CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Ballet has changed in numerous ways since its official creation in 1963 -- new leadership, new dancers and new ballets -- and artistic director Victoria Morgan has greatly evolved in her 20 years at the helm, too.
In honor of that evolution, this year the company re-created one of its most iconic pieces of marketing, the “Rainbow Legs” poster.
“I would walk my dog in Mount Adams past a picture window [and see it],” said Morgan. “It’s one of those things that somehow has stood the test of time, and people are still intrigued with it.”
Morgan said the timing felt right to re-create the image.
“I thought, ‘Hey, there’s this iconic poster that’s been a huge part of the history of Cincinnati Ballet,” she said. “We felt that it would be so appropriate to recognize the lineage and heritage. With great luck, I inherited this moment of pushing that forward.”
Pushing Cincinnati Ballet forward has been Morgan’s modus operandi since she landed there from San Francisco in 1996. Though ballet might conjure images of ballerinas in tutus for the casual observer, it remains a male-dominated field. Male choreographers such as George Balanchine and male artistic directors have defined the landscape for much of recent history, and Morgan is one of only five women in the country leading ballet companies with operating budgets of $5 million or more.
“There’s a big conversation about women taking it on and leaning in and finding a way to open the door,” she said. “I felt strongly this was a subject that needed to be addressed in our art form.”
Her personal leadership evolution has involved strengthening relationships in the community, building a strong academy and showcasing new and diverse choreography and choreographers. In the last area, for example, Morgan leveraged female choreographers ascending the ranks nationwide in designing the roster of this season’s Kaplan New Works Series, which will feature only female choreographers.
Corps de ballet dancer Ana Gallardo’s legs and feet are the red pair included in the new photograph, and hers are also shown on the marquee image on Cincinnati Ballet’s headquarters.
“She’s completely changed Cincinnati Ballet,” said Gallardo, who came to Cincinnati Ballet during the 2012-2013 season. “The repertoire she’s bringing, the new choreographers -- you can totally see that something in her head is just clicking in a different way. We might not ever be in the top five best companies because of our size and where we are, but she’s definitely pushing us to be a well-known, world-class, medium-size American ballet company.”
The company’s growth provides an interesting parallel to where dance was in 1981, when photographer Corson Hirschfeld took the original “Rainbow Legs” photograph. The studio was cold and the wrong tights had been acquired for the men, but it was simply fun, said Suzette Boyer Webb, whose legs are the orange pair in the original poster.
“We were kids and we had no idea it would turn into anything like it did,” said Webb, who spent 10 years dancing with Cincinnati Ballet and is now the director of the ballet’s Second Company.
Most of the dancers in the original photograph were new to their careers, and their legs and feet reflect that freshness, she said, while the dancers in the new image are more experienced and stronger.
“It [shows] the evolution of dancers’ bodies,” said Webb.
Dance medicine has thrived in the last 20 years, as dancers regularly cross-train to strengthen themselves and the repertoire has changed, requiring different movements. Showcasing these changes was essential to Morgan’s vision for her re-creation of the “Rainbow Legs” image. In the new version, the dancers’ legs intertwine, the pointe shoes are more pointed and the dancers’ calves are more taut.
“I really wanted to make sure we were able to bring that contemporary aesthetic [of the original],” said Morgan. “There’s something about the interlocking legs coming together and lacing and intertwining … something satisfying and unifying about making a complete puzzle that is not each isolated dancer.”
It’s not just the technique that’s evolved, though; the audience has refined its collective eye and expectations for ballet today, she said. That opens opportunities for Morgan to tie her vision to the Cincinnati community at large.
“I realized this was an important part of truly being part of the community -- bringing this art form forward in a way that makes it relevant to our community and also perpetuates us, so we get to have a future in a city where the youth have been introduced to it and they’ve danced it, and they understand there’s value and power in this kind of profession,” Morgan said.
The poster is available for purchase at cballet.org.