Muscle Memories

Cincinnati Ballet celebrates 45 years with its audience-picked Greatest Hits

May 6, 2009 at 2:06 pm

From the glut of reality shows and the Peoples’ Choice Awards to blogging and Twittering, now more than ever audience members feel entitled to voice their opinions. And in these times, organizations must stay in tune with their patrons. Cincinnati Ballet deserves kudos for keeping current with trends of the times — choreographically and otherwise — while remaining true to its core classical ballet roots and rigorous standards.

In true democratic fashion, Cincinnati Ballet season subscribers were invited to cast votes for their favorite works the Ballet has performed. This weekend, the Ballet concludes its 45th season with its Greatest Hits, a powerhouse, if mixed, assortment of dance delights taken from the most-requested audience picks.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity to look back and to see what ballets our subscribers were drawn to,” says Victoria Morgan, Cincinnati Ballet’s CEO and artistic director. “Personally, I was thinking as an artistic director, it’s gonna be really helpful for me to see the direction and the focus and better understand the things people like to see. But of course, it’s all over the map. So in a way, I’m back where I started in terms of trying to better understand what’s attractive to our subscribers.”

One “attractive” proposition is the reprise of choreographer Kirk Peterson’s Javelin, an explosive piece for 10 men inspired by the Olympic athleticism of the ancient Greeks.

“The guys seem to love doing it,” Peterson says. “It’s a challenging piece, it’s an endurance piece, and they also get to exercise their technique and their masculine virility!”

This time, Michael Torke’s kinetic original score will be played live.

“The dancers have to be much more in tune with what’s going on because the tempi are a little different when it’s live,” Peterson explains. “They’re never exactly like a recording, so it does become a very exciting challenge.”

Those who saw it during the Ballet’s 2006 New Works program might remember the cloth, diaper-like costumes.

“We’ve changed the costumes,” Morgan says. “Originally those Olympic things were done naked when they were performed in Greece, so we tried to get as close to that as possible.”

According to Morgan, women comprise about 70 percent of the Ballet’s subscriber base. Because Javelin was voted in — something of a surprise — she concludes that women really like seeing men dance.

Yet Greatest Hits showcases the entire company, and quite literally in the case of Morgan’s vibrant Boléro, a sweeping, stage-filling work she choreographed in celebration of the dancers and her decade as artistic director in 2007.

Morgan says the voting results show that our community is broad and that it doesn’t want to see any one thing; people like variety. Indeed, Greatest Hits offers a varied smorgasbord, and that includes a couple of classics: an excerpt from the uber-romantic Giselle and “Rubies,” a scintillating pas de deux from Balanchine’s Jewels set to Stravinsky.

A contemporary revival is found in Graceland, featuring the exuberant music of Paul Simon and African-dance-flavored choreography from longtime former Cincinnati Ballet dancer Jay Goodlett.

Soloist Dawn Kelly, who danced in the original cast, says it took her about a week to relearn the steps. “Body memory is an amazing thing,” she says of her experience reprising her role that requires swift, sensual yet strong and avian arm movements. When she heard the music, she knew what to do — thanks to muscle memory.

Morgan says, “Sometimes dance is about musicality or technical finessing or the strength of the jump or the turn or the footwork, but Graceland is really about the personality and the individualism of the dancer.”

Much in the way individual opinions and votes count.

CINCINNATI BALLET presents Greatest Hits May 8-9 at the Aronoff Center. For ticket information, call 513-621-2787. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.