If you follow Louisville Ballet on social media, you may have noticed a statement posted to its channels last week. Titled "An Open Letter Against Hate and Prejudice," it says "we cannot and will not be bystanders to hate and prejudice. As artists we have a duty to challenge preconceptions respectfully and to tell the stories of those individuals and groups who make our city what it is and what it should aspire to become."
The letter was posted after the company received hateful emails and phone calls over their upcoming performances of Human Abstract, an evening-length work by Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies that follows the relationship between two openly gay protagonists.
Jervies staged an earlier version of Human Abstract on the company that explored his identity as a gay man and how society's prevailing view of the LGBTQ community has impacted his life. "This 2019 version continues the exploration of the issues facing this community, and continues to push the boundaries of dance-theater and test the limits of dance artists," says Louisville Ballet artistic and executive director Robert Curran.
But when the company released the ballet's promotional materials, which feature a photo of two men holding hands, it received scathing responses. "You should be ashamed of promoting perversion, immorality and filth" and "I don't want homosexual smut sent to my house" are among some of the tamer examples.
"I was not expecting the hateful rhetoric," says Curran. A gay man himself, he says he has always remained optimistic about being accepted and loved, although he's often disappointed by prejudicial attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. "I have become very accustomed to burying the hatred deep down (hoping that it doesn't evolve into self-hatred), but when I see a young person trying to work out who they are, while facing hate and prejudice, it inspires me to act."
The company's letter expresses its commitment to providing a space where everyone
feels represented and welcome: "We must lift up those around us in positive ways and provide support when needed. We challenge you to do the same, today and every day."
To Curran's delight, reactions to the letter—in the form of phone calls, emails, social media comments and in-person testimonies—have been overwhelmingly supportive. "There has been so much more love than hate," he says. He hopes that it and Jervies' ballet will help spark conversations about love and acceptance. "LGBTQ stories are not controversial, they are heartfelt and beautiful and they deserve to be told. It is my mission to create a place where that can happen without hate and prejudice."
Louisville Ballet presents Human Abstract February 28-March 4 at the Bombard Theater at The Kentucky Center..