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Louisville Ballet History

Louisville Ballet, the official ballet of the commonwealth of Kentucky, was founded in March 1952 as a civic ballet company. At that time, the Louisville Ballet employed guest artistic directors and choreographers on a production-by-production basis. In 1965, Larry Gradus was engaged as a full-time resident artistic director, overseeing a group of temporary dancers. Ten years later in 1975, under the direction of Richard and Cristina Munro, the Company achieved professional status by employing eight contracted dancers to form the ensemble company.

The Academy of the Louisville Ballet, now the Louisville Ballet School, opened the same year (1975), with Alun Jones as Associate Director. In 1978 Jones became Louisville Ballet’s Artistic Director, a position he held until his retirement in 2002. In addition to his duties as Artistic Director, Mr. Jones choreographed numerous works for the Company and did a great deal of costume and scenic design during his tenure. The Louisville Ballet holds the great distinction of being the only regional company with which Mikhail Baryshnikov has performed in repertoire productions. He danced with the Company during the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons, after which the Louisville Ballet supported his performances in Dallas and Houston.

Upon Jones’ retirement in the spring of 2002, the Louisville Ballet named Bruce Simpson as the Artistic Director of the Company and the Louisville Ballet School, bringing with him over 30 years of experience in the international ballet world. Under the direction of Mr. Simpson, the Louisville Ballet continued its philosophy of presenting an eclectic range of exciting work underscored by a foundation rooted in the classical repertoire. During Simpson’s tenure, the Company has commissioned fifteen of its 70 world-premieres from choreographers including Helen Pickett, Adam Hougland, Amy Seiwert, Graham Lustig and Val Caniparoli. In December 2009, the Company premiered The Brown-Forman Nutcracker choreographed by Val Caniparoli with costume and scenic design by Peter Cazalet. Simpson retired as Artistic Director in summer 2014.

The Louisville Ballet has a repertoire of over 150 works by such choreographers as Sir Frederick Ashton, Erik Bruhn, George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, John Cranko, Jack Carter, Kurt Jooss, Choo-San Goh, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, David Parsons, Eugene Loring, André Prokovsky and Domy Reiter-Soffer, along with Fokine and Bournonville ballets. Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Coppélia, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, Giselle, Don Quixote, Anna Karenina, Beauty and the Beast, The Three Musketeers and The Great Gatsby are a sampling of the Company’s full-length ballets.

In fall 2004 the Louisville Ballet named Adam Hougland the Company’s Principal Choreographer. As such, he has created numerous world premieres for the Company including the full-length Rite of Spring (April 2009) featuring Louisville-native and New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan. This piece and several others commissioned for the Louisville Ballet have gone on to further productions in Cincinnati, Oklahoma, San Francisco among others.

In addition to four main stage productions, the Louisville Ballet produces two in-studio programs allowing audience members to watch the Company up-close and personal in our rehearsal studios. The Louisville Ballet reaches an audience of nearly 50,000 people each year through performance and outreach activities and has earned a national reputation as one of the Country’s leading regional ballet companies. Our reach extends to all areas of the Louisville community and into Southern Indiana.

Through the dedication of its dancers, staff, school faculty and board of directors, the Company continues to enrich the Louisville and surrounding community.


The Louisville Ballet School is located in St. Matthews in the East End of Louisville. With an enrollment of over 600 students ranging in ages from 18-months-old to seniors, the School instructs students at all levels – from those interested in pursuing a career to the person looking for a fun, creative way to exercise. Chosen each year by audition, the Louisville Ballet Youth Ensemble supports the professional company in larger productions and performs at the annual Southeast Regional Ballet Association (SERBA) festival, hosted by Regional Dance America, of which the Louisville Ballet is a founding member.


Sharing the art form of dance with the citizens of Kentucky and Southern Indiana is a long-standing tradition of the Louisville Ballet. The Company’s educational programs have reached over 70,000 schoolchildren since 2006 through student matinee performances and on-site lecture demonstrations. Since the first outreach efforts in 1973, three distinct types of educational programs have developed to help teachers incorporate the ballet experience into their classroom activities: interactive workshops held in schools; student matinees at The Kentucky Center; and in-studio programs for a behind-the-scenes look at the Company in class.


The Louisville Ballet is located on East Main Street in downtown Louisville. This $2.2-million facility, built in 1995, consists of a modern, warehouse-inspired building that houses two large rehearsal studios, the Company’s costume shop and wardrobe storage, and administrative offices. The Louisville Ballet Center received the Honor Award for Excellence in Architectural Design by the Kentucky chapter of the American Institute of Architects and was featured in the May 1997 edition of Architecture magazine.


© 2015 Louisville Ballet