This weekend, the Louisville Ballet presents “The Beyond.” It’s an exciting double bill that follows in the ballet’s recent tradition of presenting daring and original works, as well as collaborating with other mainstays of the Louisville arts scene.
The evening starts with “Requiem,” choreographed by Stephen Baynes and set to Fauré’s choral music. Next is “Project Faust,” in which resident choreographer Adam Hougland teams up with internationally acclaimed director Sally Blackwood.
Blackwood has an almost insanely varied resume, with a diverse list of jobs, venues and companies. She’s done TV commercials, opera direction, children’s musicals, French interpreting, circus directing, and has worked for the Sydney Opera House, Paris Opera Ballet and even the Olympics.
That just a toe’s dip into the depth of her career.
Insider caught up with Blackwood by phone. The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Insider Louisville: How did you hook up with the Louisville Ballet and artistic director Robert Curran?
Sally Blackwood: I know Robert from the Australian Ballet, from many years ago as a director and producer at the Opera House, where I was, and where the Australian Ballet used to feature.
We’ve been wanting to find the right collaboration for many years, and as an opera director, I’ve been working with dancers more and more. And he’d been looking for the right collaboration with the Kentucky Opera as well. So it was this beautiful, fortuitous coming together of all those things.
IL: How did Faust in particular come into the conversation?
SB: Faust is absolutely my baby. Faust came into being because Robert brought to the table that he wanted to do Fauré’s “Requiem,” and I wanted to find a piece we could put beside “Requiem” that would be something that interrogates, was of varying interest but would complement both pieces.
To me, Faust was the most beautiful and interesting piece to go with those. They’re both beautiful and they both have this subject matter that is the beyond, hence the title Robert and I came up with for the double bill.
And I really wanted to interrogate Faust on a really different level.
IL: So Faust had been something that was on your mind before this? What makes it interesting to you?
SB: The Faustian bargain is such a known entity in terms of selling my soul to the devil and what would I sell my soul for, and I think that’s kind of a constant question in society in general whether we use those words or not.
But I think for me, it’s become more important to interrogate in our age of entitlement. We live in an age where it’s all about me, me, me. How do we look at that in a different way? And Faust is the vehicle to do that. Faust asked to live his life again, he asks to have everything he wants, and stuff everybody else. He doesn’t care about anybody else. It’s just about me, me, me.
It’s also been interesting, 2018 has been the beginning of #MeToo and this revelation of how women are being treated, and I’m very passionate about the female voice being heard. When we started doing this in 2016, you couldn’t have imagined that this is where we kind of got to now and how prescient this story is.
It’s about a woman’s voice and taking a piece that is all about a man taking a woman and the woman being cast into hell for a night of romance. So we’re looking at it and saying, is it really a night of romance? Why is she cast into hell? Why doesn’t the male get called in to justice? So it’s this really strong vehicle for a really strong female voice.
IL: You have such a varied career. How does this array of experiences change your approach to a story, or an opera, or a ballet?
SB: For me, it’s very much about looking always from the audience’s perspective. As a producer and programmer, we ask: What is the audience’s journey through a year of programming? What stories are we telling? Then as a director, it’s very clearly what story am I telling in this moment? And then every moment. Can I make this story more clear, more concise, more approachable to an audience?
Working with music, I’m very passionate about that; working with dance, in terms of bodies on stage, so that storytelling doesn’t have to be a couple of people talking around a table, it can be 40 dancers doing this incredible dance-driven moment. So I think having all these roles informs me about audiences, about what people take on in terms of what you’re watching on stage.
It’s about bringing in the audience, allowing them to make choices, allowing them to find the story. We create a great story and then let an audience find it for themselves.
IL: You said, letting the audience “make choices” — what choices?
SB: The choices are, if you see a piece of contemporary dance, you come away with a very different interpretation than the person next to you. You might have a different interpretation if you’ve been … running late and couldn’t find your car space, or you’re on a first date.
We carry a lot of baggage to the theater, and I’m very well aware of that. As an artist, I can set up everything I possibly can to create a very clear story, but what the audience takes away … I’m not in control of that.
“The Beyond” has just two performances — Friday, March 2, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 4, at 2 p.m. — at the Kentucky Center, 501 W. Main St. Tickets start at $35.50. The show contains mature themes and is recommended for ages 13 and up.