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Cincinnati Ballet's next artistic director hopes to transform it into 'a national force'

Ballet announces first new artistic leader in 25 years
Jodie Gates
Posted at 9:12 AM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 21:35:04-05

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Ballet is about to have a new leader, the first such change in 25 years, with the appointment of Jodie Gates. The company made the announcement Tuesday morning, after a nationwide search. And it's not her first experience here.

Gates will replace Victoria Morgan, who retires after 25 years leading the nearly 60-year-old company.

"We're building on what's here and established," Gates said. "I don't take lightly all the grit and the grace and dedication that everyone has put in over the last 59 years."

Gates will be artistic director for both the Ballet and its Otto M. Budig Academy, when she assumes leadership in August of this year.

"It's the opportunity of a lifetime, really," Gates told WCPO in an interview before she was introduced in her new role. "The company has been on an upward climb for several years now and what Victoria has done, and the whole team has put together just a remarkable product and remarkable institution."

"Now we're in this new buildingand, for me personally, I feel as though I'm poised and ready for this new position and I feel like I've prepared my whole life to be here and help lead the charge here," she said.

Jodie Gates announcement
Jodie Gates takes over as artistic director for the Cincinnati Ballet and its Otto M. Budig Academy in August 2022. Photo provided.

Gates comes to Cincinnati after years as the founding director of the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, where she continued to teach. She also founded the Laguna Dance Festival in 2005 and serves as its artistic director.

She has also been awarded the distinguished Residency Fellowship from The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University. Her fellowship acknowledges her research into addressing inequities and systemic racism within the dance community and culture of ballet.

"When you say 'fine arts,' automatically I think there's an elite sort of stigma attached to it," she said. "My hope is we can demystify ballet, so bring it to everyone so everyone can enjoy it. That it really is for everyone."

"I mean bring it not just into the community, but show it in different ways."

Gates said she was drawn to dance and ballet while growing up in northern California, after trying several sports and activities like gymnastics or martial arts.

"What I loved about dance was being able to express myself without speaking and to have those relationships in the studio with individuals," she said. "It's like being on a football team, it doesn't take one person, it takes all of us in order to win."

Gates performed with the famous Joffrey Ballet and has danced at the Kennedy Center for presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. She was featured in the 1993 presidential inauguration. She's graced the stage of the Bolshoi in Moscow, the Bockenheimer Depot in Frankfurt, and the Chantelle Theatre and Theatre des Champes-Elysees in Paris.

Jodie Gates in Berlin
Jodie Gates rehearses with Staatsballett Berlin. Photo provided.

“She has a deep respect for the history of the art form and brings an incredible passion for its future," said Cincinnati Ballet President and CEO Scott Altman in a news release. "With the new Cincinnati Ballet Margaret and Michael Valentine Center for Dance, we are at watershed moment in the organization’s history. I am delighted to partner with Jodie and support her vision for the Company.”

It's a vision that includes a look back and what Gates calls risks.

"I love tradition and when I say [I want to] re-imagine ballet, I'm thinking about how we tell stories and who are the stories told by? And what stories haven't been told yet?" she said. "It's like reading a good book and you want to pass it on and tell a friend, 'Have you read this book?'"

Gates is a well-known principal ballerina, though she said her focus now is on teaching, mentoring, and choreography. She has collaborated with Prince, Ornette Coleman, and Savion Glover, among others. She has created more than 60 original works and been commissioned by the likes of John Legend, Ballet West, and BalletX.

Jodie Gates in Joffrey
Jodie Gates performs Billboards with the Joffrey Ballet. Photo provided.

She calls her connections a selling point to help elevate the company.

"I can call them and ask either to create a work or brainstorm with me, be an adviser, also to bring in works I believe Cincinnati hasn't seen yet," she said.

In 2013, Gates choreographed a Cincinnati Ballet New Works piece in collaboration with local folk band Over-the-Rhine, called Sacred Ground.

"I really felt that sort of commonality of we are good, doing good for our community, we're collaborating for this performance to share," she recalled. "When I look back, that was a real highlight for me."

Gates said, ultimately, she hopes she can build on the work already done at Cincinnati Ballet and share why she continues to love the art form.

"How lucky am I? How fortunate am I? And what I want to do is share that love I have, that passion I have for the form and communicate that to you, to everyone," she said.

"My hope is that we are really seen as a national force because we are and now we just, we all will help get that recognition that it deserves."

Victoria Morgan
Victoria Morgan will retire from the Cincinnati Ballet at the end of the 2021/2022. Photo provided.

“I am thrilled for Cincinnati Ballet to attract such exceptional talent,” said Victoria Morgan in a news release. “Jodie has worked closely with our art form’s most influential icons. Dance legends have been her personal coaches and teachers.”

Current artistic director Morgan retires at the end of the current season, which wraps in May with the Bold Moves Festival.