A year ago Robert Curran dangled the promise of Louisville Ballet bringing a third choreographer on as Resident Choreographer. This week, Curran fulfilled that promise, appointing Andrea Schermoly to the position.
Schermoly remembers that she first reached out to then relatively-new Producing and Artistic Director Curran via Facebook. She was familiar with Louisville Ballet through the work of former Artistic Director Bruce Simpson, who spent substantial time in Schermoly’s native South Africa during his career.
That link is a reminder how international and close-knit the world of ballet can be. It’s possible for a mid-sized company to link three continents through the work of just a handful of artists. Curran points to this linkage in talking about the three resident choreographers — all of whose careers have international aspects: Adam Hougland, an American who lives in England, Australian Lucas Jervies who’s worked and trained extensively in Europe, and Schermoly whose career has taken her to England, the Netherlands and New Zealand, as well as this country.
Curran says the fact that Louisville Ballet has created space for three resident choreographers is a big deal. His home of many years, the much-larger Australian Ballet Company, typically has had only two resident choreographers at any given time. This commitment to new work is a way to distinguish Louisville Ballet in the ballet world, to help it stand out in an environment dominated by the larger companies. As evidenced by the current production of “The Nutcracker” and other programming this season, the Louisville Ballet is dedicated to remaining a company centered on the classics, as well as to creating vibrant new work that catapults ballet into this century.
Another big deal is that Schermoly is the first female choreographer who hasn’t already been part of the company to create work for the Louisville Ballet.
Schermoly recounts that choreography has always been part of her life. As a young girl she would persuade her best friend into entering dance competitions in pieces she choreographed. This continued at school where she had opportunities to set pieces on students, and she also created gymnastic routines. All of this ended up being a great background when Schermoly faced a dance career ending injury and was able to turn full time to choreography.
She also acknowledges that her career benefited from coming of age in South Africa as apartheid was ending. Schermoly said the landscape of gender equity, where she was never discouraged, was significant in giving her the opportunity to be “in the front of the room” in the role of choreographer.
Both Curran and Schermoly acknowledge that it can be challenging for female dancers to find those opportunities to explore choreography as a career path. Curran reflects that he witnesses the lack of space for young female dancers to choreograph in an ecosphere in which the competition for female roles is so fierce. Schermoly concurs, and is also hopeful that this systemic issue is changing more rapidly than we might realize, and is excited that she sees more working female choreographers now. The Louisville Ballet School intentionally builds choreography into its curriculum, pursuing this area at the same quality as the dance training, and Curran hopes that such an approach can be part of shifting this paradigm, at least for future generations.
In the meantime, with Schermoly on staff, one third of Louisville Ballet’s resident choreographers are women, and many of the female dancers’ choreography is on display in the annual Choreographers’ Showcase.
Louisville audiences will see Schermoly’s work twice this spring. She’s excited that she will have what she identifies as “a solid amount of time” with the dancers, an opportunity to continue to build the rapport that was generated three years ago. She is thankful for how “amazingly creative the Louisville Ballet is…that there are smart, like-minded, open-minded people” here.
Partnering with the Louisville Orchestra’s Festival of American Music, on February 23 Schermoly is reconceiving Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring.” Curran says that it is a testament to the reputation of both the Louisville Orchestra and Andrea Schermoly that both the Copland and Graham estates so readily gave permission for new choreography. A scant two months later, Schermoly’s second premiere will be “Great Bear,” mounted in concert with the Festival of Faiths in April. An exciting partnership for this production is the original music of Balmorhea, a minimalist band formed in Austin, Texas about a decade ago.
Echoing Schermoly’s excitement about her extended time in Louisville this spring (she’s currently based in Los Angeles) Curran articulates how important it is for choreographers to keep coming back to the company. This gives them an opportunity to get to know both the company and the dancers better over time, creating an environment in which a full level of creativity can blossom. He’s excited about how much the aesthetics of the ballet’s three resident choreographers contrast — and yet there is a cohesion to how all three approach their work through their life and career paths. Hopefully, Louisville audiences will get a chance to see their work not only one by one (Jervies’ “Human Abstract” is also in this season) but also in full evenings of original works.