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Lexington Ballet's Love Letter to the Future

After 50 years of supporting the performing arts, the Lexington Ballet Company is ready to take the leap into a new era.


When Mia Isaac stepped into the CEO role in May 2023, she realized just how full circle she had come from when she first started dancing as a child at the very company she now leads.


“This is a lovely way to come back home,” Isaac said.


With her new title, Isaac has established a set of goals for how she intends the Lexington Ballet Company to evolve under her leadership, especially as the Company’s 50th anniversary approaches next season. Part of that mission includes reaching out to alumni to celebrate the Company’s growth and its community’s successes.


“We hope to then elevate this company through those connections and through the alumni that we've been able to reach out to,” Isaac said.


In an effort to reach out to the Company’s alumni and to celebrate the future of the Lexington Ballet Company, they produced “Love Stories,” a tribute to all forms of love featuring original choreography and musical compositions.


“Love Stories” consisted of different choreographed pieces that celebrated different types of love, from romantic love to the love of a sibling to the love of oneself. The styles of dance ranged from traditional ballet to contemporary, and the entire production was created in collaboration with both Lexington community members and artists from outside of Kentucky.


Guest artist and choreographer Eric Trope was invited by Isaac to participate in the production of “Love Stories” by choreographing part of the show and performing as Romeo in the company’s rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” the first excerpt from “Love Stories.”

“Everyone’s been so kind and very open-hearted, and also willing to adapt to a slightly different way of working or a different style than they're used to, which is maybe something I'm bringing here,” he said. “... It's a really nice group of people; it's a really special company.”

Trope said one of the main differences between New York, where he is currently based, and Lexington is the way things seem to go at a much more relaxed pace in Lexington compared to New York.


“New York, everything sort of operates like a ticking time bomb, I think, and there's like a nervous pressure energy, and coming here, there was a lightness,” he said. “I felt people were very friendly and excited, and so I definitely fed off that excitement, I think, and it's a slower, more relaxed vibe.”


Another one of Isaac’s missions as CEO is to prioritize community outreach and finding new ways to get Lexington more involved in their programming, whether it’s by offering classes to students and aspiring dancers or inviting them to participate in other, more unconventional ways.


“I want to make sure we are inclusive, that we're diverse, that we offer scholarships, because we want to make sure that we provide the ballet and an opportunity for this community to be involved,” Isaac said.


One of the pieces from “Love Stories,” titled “Mothers,” was choreographed by Ballet Mistress and soon-to-be School Director Ayako Hasebe Lloyd, and included original music and sound design by singer-songwriter and cellist Ben Sollee.


Lloyd said she wanted to create a piece that honored mothers all over the world by incorporating the stories of real mothers in the Lexington community into the overall work.


“I think a mother's love is one of the strongest forms of love, and I want to make sure that was included in this show,” she said.


The Company invited mothers and daughters to share their unique experiences with motherhood, which Sollee then used to create an original musical score that featured the subjects’ voices as the Company members danced and Sollee performed on stage alongside them.


“We interviewed different stages of mothers, like new moms, or a mom that's 84 and daughter that's like a teenage daughter, or a daughter that's 60 years old that's taking care of her 84-year-old mom,” Lloyd said.


As a new mother herself — she welcomed her daughter to the world in September 2022 — Lloyd said she found the experience emotional and enlightening.

comm“The reason why I wanted to interview a different variety of ages and backgrounds is because every journey is different, and I learned that we were all struggling in our own way,” she said. “… But I've learned that we're in this together. We have this community, even though we might not know each other directly.”


Sollee, who was initially contacted by Isaac and Lloyd in August 2023 about collaborating on “Love Stories,” said he was inspired by the strength and resilience that mothers possess while working on the original score.


“As a father myself — I have three children — it was really powerful to listen to these moms of different eras share about their experiences and just, overall, how much they give to the world and how unsupported they feel,” he said. “I mean, they feel loved, but not very supported. That’s a big thing. This piece is, ‘We see you, hear you, and we want to support you.’”


The sense of community and family that the Lexington Ballet Company fosters among its members, both professionals and students, is also what draws dancers in and is part of why they end up staying in Lexington as well, according to some of the dancers.


Twenty-five-year-old Kayleigh Western, a full-time professional company member, started with the Lexington Ballet Company when she was 3 years old and took on the role of Juliet in the “Romeo and Juliet” performance during “Love Stories.” She said she wouldn’t have been able to achieve the things she has without the support of the Lexington Ballet Company.


“They nurtured me through my training and have always supported me in any of the professional endeavors that I've wanted to pursue,” Western said. “They supported me when I left to pursue professional training and welcomed me back with open arms when I decided to return, so I wouldn't have a career without them, and I wouldn't be where I am today.”


Company member Gwen Lamb is originally from Morrison, Missouri, and made her debut with the Lexington Ballet Company this year. She said she bonded a lot with the other company members over the course of a few weeks while working on “Love Stories.”


“I think this has been an extremely supportive environment, and the connection between the students and the professional company is, I think, extremely rare to find in that we all kind of support each other and cheer each other on,” Lamb said.


During rehearsals, the student company gets the opportunity to sit in and observe the professional company as they run through choreography and practice their pieces, showing their support for one another by snapping and cheering along when their peers complete a difficult lift or complex piece of the choreography successfully.


“They really support each other in a way that’s different,” Isaac said. “… This is something that I want them to continue. I don’t want to change anything that works.”


Lexington Ballet’s student company is made up of 14 high school students who learn ballet technique and choreography under professionals in the industry. 

Alexandra Orenstein is the Company’s resident choreographer as well as a teacher for the student classes they offer. She said one of the best things about teaching students is getting to be involved in the process of helping them figure out who they are and realizing the performers they are capable of becoming.


“You have a little bit more of a blank canvas,” Orenstein said about working with students. “It's somebody who you're still molding — you don't have to unmold something — so it's always really fun to be in the studio with them and let them make mistakes and have fun with it.”


Critics of the ballet world have called the industry “toxic” in how it can sometimes cause physical and mental distress upon the dancers. The emphasis that is placed on perfection in traditional ballet practice has, in some cases, led to the development of stress, eating disorders and other negative effects that current and former dancers have reported experiencing. Isaac recognizes this and said that she strives to create a healthy environment at Lexington Ballet Company.


“We’re not doing that,” Isaac said about toxic ballet practices. “… We’re not gonna go backwards; we’re only moving forward because we all have a very strong commitment to our company, to our students and creating a better environment and giving them this opportunity.”


Even though the Lexington Ballet Company seeks to preserve many of the traditional ballet practices and pass them on to the new generation of dancers, such as stage etiquette, Lloyd said the most important thing is making sure the art lives on and that the dancers are happy.


“... We have a production, and it's not just the dancing part that is important,” Lloyd said. “That's a big chunk of our production, but there's also the music … and that's another art form. Then we have costumes, that's another art form. Then we have our lighting, that's another art form. Then we have our set stage sets and props and backdrops, that's another art form. And all the technical stuff at the theater, that's an art form.”


As a nonprofit organization, the Company relies on community support in any form to help them function. Isaac said 99% of their costumes and set pieces belong to the company and were sourced from donations and vintage stores. Louisville Ballet also provided some of the set pieces for “Love Stories” in particular.


The Lexington Ballet Company’s 50th anniversary will mark the beginning of a new era for performing arts in Lexington, and though what the future will hold for their community is unknown, Isaac and the rest of the company anticipate another 50 years of success and encourage the Lexington community to get involved, whether it’s by taking a class or attending a show.


“It [ballet] has healing benefits. It sets your sympathetic nervous system into a healing setting where it is proven to give you a relaxing benefit and state of mind … Not only is it an artistic and beautiful art form and an amazing event to go to and share with your family, whether it be kids, adults, seniors — it's really for any age group — but it really does have benefits that last far beyond just the performance,” Isaac said.


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