Posts Tagged ‘Kathy Valin Dance Writer’


September 14, 2016

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.

Ballerina Boss 069.tif







March 19, 2015



– by Kathy Valin

Cincinnati Ballet’s most recent production, the frothy Alice (in Wonderland) boasted the largest paid attendance in the company’s history of subscription series productions.

This weekend, Artistic Director Victoria Morgan contrasts another potential blockbuster, Adam Hougland’s full-length Mozart’s Requiem. It’s set to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s powerful Requiem Mass in D Minor, composed just before (and some say completed after) his death. The passionate and theatrical ballet for 18 dancers is matched with a serious theme—the exploration of mortality.

Mozart’s Requiem, world-premiered by Cincinnati Ballet in 2010, has never been performed by any other company. Critic David Lyman called it dazzling and modernistic, saying the company was “all the richer for it.” Once again, the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra (featuring the Xavier University Concert Choir), conducted by Cincinnati Ballet music director Carmon DeLeone, is set to enrich the thrilling aural, theatrical and operatic dynamic of the production.

Hougland, a young choreographer first bought to Cincinnati Ballet by Morgan in 2002, was appointed resident choreographer in 2009. He has already choreographed extensively to significant music from composers like Beethoven, Stravinsky and even rocker Peter Frampton.

Two weeks ago, I caught up with a few of those working hard to make the onstage magic happen again—choreographer Hougland; repetiteur and former company soloist Dawn Kelly; and corps de ballet dancer Jimmy Cunningham. Though most companies use video assists and written notes to restage ballets, it’s the personal touch that brings the essential nuance to a work.

As we sat on the floor of an empty studio, I took notes as the three graciously chatted with me—and managed to eat during what was their daily lunch break.

Hougland talks about his ballet’s creation. “The Requiem felt like a story to me. So the ballet is about that story—about loss, about grieving, about cycles—about life. It’s about that unanswerable question, ‘What happens when we die?’”

“For me,” said Hougland, “it’s like the whole thing comes back in minutes after five or six years, once you put the music on. And I think, well, what’s the beginning of this phrase, and as soon as I get the first movement I’ve got it again. I think it’s all kind of connected in your subconscious. It’s stored deep down. But as soon as you access that file, it’s like the whole thing comes back.”

He explains that when he first choreographs, he comes into the studio with the dancers bringing no specific movements. He will have tried not to listen to the music too much, because he doesn’t want to get bored with it.

“I want to discover it in the room with the dancers. I want things to feel ‘right.’ Generally, I like things to feel connected and organic, you know? I think that’s why it is easier to remember, sometimes. Sometimes I do a change-up, it sort of switches very quickly—the force is interrupted, but that’s for dramatic emphasis. So, it’s easier if it doesn’t feel awkward, but if it does it’s for a reason.”

Kelly agrees. When she began reviewing the piece to help teach it (only a handful of the cast has performed the ballet before), she found that seeing just one step led her to the next step.

She describes a point she coached in the ballet where the dancers enter with suitcases (which they later abandon, much as the ballet suggests we all must abandon earthly weight at life’s end). “At first, it felt to me like everybody was just walking because I told them to walk. I had to explain that they needed to enter as if something was drawing them, as if there was a purpose. They were going somewhere. Their movement quality needed to find the inside motivation.”

Cunningham agrees that the dancers need to bring a reason to their movement. “Sometimes you learn a dance or ballet. They’ll tell you what step to do and on what count, and where to do it. But then—you are like ‘well how do I do it?’”

“That’s so important,” he says. “Because, ‘why do I do this arabesque?’ or ‘why do I run all the way to stage left?’ There has to be a reason. For everything you do. And that’s another way dancers remember all the steps.

“Because each step has a meaning. And a purpose. And a feeling about it. If you are feeling those things in a sequence, in that sequence, you know exactly what to do.”

# # #


September 4, 2013

The Man in BlackCincinnati Ballet dancers Thomas Caleb Roberts, Danielle Bausinger, & Patric Palkens in James Kudelka’s “The Man in Black.”

 Photo by Peter Mueller.

 Recently I asked choreographers on the same bill (the upcoming Cincinnati Ballet Kaplan New Works, opening next Thursday, 9/12/13, at the Mickey Jarson Kaplan Performance Studio) questions: where they got inspiration for their work, and how doing a piece with quick lead and rehearsal time for a small venue stretched their choreographic chops. I asked them about their style and their music, and how music drove their movement. The resulting article appeared August 21, 2013, in CityBeat’s “Fall Arts Preview”:

The one choreographer I was not able to speak with personally (James Kudelka) recently responded through his agent with answers to questions I emailed him, trying to replicate the things I asked Heather Britt, Jodi Gates, Gina Patterson and Val Caniparoli about their “new works.” By popular demand, his contribution to the series, “The Man in Black” is appearing for the second time during the New Works series in Cincinnati, so it’s the exception to the rule in this case, but no less fascinating to hear about.  

Below, in his own words, Kudelka talks about the evolution of the “The Man in Black,” how he decided to have his cast perform in cowboy boots, how the music (Johnny Cash covers) influenced his work.  [The covers are: : In My Life, Four Strong Winds, Sam Hall, If You Could Read My Mind, Hurt, and Further On Up the Road.] He explains his own evolution as a native Canadian choreographer, and offers, even though his own work doesn’t always fit easily into that category, his take on ballet in our time. My queries are in italics.

I was asked by [former BalletMet Columbus Artistic Director] Gerard Charles to do a work to a ‘popular music’ score. I asked Gerard to suggest some music. Johnny Cash was on the list, and his albums would have been ones that were played in my house as a child by my older brothers. I had also recently seen the film Walk the Line which made an impression on me. But I mostly thought it was prison music.

It didn’t take long to find the later American albums through another choreographer who mentioned the covers to me on those recordings. I was asked for 20 minutes of dancing, which translated into my having to find about 6 suitable pieces to make a suite of songs. That was a challenge since most of what I liked was not upbeat and getting an order that worked took some trial and error. There needed to be flow without it seeming like everything was slow.

“Four Strong Winds” was originally recorded by Ian and Sylvia Tyson when then were still together. I was very young when I first heard that. Gordon Lightfoot is a Canadian icon. His “If You Could Read My Mind” has always been a favourite song from way back. Sam Hall is the only upbeat piece. I had never knowingly heard any Trent Reznor before then.

The dance was made quickly, in fact was made on the dancers left behind while the rest of BalletMet Columbus was in Cincinnati doing “Swan Lake” that year. I did one song a day on one cast over five days. The final song was done some months later.

I have no issue with spaces, though some dances are more appropriate for some venues more than others. “The Man in Black” does well in intimate rather than spacious theatres.

Your piece is so different (cowboy boots, etc.) that it might be interesting to hear where you think it fits into the arc of your choreographic career and perhaps ballet rep in general. Is this ballet? Why?

I would be the first to say now, that though I trained as a ballet dancer, that I use ballet but I don’t make ballets, whatever they are, and that is usually in the mind of the viewer and their expectations and history with the form. Ballet is my main dance medium for me to make theatrical work. Sometimes the dances will actually look like ballets, but I don’t have the gene that allows me exploit the limitations of ballet and make it into something incredibly unique, as a Balanchine or a William Forsythe (who to me was at one time, perhaps not now, his natural successor).

I work with many kinds of dancers and early on it became clear to me that working with what is in front of you is what is most important as opposed to wishing that there was another group of dancers of different training or ability. For me, the dancers in the room deeply inform the process, getting the seed of the frail ideas at the beginning of creating a ballet to germinate. I think this working method is what makes it possible to make ballets for different organizations of differing strengths and avoid the trap of doing your one ballet on different companies. That there are some pieces that transcend the original cast is fortunate but not always possible. Fortunately MiB is one that with a certain amount of rehearsal and explanation can make the voyage from place to place, company to company and dancer to dancer.

You can go back to Michel Fokine’s writing and he says it is only important that the choreography support the idea and he did not do all of his dances on pointe. When I tried to imagine working to the Cash songs with flat shoes and pointe shoes it seemed I needed to find another way. Putting them all in the boots created a movement texture. It made all the walking in the dance, and there is a lot of simple walking, important because the body’s structure in a raised heel is so different. The boots created sounds, and those sounds could be exploited. They also created the ability to glide and slide. The silhouette is sexy. The weight is shifted. The universe is now about the dance and not ballet. So it isn’t ballet.

But ballet is great training. And it has integrity and discipline and architecture and all that and moreover is very useful as it evolves to create new forms. And I like that. I have spent a lot of time with contemporary trained dancers. In the 80s I worked with Graham and Limon trained performers and, following in the footsteps of Glen Tetley and Lar Lubovitch whom I admire, I morphed modern dance into ballet dancing into my own . . .  the spiral in particular, the weightedness rather than the lightness of classical technique. A more open torso and generous carriage of the arms, attached to crisp legwork and long lines through the whole of the body. Dancing that is not as upright as much ballet training and dancing has become in our time.

I try not to question my methods and decisions too much, and therefore I try not to judge them in the aftermath. The important thing for me is to keep myself on the edge of my knowledge so I have to learn more. MiB is one of many pieces I have made and I am glad that they are all different from each other. These kinds of works, song cycles, are necessarily episodic and I lately have leaned towards longer musical statements that ask for deeper research and extended moments in time. I am not much one for recent trends in mash ups, using many different composers music within one dance.

How you think, if you do, fit into a Canadian sensibility?

Not for me to say. Perhaps at one time I did but Canada is a country that is changing a lot, some things for the good and some things not so great and I am not only talking about art and creativity and institutions. It is a sign I suppose of maturity that Canada is looking more outward again. When I was getting started there were perhaps five Canadian novels a year being published, very few Canadian composer’s music was being played, and choreography came for the most part from outside the borders. There was a push for indigenous work and mechanisms were created to support that. In our own lives sometimes we look in, and at others we look out. Both are necessary.

Or maybe it’s Country Music as a category/mood that inspired you more?  

I think I have clarified earlier that I am not a country music fan per se. All of the examples you gave of Canadian artists were adults when I was a teenager so I am not of their generation and I didn’t follow that closely. I happily spent a lot of time listening to the classical repertoire. It is only lately that I have begun to compile more music of today, or at least the last five years.

I responded as creatively as I could, and happily was successful with it, to a purchase order that at first seemed completely out of my area of expertise.

Or maybe just the sound of Johnny Cash’s voice?

Yes, his voice in these songs is very poignant. It might be a boomer thing, since I am on the last edge of that and I am well aware that though death could still be somewhere in the future I am over the halfway point. I think this is informing a lot of my view of the world at the moment, and that of my generation. I really think that dance need not necessarily only be about beautiful young people and their agility and facility. I probably would not have felt that when I was in my 30s. A controlled and seasoned performance, like Cash’s on these recordings, says something about time, and aging and the ballet or dance stage can make room for this. And therefore gives some notice and recognition to people who have actually lived a long time. If you look at audiences they are mostly of boomer age. But you know. I have looked at ballet audiences my whole life, and they were always older. In a sense ballet in our time, for the last 50 years at least, has been about young people dancing for older people. The search for a younger audience is futile. But the exposure to the form through Nutcracker and fleeting theatre visits, and ballet lessons, and exploitative films like “Black Swan” (which I will admit I haven’t seen) are all education and setting up the future audience, in my opinion.



March 23, 2013


Cincinnati Ballet’s performance of Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son” last night at the Aronoff Center was fascinating. (It was on a bill with two other ballets.)



NOW, back to “Prodigal Son.”

In an important sense, the parable of a headstrong youth who leaves his father’s family only to be humiliated, battered, robbed and crippled, but nevertheless taken into his father’s arms upon his return home, is essentially a take on Byzantine spiritual icons (said to be one of Balanchine’s inspirations), a story from which we are to able to access Heaven and directly  connect with the Christian Savior, Jesus Christ. Many of the images (see the playbill cover above and the character’s trademark suspended leap, among many others) are two dimensional – that is, they only seem to have a width and height. Scholars have suggested that the “third” dimension of an icon goes beyond what the eye can see, letting the viewer access a “window into heaven.”

In 1966, when I was still in high school [see the previous post for details and a snap of the playbill] I saw the same production (I am thinking it must have been at Music Hall) with the acclaimed American dancer Edward Villella – who has mentioned that Balanchine suggested he

prodigal son original

research Byzantine icons –  in the title role, which was originated by Serge Lifar (with Felia Dubrovsky as the Siren) in 1929 in Paris. It was the final ballet composed for Diaghilev by his last ballet-master, who was then only twenty-four. Jerome Robbins starred in the 1950 revival at the City Center (opposite Maria Tallchief’s Siren). Other famous dancers, such as Baryshnikov, have performed this demanding role. Critic Anna Kisselgoff has said (in a review of Baryshnikov’s performance) it is a ballet that reflects above all “the creativity of . . . [a] decade of avant-garde activity in the Russian theater, visual arts, and even dance that had preceded the creation of ‘Prodigal Son,’ . . . and above all the creativity of that fiercely experimental period in Russia.”

The Cincinnati audience seemed a bit bemused by the ballet, as evidenced by their strong, yet under-enthusiastic applause, until finally Cervilio Miguel Amador alone took the stage for a much deserved ovation. To me, Amador and Sarah Hairston were incredible. For one thing, technically, this is not an easy ballet to dance.


Even though Balanchine himself and the composer Prokofiev were said to be not enthralled by the work, it remains a sweeping, dramatic classic with big slippers to fill! I expect by the time he was coaching Villella in the role (around 1960) and was said not to put much time into the job, Balanchine was and had been producing a different style of choreography for quite some time.

But that’s not to say the ballet has not had enormous impact, especially for Villella, who visited Cincinnati to give additional coaching to the dancers. (The ballet was staged by Paul Boos, who also has a history of performing the role.)

Amador’s etched, muscular body perfectly echoed the physical transformation from the power of an insolent child who leaves home and crawls back a a broken man. Hairston, from what I’ve read about the intent of her role, with its high kicks and provocative lunges, was indeed voluptuous, but also cold and predatory in her manner. In this plot, we clearly saw the son was being made a fool of by his companions, and in his coupling with a prostitute, as he himself was unaware.

Cervi in the staircase of Exhale Dance Tribe's Gilbert Street studio

Cervi in the staircase of Exhale Dance Tribe’s Gilbert Street studio

In many roles, I imagine dancers today want to know “who” they are portraying, so that they can more completely inhabit their roles. It is a tribute to this ballet’s staging that the dancers seem to have absorbed directly from the predecessors the qualities that access the impact of their roles. After crawling on his knees for what seemed endless moments, Amador finally remorsefully approached his father (Devon Carney), who lifted him to his arms and drew his protective cloak around his son. It’s not played out, but in the Parable from Luke 15:11 – 24, his father says “Let’s feast . . . for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Powerful stuff, indeed.


February 12, 2013


Scroll down to the previous post for part one of this interview. Part two follows:

VK: How do you sustain the emotional development in a scene like the Balcony pas, when it’s just one ecstatic lift after another?

SH: It comes from the partnership. I think you really have to feed off each other. With a ballet like this, you can’t just throw any two dancers into it, you really have to be smart about your decision, and put people together who are going to be able to find that chemistry between the characters.

And they have to be able to figure that chemistry out, if they don’t have it. But with Patric, you know, it’s been . . . he’s a young guy and he’s a cutie. When he smiles at me and flirts with me during the Balcony pas, then it makes me want to smile back and flirt back . . . if we weren’t friendly with each other and didn’t get along in real life, probably it would be different. But we do, and we have fun. It’s fine.

People that see me in a ballet always say to me “you look like you are having so much fun!” And, I am! This is why I do it. I love story ballets and ballets that have huge acting aspects. To go out and do a balcony scene, or to do a bedroom scene, it’s just a ton of fun.

With the Balcony scene, I’m having a blast. Even though it’s hard to do and there are technical moments that are very scary – the point is not “did I make that toss?” or “did I make that turn?” The point is that it’s two young people out in their courtyard playing around and having a blast.

I think about what that would feel like and it just comes out in my dancing. And Patric helps – he smiles, and we play . . . I don’t know, it just kinda happens. But for sure you have to feed off your partner, you have to be with somebody that is gonna give you that.

VK: Victoria usually makes changes in her ballets if she does them more than once. How has that worked in this case?

SH: I do have a good sense of it. I’ve seen it twice prior to this one – well, I mean I’ve danced in it twice, although not as Juliet. But I do remember some of the choreography. But I was also studying a video since December throughout our Nutcracker when I found out I was cast in “Romeo & Juliet.” dancing Juliet. And then when we started to work in the studio I realized “Wow, a lot of this is different!”

It’s not changed a huge amount, but there are a lot of sections that are different. I think it makes the ballet fresh, and part of the reason is changing it for the dancers who are doing it – maybe things worked better for a previous cast than for us.

And, honestly, I like all the changes, I think she’s made some good decisions.

VK: When I watch Victoria’s choreography, he seems like she does pack steps in there! There aren’t so many transitions where the dancers just run to back of the stage and set up for another diagonal sequence. How does that work for you?

SH: When I first joined this company, it was hard, just being in the corps here. Everyone says you don’t ever stop! look how much everyone is dancing! when you dance a Victoria Morgan ballet.

But then when you really look at the scene, or what she has done –  really . . . it’s fascinating when you watch it. When it comes to partnering, I think she never just wants to see one position and then another position, especially with a ballet like this. She wants the movement to be so circular. When she is in the studio, I always say to myself, “she’s like a painter!” and “she sees things that I don’t see.” I think to myself – how did she come up with that? It’s so fascinating because I would never have thought to put in that position or that step at a particular moment, but she does.

She likes everything to connect. That’s one challenging aspect with her choreography – that you don’t ever stop, you don’t have a moment to find your way – she wants you off your balance, she doesn’t want you on your weight. She always tells me “You cannot be on your leg. Get off your leg. Fall off your leg.” And you know as dancers we work so hard to be [have our weight] on our leg. It’s very challenging to do that.

But once you get it, it does start to be very natural. And, again, you have to be with a partner that you can trust, that’s gonna catch you if your are not able to control that moment . . . where she’s asking you to fall, you want to trust that he’s really gonna be there to catch you!

At this point in the interview Patric comes back with a sandwich. I offer to call him later in the evening if he wants, but he says “no problem.” I review what we’ve said so far, and the three of us continue talking while he eats.

VK: Sarah and I talked about her getting this role, and the stamina that it takes to do it. We’ve talked about how when she first wanted to do it, she knew she did have the maturity as a dancer.

How is the role feeling to you?

Patric Palkens: I understand the maturity needed for the character of Juliet, even though in the play she is the younger of the two. But, actually, Romeo is the opposite, in the sense that though he is “older” of the two, I feel as a character he is the one that is not as mature. He the one whose head is a little more in the clouds.

I know that for a dancer maturity is kind of an asset – useful for almost any part, but honestly, as for experience, I can’t talk about that, because I don’t have it!

SH: He’s still a baby!

PP: Yeah – for instance (he asks Sarah) what were you doing in 2006?

SH: Gosh, I don’t remember. I think that was the year I was promoted to soloist.

PP: Yeah! Well the year she got promoted to soloist was the year I took my first serious ballet class.

I had danced with my mom’s studio [in Lewistown, Montana] as a jazz dancer [his mom and his whole family except for one sibling dance]. I was doing competition jazz, and something like a story ballet was the farthest thing I was doing.

SH: He started so late in ballet, it is incredible – that at 22, performing a lead role in a full-length ballet – is what is he doing . . . it is pretty incredible.

PP: Yes, but the downside is that I have none of the maturity of experience that should come with this part, even though Romeo is the less mature of the two characters. At least, that’s how I feel [re: Romeo’s maturity]. [to Sarah] – at least that’s how I feel. I don’t know if that’s what comes across from you – that Romeo is definitely not the one who has the answers. Even though in his day he would have been considered an adult.

VK: So you would say he’s more impetuous and less mindful of complications?

PP: Yeah, not looking to the future. He’s looking at what is right in front of him. For instance, in the quick transition between Rosalind and Juliet – he is madly in love with one girl one second and two scenes later he has completely moved on to a different girl. I mean, for a whole chunk of the first act he is moping and he’s sad about Rosalind, that she kind of rejected him. And then he switches to Juliet.

So, with that kind of behavior, I don’t think he’s the more level-headed of the two. You can see with the quick transition between Rosalind and Juliet. He is madly in love with one girl one second and two scenes later, he has completely moved to a different girl. I mean, during a whole chunk of the first act he is moping and he’s sad about Rosalind that she kind of said no, and then switches to Juliet. So I don’t think he’s the level-headed one of the two.

But, since I don’t have Sarah’s experience, from a dancer’s perspective I can’t find out maturity just by speculating.

SH: As for stamina, the other day when we were running the Balcony pas, he’d just started learning it. When I first started doing ballets like this, you can run a segment at rehearsal and you are just – [she breathes hard, gasping] – you don’t know where to breathe, you don’t know to breathe. You don’t know from experience when to take those moments that are not as important and catch your breath.

And do I know, from doing characters like Aurora or Marie. As a woman dancer, I do find those landmarks where I have to be aware that I need to find a spot to get my energy back. I’ll think, okay, this is a hard moment, but I’ll have ten seconds here where I can catch my breath.

So, when we ran Balcony during some of those moments, I looked at him. When he was able to be just standing on the floor for a second I would go “breathe! You need to breathe!” just to remind him of those kinds of things.

But he’ll do the same thing for me – cause sometimes I’ll do the wrong arm and he’ll say “arm!” And I’ll tell him, yes, I’m probably gonna forget, so just tell me right before.

VK: What else can you say about your backround?

PP: In my mom’s studio in Lewistown, which is in the center of Montana and has maybe six thousand people, it was my mom’s career for years. She was a single mom with four kids, so we didn’t go home from school, we went to the studio. She wanted to be as far from LA as she could get.

I barely managed to survive boys in tights. I was not interested in ballet, in a pseudo-ballet class, on carpet. I found it boring. It’s the typical boyhood response to ballet. “I just have to stand at the barre and listen.” And I just . . . blah, it was boring.

As for experience, though, maybe I am prepared to learn a part at the last minute like I am doing here, because when I finally went to a ballet school and learned a little more I got so used to being behind in everything, I’m just comfortable with that. Which is why this wasn’t actually that bad.

Then Fu got hurt (Liang Fu, the dancer he’s replacing). You know that one Tuesday, Sarah just walked in after class and said “It’s Romeo time!” I was already studying two other parts harder, and being the lead was the last thing I had focused on. So, I was behind, but the good thing for me is that being behind is normal!

VK: So have you been coming in a little for work by yourselves?

SH: A little, but not really at all for a week and a half. And honestly after Friday, it was like we needed Saturday and Sunday, for it all to sink in. We are getting great rehearsal. By the time we go on stage we’ll be fine. I’ve gone out with less preparation. I trust Patric. I’m not worried. I think people are excited to see him out there for the first time doing something like this, and to see us together. It’s a big deal for me, too!

And think of all the times he’ll get to do it after this. And he’ll remember “when I went on stage with that girl who was ten years older than me? Two weeks before the show?”

PP: It’s going to be fine. It’s the process that’s tough. And time – time is a valuable asset that we no longer have.

VK: And the Prokofiev score?

SH: Even if I wasn’t a dancer, I feel like I could turn this on in my bedroom, you would know the story. As I said earlier, I used to sit and watch other girls dance this role. The story is so beautiful. It’s like a dream come true, playing it this time around.

PP: This is one of the best things about full-length ballets, almost as a constant they have a little more range to them, than when you do a mixed bill. But the nice part about this music is the dynamic and emotional range. It is astounding.


March 1, 2012

Read my newest column at aeqai


October 29, 2011

On the dance stage, there’s a difference between retelling a story and embodying it. Friday night, despite Giselle’s lightness and exuberance, contrasted with ephemeral sorrow and unexpected beneficence (all of which an excellent Janessa Touchet brought to her eponymous role in this timeless Romantic story) for me this ballet needed just a small spark more to bring it to life.

There were certainly special highlights: Touchet’s technical precision on point, and her lovely spooling turns. Dawn Kelly and Cervilio Miguel Amador in the Act I Peasant pas de deux, the longest single event in the act and a marvelous jewel of virtuosity. Pamela Royal’s mime. Zack Grubbs as an angry betrayed Hilarion, and likewise Gema Diaz as a remote, implacable Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Carmon DeLeone’s baton. Did I say bourees? Lots of bourees!

Boston Ballet’s Pavel Gurevich was cast as Albrecht opposite Touchet. Lanky and noble in bearing, his acting was fine, if a little flat. His mime was also graceful and telling. However, he seemed as if he could use a touch more momentum in his leaps and turns. I would describe the leaps as lacking a certain bounding quality that makes a dancer seem momentarily suspended in the air. I was not looking for grandstanding in his technique, yet his turns on the ground and in the air also lacked a sense of power-to-spare. While it seems to be a truism that tall dancers don’t turn as well as shorter ones, I missed just that little bit more. And, in addition, whereas Grubbs seemed truly to be forced to dance to his death by the power of the Wilis, it didn’t register as strongly when I saw Albrecht under their spell.

Most of all, it may have been that I have seen one too many Giselles in recent years. I just could not register a proper tragic dimension in Act II, one that would have given me the shivery thrill of witnessing a communication from beyond the grave. I am also wondering if I did not see in Albrecht all I was expecting was due to the fact that he was a guest artist and had not fully integrated, somehow, into the partnership.

So: the fault of the production or just one of those things? Honestly, it’s hard to say. I am very tempted to go again this evening. After all, Giselle is one of those major dance events that don’t come around all that often.


February 12, 2011

By the end of Victoria Morgan’s very funny revamped “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” drawn from Shakespeare’s play, which premiered last night at The Aronoff Center, all were reunited with their true loves after much comic entanglement in The Big Forest.   

When was the last time you heard people laugh out loud at a ballet? Really chuckle? Well, they were laughing during this ballet, and it was all good.

The Prologue and both Act I and II, were augmented by actors Billy Chace and Jessica Rothert (who sat unobtrusively but clearly visible in box seats) in periodic voice-overs during and occasionally outside the balletic action, and often as the dancers pantomimed.

During the complicated action of Act I this integration of dramatic readings (drawn verbatim from the Shakespeare play with the input of dramaturge Brian Isaac Phillips) worked very well indeed. The comedy was greatly enhanced, and, as was planned, the plot’s three interlocking stories were more easily comprehended.

Act II featured another comic set piece bya ragtag traveling theater troupe called The Mechanicals in a hilariously botched tragic play.  Much celebratory dancing of wedding guests, led by Janessa Touchet and Ogulcan Borova, was by contrast a little flat, if no less skillfully performed.

Cervilio Miguel Amador was spot on as Puck.  Sarah Hairston and Fu Liang (whose demonic chuckle as voiced by Chace was contagious)  also gave their characters dramatic richness.  Danielle Bausinger as Lead Sprite was just excellent, executing several difficult turn sequences with grace and lightness.

There were more excellent performances. *The previous version of this review inadvertently did not mention them by name, but Courtney Connor, Anthony Kruzkamp, Maizyalet Velazquez  and Zachary Grubbs each had key moments in the comic mishmash of mismatched lovers. Also notable were Oberon’s men, played by James Cunningham, Travis Guerin, standout Stephen Jacobsen and Joshua Bodden. Each managed to carve a unqiue humorous personality onstage.

I’m not sure who supervised the miking of the actors and blended all the sounds together, but the result was also fabulous – particularly the voicings, which were especially legible (I guess this is also a credit to the actors’ diction) and loud without being overwhelming.  

And as has come to be a welcome tradition after Cincinnati Ballet performances with live music, Carmon DeLeone was vigorously applauded during curtain calls.

One charming cast member of note was Alyssa Manguiat as the Changeling Child.  She is pictured above (on the left) receiving flowers in the lobby after the show.

*You can read a more complete review of this program at Valinkat very soon*


February 1, 2011


Choreography filled with extraordinary partnering joined forces with exceptional performing during last Friday and Saturday’s presentation by Contemporary Dance Theater of San Francisco-based Amy Seiwert / Im’ij-re at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center. The audience roar of applause and whoop during the first pause characterized the mood in the intimate Jarson Kaplan Theater. 

The same four works made up each evening of this small contemporary ballet company’s offering, culminating with the riveting “White Noise,” which premiered at the San Francisco International Arts Festival last May and is perhaps Seiwert’s most recognized work so far. “Static,” a seminal earlier work, opened the program, followed by “It’s Not a Cry,” a duet wryly set to Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujuh.”  “Divergence,” an expansive and questioning world premiere solo for San Francisco Ballet soloist and guest dancer James Sofranko, who shares Cincinnati roots with the choreographer, completed the bill.

“White Noise” is a substantial collaborative effort between Seiwert and software artist Frieder Weiss. During the piece’s six movements, across the full height and width of a backdrop, projected light generated by the motion of the dancers created “white noise” patterns. I kind of read the ongoing patterns as though they were on a giant TV screen. Sometimes colors infused the light patterns themselves or the entire backdrop area.

These displays were mesmerizing:  some were Etch-a-Sketch-style horizontal white lines, the leading edge of which followed motions of the dancers.  Pirouettes generated dizzying arrays of geometric forms. Sometimes the heat of a body was shadowed by an aura immediately behind it. One display seemed to be random patterns of what looked like thousands tiny white swarming sperm fountaining off in currents of myriad firework-like directions when movement was sensed. As each of the patterns was re-generated by newer motions, the older lights decayed sequentially and vanished.

It was a moving landscape, and at first, I got slightly hypnotized tracking some of the effects (felt a little like watching a train on the next track and feeling as though it were you who is moving!) but my attention was generally tugged right back to the dancers.

And what dancers these were! It’s been said (by Rene Renouf, at that Seiwert, who also holds a position as choreographer in residence for Smuin Ballet, “has been able to enlist the talents of the some of the [Bay] area’s most interesting dancers.”

Yes, I believe it.

These guys were able to amazingly execute Seiwert’s demanding, tightly-crafted choreography. In it, men often supported women, but they were somehow more equal partners in the endeavor than in the standard ballet vocabulary. They used points of contact like head, shoulder, knee, hip, and foot. They lifted and carried their partners, spinning them like tops, tossing them into fish dives or over their heads, or scarfing them around their own bodies. Both men and women seemed to inhabit their characters, rather than to be performing roles. And, at some points as they twined together, I marveled that the woman was held so long above ground.  

Were these dancers showing us the modern world, and the impact of our inability to communicate? Were we then meant to consider how we might instead realize that we are not the only ones to experience heartbreak or shame? Honestly, I did not take each piece so literally as the choreographer’s stated intentions.

I suppose I decided for now that it was probably less important to try to make up stories out of what to me were clearly abstract distillations – I was happy enough to just experience the emotions and communications as expressed. 

Another way of looking at it is that I haven’t exactly figured out how it all came together, other than to say that the jumps, turns, pointed feet and fully extended knees of ballet, the turnout and epaulement of torso and shoulders somehow combined with images like foot and hand flexes, partners cradling or slapping each other, lovely transitions into weightlessness, and genuine moments that unfolded like life – leaving us with no clear beginning or end, but instead with the tracings of the irreplaceable and vanishing.

*Upon re-reading what I wrote early this morning, I realized that I wanted to say more about Amy Seiwert that maybe is not implicit in what I have said so far.

This blogger still has lots of notes, so maybe I can still figure out how to explain the impact I felt while watching.

But, I want to emphasize that I can’t remember when I have seen such thrilling new ballet-based choreography. There are those who say that ballet may be dead or dying


November 27, 2010

but here is extremely compelling evidence to the contrary.  With luck, maybe Seiwert and her company will return to our area soon.

Thanks to The Mayerson Foundation, Seiwert and Sofranko are staying on in town to lead a week-long dance workshop for advanced dance students at the School for Creative and Performing Arts (formerly each was a student there) culminating in a performance Thursday, February 3 at 7:00 PM at the school’s new Central Parkway location, rooms 4003-05.

Pat Rozow invited me to come by and watch when I saw her at the theater, so I will be reporting back soon.


January 17, 2011

Last night with my two friends Frank and Julie, I attended “Dialogues in Dance” at the College Hill Town Hall (home of Cincinnati’s Contemporary Dance Theater). The evening was produced by MamLuft&Co. Dance (Cincinnati) and Demetrius Klein Dance Company (Hamilton, OH), which each presented a work, along with Foreground Dance (of Columbus, OH), Susan Honer (Dayton, OH), and McKenzie Baird (Muncie, IN).

The works ranged in size from a solo (Honer) to the fifteen dancers in Klein’s work, which closed the program.

Also a part of this performance was a short interval after each piece during which either Klein or MamLuft solicited input from the audience about the work they had just seen.

Probably the most polished work of the four (the show was billed as a combination of premieres and previews of upcoming work) was a charming duet from Foreground Dance, choreographed and performed by Noelle Chun and Yu Xiao. A playbill blurb noted that “’In Other Words’ is based on the experience of written and spoken reflections about the mishaps, confusion, humor and revelations that come with the new territory of learning another language.”

Exactly. Featuring a couple of versions of silly ”knock-knock” jokes plus other text and dance moves for the two, the piece was a whimsical, well-crafted look at the subject that blossomed in unexpected ways, and drew admiring commentary.

A review of the entire concert appears below . . .

Last night’s “Dialogues in Dance,” with four different dance works on the bill, was, as billed, fresh. Though each was very different from the others, they were all examples of modern dance as practiced in our geographic area, by choreographers who clearly are following their hearts and their imaginations to good effect.

And though each was different, they shared two things – they all seemed to revolve around issues of communication between human beings in different situations, and they all featured dancers, who, though they had different skill levels, had the poise and commitment to honor the creations they were part of.

An excerpt from Jeanne Mam-Luft’s “Homecoming” opened the program. Because the house was nearly sold out when I arrived, I was given the option of sitting on the floor in front of the seated audience. I guess it should mentioned that from my low viewpoint (also the fact that one bright light designed to illuminate the stage was shining in my eyes during most of the show) I probably did not see everything as most people did – yet, I coped, with the occasional shade of my upheld playbill and the fact that what I was watching was interesting enough to distract me!

A note let us know that what we were to see was an excerpt from the upcoming full version, to be presented in March, designed to be about the choreographer’s pilgrimage from one foreign home to another, and specifically in this case about a group of nine (eight women and one man) which establishes and separates itself from an outsider, vividly played by Ashley Powell.

The group first entered in darkness except for one small lantern-like light displayed behind a white backdrop, and loud percussion. If it were I running the sound, it would have been a tad less loud, although perhaps that was the effect wanted.

Throughout the work, in a series of formations and crossings, they carved space with their arms, reaching and often whipping them sharply as they spiraled. They dived into the floor, or dipped their torsos while one leg was flung straight up, they squatted and undulated, they jumped like rag dolls, fell into and pushed out of the floor. They paired, shared weight in contact improv-flavored moves and at one point tumbled one of their number along over all their heads. I couldn’t say what they were doing, except that they were obviously doing it as a group.

Powell, who was dressed in white against the rest, in black, did not fit, and darted here and there with what I read as both bewilderment and fear. The technique exhibited by all was impressive, and it will be interesting to see how this segment fits into the whole. I am also curious to see how it views on a larger stage.

“In Other Words,” choreographed and performed by Noelle Chun and Yu Xiao was, as mentioned, whimsical and well-crafted, a combination of comic and slightly surreal – who were these two people, telling each other knock-knock jokes that we laughed at while they were fairly clueless? Hearing them sing “Frere Jacques” in French, and Mandarin, and careening each other around the stage and off a wooden bench, we ended up caring about them (and their daft persistence?) even though we couldn’t quite figure it all out, either. The timing in this piece was impeccable, and the interaction between the two priceless.

Susan Homer’s “Again, just nothing,” was an entrancing solo. Against a backdrop of bare, snow-covered trees, to the sounds of a guitar strummed over ambient noise, Honer, in a short maroon dress and white socks heel-toes her way across the stage as her arms flow around her, and begins a series of moves which culminate in her taking a big slip and falling flat.

No sooner has this happened, when she repeats the whole sequence, this time faster. Finally, another repetition, in which she recites what seem to be random words “frightened – purple cotton dress – fall is wind – muddy dress slips – she’s sinking – water rushes,” as she moves. She walks slowly in place, through releve, as though she is treading through water.

By this time, I was trying hard to figure out what the story she seemed to be telling was – it seemed to be so traumatic that she could not fully express it. I ended by thinking this was meant to be a mystery without a real solution–though we experience story in a number of different ways, it resists our effort to untangle it from the telling.

Choreographer McKenzie Baird’s “Falling,” was a well-danced, lyrical performance for four women, who sometimes seemed to be looking for cues from their fellow dancers. It’s a recent work and could benefit from some careful editing.

I loved the part of the score that was the sound of a rainstorm with thunder. Said to be an exploration of the human body, falling through space to the sounds of water falling from the sky, the piece’s movements did convey that, with unrestrained loose hair. There were lots of athletic, almost gymnastic,  knee twirls, swings, reaches, falls, windmill arms, jumps and kicks. In a post-performance note, we learned that the choreographer also meant to honor her friends, who have “been there” for her. Notable was a single physical moment, in which one  dancer  leaped and kicked her head from behind in an especially triumphant concluding moment.

Demetrius Klein’s “Five Points Memories/Part Two ‘workin on a building’” incorporated a cast of fifteen young men and women. Perhaps the most intriguing but most unfinished work on the program, this one was fascinating for the commitment and focus of the performers, who fearlessly set themselves to accomplish their roles in a variety of styles.  Set to music by Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys and 7 White Cats, the stylistic contrasts set the cast off into a variety of experiential vignettes that evolved from their root connection to a church and a community, to which they all returned at the work’s close. Klein is an accomplished performer with a strong resume, and I am eager to see what becomes of his work as it evolves in the Cincinnati area.