New dance works will push Empujón further into public eye

May 23, 2007 at 9:40 pm

Large red rubber balls — the kind that can produce pain during a feisty game of dodge ball — ricochet sporadically off the walls in a sunlit room upstairs in the Clifton Center. Phrases of Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D major (also known as the London Symphony) frequently sound from a boom box on the windowsill.
“Respect my art,” says Pete Lay, splaying his smile from ear to ear.

“You’re killing me,” rejoins Christy Corbitt Miller, laughing and bending down to pick up a ball. She bounces it a few times.

Lay, who will move to Louisville this summer to take a position with the Louisville Ballet, is working with Miller, a Ballet soloist, on a piece he is creating for the upcoming performance by Empujón, the Louisville dance collective that had a rousing debut last summer at the 21c Museum Hotel.

Lay is working with Empujón for the first time. He had thoughts of setting a dance to this music since he first heard it several years ago at a chamber music performance in Columbus, Ohio, where he was a member of Columbus Dance Theater. “It seemed tongue-in-cheek, a bit farcical,” he says.

The opportunity to craft the dance came when Lay heard from his friend, David Ingram. They studied dance together at Butler University before Ingram joined the Louisville Ballet. Last month, Ingram, Empujón’s creative director, selected Lay and other young choreographers to produce this week’s program.

In early May, Lay’s initial ideas for the dance took shape as the two shot basketballs in Cherokee Park. Lay describes how they began attempting tricks — handling, passing and shooting the ball — that invoked the Harlem Globetrotters. That prompted an idea to incorporate the balls into his dance.

And so, now in this rehearsal room, he is coaching Miller in handling the ball — turning with it after positioning it between her knees, palming it, rolling it on her back from neck to tailbone.

The afternoon continues once Ingram arrives, a bit late having just driven from Charlotte, where he will relocate this summer to join the North Carolina Dance Theatre. He apologizes, and then, although he seems disheveled and winded, focuses on the task — rehearsing and teaching the three women in front of him one of his two works for the upcoming performance.

Soon, the music changes the room’s ambiance as a song by 65 Days of Static comes on. Ingram tests some of his frenetic steps with the three female dancers, showing them how, then watching them execute movements in time with the music’s mostly dissonant notes, with the occasional few bars of brass instrumentation and odd rhythmic structures that stop and start.

While frenzied, Ingram’s moves are controlled. The dancers repeat them and carry out the rest of the choreography, which consists of many aggressive physical encounters between them.
He asks one dancer: “Can you kiss her and then smack her?”

Then he and the dancers work out the moves. They often bump into each other. Almost every time the move reverberates into a physical chain reaction.

Later, Ingram tells all the dancers, “You can have leadership of your own movement.” That statement encapsulates his philosophy, say many of the dancers and choreographers who work with him. They credit Ingram not only for his own choreographic talents, but also for his manner in configuring the program.
“He’s very trusting and he allows total creative freedom,” says Delilah Smyth, who just retired from the Louisville Ballet and has choreographed a pas de deux that she describes as “creative chaos.”

Ingram, who counts German choreographer Pina Bauch as a main influence, began Empujón last spring at the suggestion of Jeffrey Smith, who once worked in marketing for the Louisville Ballet and now has his own public relations firm. Ingram describes the company as a collective of dancers and choreographers who come together to produce the sort of contemporary dance that is seldom seen in Louisville, and as a project that provides an outlet for regional talent to explore and develop their art. Smith has worked with Empujón primarily on the business side, chasing funding and forging partnerships with other Louisville organizations, including the 21c Museum Hotel, which has donated space and other resources for last year’s and this week’s performances.

While Ingram will leave Louisville this summer, he will work with the company on a July 27 performance at the Kentucky Center, and he plans to continue the relationship in future summers, during North Carolina Dance Theatre’s off seasons.

You can watch excerpts from Empujón’s August 2006 performance at 21c Museum Hotel on

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