school that makes them feel engaged in a way that is not just listening to an adult but really creating something that is meaningful to them, and actively doing it in a strong, physical way,” she explains.
Youngblood says Ragland’s role in “Dance Out Loud” isn’t just hit it and quit it, he’s there to lead by example and to inspire.
“Each year we’ve focused on (a guest artist) who’s had a professional life in dance, and have them come in and spend a little bit of time talking to the performers before the event, and then perform a piece,” says Youngblood.
Ragland describes the solo he’s performing, “Within Reach,” as expressing a particular feeling or moment with which the kids in ArtsReach may be well familiar.
“You know, you work so hard for something and you feel like it’s right in your grasp, but you never can seem to attain it — it’s just out of our reach,” he says.
Spoiler alert: Ragland’s work also suggests we can grab and attain our dreams.
Ragland certainly has expanded his reach this year, which has included business training, strategic planning and access to Louisville’s creative leaders through the Hadley Creatives.
Now his year culminates with him receiving the Emerging Leader in the Arts award and the stipend that comes with it — $5,000 — which he can use to forward his art, presumably using the skills, planning and extended network he received through the opportunity.
At first, despite the cache and the cash attached, he didn’t exactly understand the scope of the award. He was too busy dancing and creating.
“Then I started to look up everyone who has won this award before and … I was blown away,” he says. “It’s such an honor.”
Those names include Kristen Renee Miller, Rachel Mauser and Jecorey “1200” Arthur. The awards, hosted by and connected with the Fund for the Arts, are made possible by several foundations.
“My award is sponsored through the Lift a Life Foundation, and that’s another way to help dive into the community engagement part of being an artist,” Ragland explains. “I met them, I hung out with them, I’m hoping that we continue to have engagement.”
As far as being a leader, his plan is to keep up what he’s been doing.
“In my experience of people I look up to as good leaders, they are in the trenches with you. It’s not a dictatorship. Yes, they are delegating, but they are also putting in work,” he says.
Ragland will perform at ArtsReach’s “Dance Out Loud” on Sunday, April 28, at 4 p.m., at the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theater. It is free and open to the public, and no tickets are required.
Ragland will receive his award at the Awards in the Arts ceremony, hosted by the Fund for the Arts, Churchill Downs and the Lawrence Family Foundation, on Saturday. The event kicks off at 5:45 p.m. with an “Orange Carpet” before the event begins at 6. The ceremony doubles as a benefit and tickets can be purchased online.
(Editor’s note: This writer also is a member of 2019’s Hadley Creatives.)