Monday morning was beautiful, cloudless and sunny, and I was off early from my home in OTR to the nearby Cincinnati Ballet Center on Central Parkway to say hi to Cincinnati Ballet Artistic Director Victoria Morgan. Her celebratory 20th season opens Friday with a mixed rep performance called Director’s Cut. It features seven works: “all-time favorite pieces, world renowned choreographers and two world premieres.”
ABOVE: Cincinnati Ballet’s Victoria Morgan
As a young Cincinnati Ballet dancer with the “original” precursor company fifty years ago, I take a special interest in following the ongoing saga of this mid-size ballet company based in my home town.
Morgan’s accomplishments are many, not least among them staying in Cincinnati for twenty years. Adding the title of CEO to her resume, she’s achieved budgetary stability for Cincinnati Ballet, which is key. She’s become a champion for women choreographers. Her dancers come from all around the world. She continues to choreograph her own work. And over the years, her taste, leavened by the enthusiasms of her audience, has coalesced. She cherishes the classic, but obviously loves contemporary styles. A lot!
When I arrive, I get on the tiny elevator and ascend to the conference room. Looking happy and excited at the top of production week, Victoria joins me, and we chat for about fifteen minutes.
I love the new shot of you in a designer jacket and tutu (the photo has been widely distributed, CF #ballerinaboss). You are labeled a”Ballerina Boss,” who is “redefining first position.”
Morgan (laughs): I got all these emails and phone calls about “Ballerina Boss.” I think it somehow got out there and people on the East and West coast are going – oh, wow, really cool!
You know, I’ve known you through the years, and I always think one of your defining characteristics is your sense of humor. You’ve got a great, enthusiastic laugh.
Morgan: Personally, I love to laugh. I am the biggest sucker for a good joke, a stupid joke. But I feel like I am way too serious in my real life. That’s how it feels to me. But thank you for saying that!
Putting together my new Patriotic Pas (a world-premiere duet set to Morton Gould’s rousing American Salute) . . . it’s 90 percent funny goofing around things that happened in the studio.
Last week, I watched a rehearsal with Melissa Gelfin and Rodrigo Almarales. Patriotic reminds me of George Balanchine’s famous Stars and Stripes. It’s got precision and dash. It has tricky combos. It’s speedy. It’s flirtatious. It’s all-American. And it’s also got joie de vivre.
Morgan: Patriotic Pas is very Balanchinian. I mean, it is my background. It’s tricky. It’s really hard.
Yes, you packed it in there!
Morgan: I know. It is just packed. I really wanted something . . . because, the rest of the program, is, you know, contemporary and thoughtful.
ABOVE: Zack Grubbs and Sarah Hairston rehearsing Raymonda, which will be their final onstage appearance before retiring.
And Raymonda and Black Swan (also on the bill) have that classical thing, but not that pyrotechnic fireworks kind of stuff. And I felt that we just really needed that. It’s short. Kind of knock-your-socks-off.
And there is baton work?
Morgan: Yes, Melissa does a fantastic job of it. I can’t believe she’s that good at it, actually. She’s like throwing it up, switching hands, catching it – then it’s like under the leg and around. She’s awesome.
We also have Justin Peck’s Capricious Maneuvers, to Lukas Foss’ Capriccio. Another really tough piece. It’s fast-paced. Fast moving. Sort of like Balanchine. People call Peck’s work contemporary. They can think it’s contemporary because of the speed and the quick changes, and the look and the pace of it. But it requires top technique to execute.
Today Peck is a major, major choreographer and my personal hero, one of my top ever in my life so far.
I’m also crazy about Ma Cong’s world premiere. You saw his work last year?
Yes, in New Works last year.
Morgan: It’s so fluid. I feel like when I’m watching him, I don’t even know where his bones are. And he gets that out of our dancers.
I watched a rehearsal on the dancers last week, too. His moves make a language for me, and then the choreography opens up. I like it a lot.
Morgan: I love following the lines of movement, and trying to catch it and then you feel so clever. And it’s not an intellectual exercise, although that part of fascinating and requires some concentration. It’s just so organically fulfilling. It ties together in ways that connect limbs and necks and shoulders and legs and torsos in unusual ways.
It’s not like ‘this is so awkward,’ but it’s like “oh my god, it’s so new and original and satisfying. And it feels inevitable. Yet how can it feel inevitable when it’s so inventive?
ABOVE: Associate Artistic Director Johanna Bernstein Wilt coaches James Gilmer in the Cincinnati Ballet studio
How do you manage your personal time with the demands of your job, Victoria? I’ve heard you watch every single MainStage performance.
Morgan: Yes. I watch. Every single one. I mean, there’s some Nutcrackers I miss sometimes, because I feel it’s also my job to be out in the community. That’s a big party time. So, I might miss a Nut or two But I see every single show.
I kind of made a deal with my hubby that I try not be out more than three nights a week. But it’s a little bit schizophrenic. When I am out in the community, I am hoping to make links and connections and tell more people about what we are doing with the company. I’m really proud of what we are doing.
And, my favorite thing is planning seasons and being creative. Linking it to our community, finding new collaborations. I’m lucky to do something I love to do.
To relax, I read. I started meditating. I listen to meditation music. And I try to work out. I’ve made an effort, using my great fits of discipline to get myself to actually work out! I have to be physically ready to lead a company, especially a dance company.