Cincinnati Ballet Makes ‘Bold Moves’

This spring, it will partner with the Eighth Blackbird classical ensemble and Bryce Dessner's MusicNOW on a performance.

click to enlarge Dancers dress casual in "Murder Ballades." - PHOTO: Aaron M Conway
PHOTO: Aaron M Conway
Dancers dress casual in "Murder Ballades."

As the Cincinnati Ballet gears up for the second half of its 2017-18 season, the company has a number of exciting endeavors in store. Particularly notable is Bold Moves — the company’s April 26-29 production at the Aronoff Center — because it’s affiliated with the MusicNOW festival helmed by Bryce Dessner of  the band The National, who is also a classical composer. This year, MusicNOW will be concurrent with the new Homecoming festival, curated by and featuring The National.

Bold Moves follows in the vein of the Cincinnati Ballet’s frequent collaborations with musicians performing live on stage and will feature the contemporary classical sextet Eighth Blackbird in each performance. Bold Moves includes two world premieres and one Cincinnati premiere, the latter being Dessner’s “Murder Ballades,” choreographed by New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer Justin Peck. 

“I feel like one of my responsibilities is to find out what’s going on and what’s hot,” says Victoria Morgan, artistic director of Cincinnati Ballet. Recently, she traveled to Big Ears, a Knoxville-based experimental music festival, where she met Stephen Dessner, Bryce’s father, and heard Eighth Blackbird perform. 

“I started hearing about the things Bryce was doing, and then I started getting recordings of the music,” she says. “And of course, Justin Peck has been a hero of mine for a long time. So I thought, ‘You know what? It would be really nice to have something connecting to Cincinnati.’ ” 

This connection solidified “Murder Ballades,” which Morgan says is akin to “a balletic, contemporary West Side Story” and features dancers in Keds and street clothes straight from Target. 

“There have been conversations now for two or three years at least about the ballet becoming more integrated into the MusicNOW concept,” says Ashley Capps, founder of AC Entertainment, which is producing this year’s MusicNOW and Homecoming festivals. “When it became clear that this was going to be the weekend (of MusicNOW), the fact that the ballet already had Bold Moves planned with Bryce’s music and Justin’s choreography and Eighth Blackbird, it was only natural to bring everyone together.” 

If you’re wondering just what you might expect from the pairing of a composition from a member of The National with choreography from a dance rock star, look at the music video for The National’s “The Dark Side of the Gym.” Peck choreographed the dancing and stars in the video. 

Bold Moves also features work by Cincinnati Ballet’s resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald and New York City-based contemporary choreographer Kate Weare. Music includes pieces by Jacob Cooper, David Lang, Robert Honstein, Nico Muhly and potentially others. 

Collaborative endeavors pepper the rest of Cincinnati Ballet’s season, too. In collaboration with Ballet West of Salt Lake City, the company has commissioned new choreography from Nicolo Fonte for Carmina Burana, running Feb. 8-11 at Music Hall. The epic Carmina Burana score, by Carl Orff, will be performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The May Festival Chorus will participate as well. 

Carmina Burana is truly an iconic piece,” Morgan says. “I wanted our dancers to have the experience of working with Nicolo because working with a really good choreographer in the creative process is such an important part of a dancer’s career.”

George Balanchine’s graceful Serenade is also on the same bill. “If Carmina is hot, fiery, raunchy and on edge, Serenade is feminine, beautiful lines, sweeping, organic moonlight. It’s Tchaikovsky’s strings; it’s just gorgeous,” Morgan says. 

The mixed-repertoire Director’s Cut: Musical Masters is also part of the season. It will be performed March 15-18 at the Aronoff Center and features three different works. Fancy Free, choreographed by Jerome Robbins of West Side Story fame with music by Leonard Bernstein, celebrates the centennial birthday of both men and is the first Robbins work ever performed by the Cincinnati Ballet. Rubies, part of Balanchine’s three-act ballet Jewels, with music by Igor Stravinsky; and Garrett Smith’s Facades, featuring music by Handel, Vivaldi and Philip Glass, round out the program. 

For more information and Cincinnati Ballet tickets, visit

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