Louisville Magazine

MAR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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66 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.19 It's just before 8 a.m. on a brisk Tuesday in February when an Audi the color of a storm cloud pulls into the lot at the Louisville Ballet headquarters, a building-sized shard of metal and glass on East Main Street. In a fluid motion, the driver's-side door opens, and a bright white high-top Nike sneaker slips out, followed by a calf, smooth as an apple beneath rolled-up, black, form-fitting sweatpants and one of those hoodie vests that look like the Michelin Man, only slimmer, black, and much more hip. at's Robert Curran, 42, a peppering of hair on his otherwise shiny head, a little hugging his trigonometric jaw. His clear brown eyes pop, even this early and even more than usual, bolstered by the residue of the makeup he wore to Cher's concert at the Yum! Center last night. (At age 72, she was incredible, Curran says. Later, when I ask him what his favorite Cher song is, he says, "You can't do that to Cher.") He hands me a cup of coffee from Please & ank You, his manicured nails glistening like the surface of an eyeball, one ring finger accented in color, as always. Today, it's blue. (No symbolism there, just a bit of flair.) He's been experimenting with gender roles in clothing lately, breaking the rigid barrier between masculine and feminine. Not long ago, something in him cracked open, painfully. en light began to seep through, casting everything from Curran's work life to his wardrobe into a new relief. But more on that later. We have business to attend to. We head into Curran's office, a white room with a long and rough wooden table in the middle that serves as his desk. A trio of large, moody, black-and-white photographs dominates one wall. In one, a woman lies on the floor with a vacant look on her face. Across from this is a close-up of a man's neck, cinched by a paper collar that seems to have stained his skin white — a piece by artist Vinhay Keo, one of several non-dancers who has collaborated with the Louisville Ballet under Curran's direction. On another wall, an artwork depicts a male dancer, shirtless, wearing a long skirt made of Band-Aids and spiky, ornate white shapes. e books stacked on a back shelf and on the table suggest a veteran artist diving deep into the cultural history of Kentucky: everything from Ballet Technique for the Male Dancer and Philanthropy and the Arts to a book by Kentucky writer Chris Offutt, two books on Daniel Boone, one on bourbon and Night Comes to the Cumberlands. Curran tries to finish a book every week. Bring up novelists like Ian McEwan, Colm Tóibín or Michael Ondaatje, all of whom occupy his shelves at home, and Curran really gets to talking. is morning, Curran has a monthly medical meeting. He sits down next to senior ballet master Harald Uwe Kern (essentially one of the dance coaches, if you need to butch up the lingo) and several employees from a physical therapy business called KORT. Physical therapists visit the ballet daily to keep up with the idiosyncrasies of dancers' bodies, the strengths, weaknesses, injuries — monitoring them like racehorses. One of the KORT employees has brought her newborn to the meeting, and Curran is smitten. "She'll probably sleep," the mother says. "I kind of hope she doesn't," Curran replies, smiling with his photogenic teeth. e therapists discuss the individual exercise regimens they've developed for dancers, the opinions of some of those dancers' doctors (who, both the therapists and Curran say, don't always understand the impact of dance on a body), and dancers' performance in classes. ere's talk of tracking dancers' heart rates in the future, the prospect of which Curran approves. Parts of the conversation sound like a verbal anatomy exam. Curran doesn't use notes, but he seems intimately aware of what's going on with each dancer. Is his ankle OK? Is surgery really the best option for her? One of the therapists mentions how she saw a dancer smoking, and that she said it was a bad idea. Beefing up what Curran calls the ballet's "medical team" was one of his priorities after taking over the company as artistic director in 2014, following the retirement of previous director Bruce Simpson. Curran says he added the title and responsibilities of executive director about 12 months in. Having physical therapists onsite every day was not the norm. If a dancer gets injured or has to stop performing because she's pregnant, Curran finds ways to keep them involved with the company, like having them work on the administrative side, until they're ready to dance again. When a young dancer named Luke Yee joined the company on short notice last year, he spent some time crashing with a friend. Curran took a bed and mattress he had in storage and delivered them to Yee. Longtime Louisville Ballet dancer Leigh Anne Albrechta had a fractured foot during Curran's first season, so he sent her to work with the Australian Ballet's world- class physical therapy team. She says he's provided a sense of security to the dancers, who work on yearly contracts. "He's made it very clear to the dancers that, 'I want you here; I want you hired for a long period of time,'" she says. "For the first years, I didn't believe him. I was like, 'ere's no way this guy is actually gonna hire us all back. Like, there's no way.' But he's totally stayed true to it, and that drops a level of stress that is pretty high as a female in this profession." Her fellow dancer Brandon Ragland also mentions Curran's commitment to dancers."(Curran's) aim was not to fire or clean house, as some directors do. Which is totally possible, and kind of normal," he says. "'Guarantee' isn't the right word, but he's told us multiple times that our contract is here for us, and it's here for however long we want to be here." (For this story, the ballet would not permit dancers to be interviewed without a marketing representative present, citing policy.) Holding the dual role — artistic and executive director of one of the oldest ballet companies in the country, founded in 1952 — is, well, a lot. Just today, Curran has the medical meeting, a meeting at the Kentucky Center with the heads of other performing-arts organizations, reporters from multiple outlets to wrangle, a meeting with the ballet's marketing committee, and a rehearsal with the Louisville Ballet's dance school. (In addition to the professional dance company, the Louisville Ballet maintains a school, with recreational classes for enthusiasts and vocational classes for those itching for a dance career.) Notice anything missing? How about, you know, studio time with the professional dancers? In one interview, Curran says he feels like he does 75 percent administrative work, 25 percent studio work, when he'd like it to be the reverse. He mentions the role of ballet master, which involves lots of studio time. "I look at what they get to do: ey're in the studio all day. All day! I would be like a pig in mud," Curran says. A couple of dancers tell me they'd like to see Curran in the studio more. "He's doing two jobs at the moment. It's hard for both (roles) to be, in my opinion, as successful "THEY'RE IN THE STUDIO ALL DAY. ALL DAY! I WOULD BE LIKE A PIG IN MUD," CURRAN SAYS.

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