he 2013-14 Cincinnati Ballet season marks the company’s 50th anniversary and the celebration could not come at a more auspicious time. During the past 15 years, from its home base at the Cincinnati Ballet Center in Over-the-Rhine, the company has achieved its own cultural and economic revival, mirroring downtown’s — and especially OTR’s — renaissance, with tremendous growth and critical success under the guidance of Artistic Director and CEO Victoria Morgan.
If you are interested in seeing some of the best dance in the region (or, some would argue, in the country) Cincinnati Ballet is the package you’re looking for. A flurry of promotions has elevated dancers from inside the company (always a good sign). Celebrated principal dancers Cervilio Miguel Amador, Sarah Hairston and Janessa Touchet are part of a company of 25, now with eight at soloist or senior soloist level.
“Plus for some time we have had a steady core, a nucleus, and they are getting technically stronger and more adventuresome in their interpretations,” Morgan says. “Our company now has a reputation for creating world premieres.”
And The Kaplan New Works Series, now in its ninth year, demonstrates that reputation when it opens the season in the company’s own intimate Mickey Jarson Kaplan Performance Studio, where audiences sit in close proximity to the performers and choreographers take advantage of the quick lead time and small venue to stretch their chops. From Sept. 12-22, the ballet will present 10 matinee and evening performances of four world premieres plus The Man in Black, set to the music of Johnny Cash, in the studio. These shows generally sell out quickly.
“It’s unexpected, it’s unpredictable, it’s never been done before and I would say, in general, the music is a little more hip — it’s not orchestral. But we also have Paganini,” Morgan says of the New Works’ five choreographic works.
Val Caniparoli, one of the most sought-after choreographers in the world (and a local favorite for his version of the holiday classic The Nutcracker that enthralled Cincinnati audiences for more than a decade) is creating a world premiere in the weeks before the performance.
“I’ll give the dancers a scene and they’ll go, ‘Can I turn that way instead?’ I love those sorts of things — it’s the dancers making it their own,” he says.
Entranced by the chance to have live music, Caniparoli chose Niccolò Paganini’s devilishly difficult violin Caprices to be performed alternately by two onstage violinists. “I love the motion of string instruments,” Caniparoli adds. “For me, that’s choreography in itself.”
Jodie Gates, a former principal dancer with the Joffrey and Frankfurt ballets (and now a well-known choreographer, director and professor), has been commissioned to create a substantial contemporary neo-classical piece for April’s season finale production, Cincinnati Ballet & Over the Rhine Live, to be danced to live music from local Indie duo Over the Rhine. During New Works, audiences will see a teaser segment Gates choreographed specifically for the series, set to recorded songs from the band’s unreleased upcoming album.
“I work intuitively,” Gates says. “As a freelancer, you have to make quick decisions. I ask the dancers to learn a phrase and then create from it. I use the essence of that as my building block. … I’ve also taken time to know your city. I love the architecture of Over-the-Rhine, with its beautiful arcs and curves.”
Gina Patterson, a principal dancer turned internationally acclaimed choreographer, is interested in choosing emotional elements that seem very much in the present moment for her world premiere. “In today’s world we are pulled in all these different directions,” she says. “Are we truly aware, do we even know what it feels like to be aware? I am interested in choreography that is very human, and from my dancers I want to know who you are as an artist, what is inside your soul.”
A highlight of New Works will surely be the repeat of Canadian choreographer James Kudelka’s The Man in Black, premiered here in 2011. “It’s set to six songs sung by Johnny Cash,” says Kansas City Ballet Artistic Director Devon Carney, former Cincinnati Ballet associate artistic director who’s returned to coach the piece. “They are covers from his later period. His voice is gritty. The cast wears cowboy boots and they don’t overact, the movement itself tells the stories in the songs.”
Local choreographer and dance educator Heather Britt also returns for her fifth New Works world premiere.
“It’s my first pas de deux,” says Britt, who is known for her powerful group works. “My music is an original score from Gabriel Gaffney Smith, who’s also a dancer with BalletMet Columbus. This one is not as lush as my audience is used to, the sound and movement are industrial, dynamic and percussive.”
For the main season, Swan Lake, probably the most iconic work in the classical idiom, opens at the Aronoff Center Oct. 25-27. Carney, one of the choreographers who updated the Petipa/Ivanov original for Cincinnati Ballet along with Morgan and BalletMet Columbus’ Gerard Charles, notes that there are 133 individual roles in this massive ballet in three acts, which shares a cast with BalletMet.
“If you are going to call yourself a classical ballet company, you’d better be able to perform it,” Carney says. “And the true test: Can you pull that off on the heels of doing New Works? Can you do cutting edge, and turn around and do one of the greatest classical ballets of all? The answer is yes. Cincinnati Ballet is doing this for the third time in seven years. It has become a company staple.”
Cincinnati Ballet Music Director Carmon DeLeone, who will conduct the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s soaring score, notes that the Aronoff’s pit is expanded to accommodate the nearly 60 members it calls for.
The same accommodation is being made for the holiday treat Frisch’s Presents The Nutcracker, again to Tchaikovsky’s magic music, running for 11 performances from Dec. 20-29. Premiered in 2011, Victoria Morgan’s version is packed sugar-plum-full of magical dancing and unexpected treats, like the occasional appearance of local French master chef Jean-Robert de Cavel in a comic walk-on. Wildly popular former principals Adiarys Almeida Santana and Joseph Gatti also return as guest artists for this holiday production.
For CINCINNATI BALLET ticket and performance details, visit cballet.org.