CINCINNATI -- “I can’t believe I’ve been here 20 years,” said Victoria Morgan, artistic director and CEO of Cincinnati Ballet.
For Morgan, it’s a huge milestone: She will become the longest-tenured artistic director in the history of the company. But for the company, which announced its 2016-2017 season Thursday, Morgan’s anniversary is significant, too.
When Morgan arrived in 1997, the company was closing a tumultuous decade that had seen four artistic directors in the space of just nine years. Many people on the company’s board of trustees were skeptical that anyone could lead Cincinnati Ballet. At times, Morgan herself was uncertain.
“I’d never been an artistic director before,” said Morgan. “I felt all alone and confused and not sure who to call. It was really a rough beginning. I thought I was a disaster.”
But unlike many other equally established ballet companies in the United States, Cincinnati Ballet has survived, largely due to Morgan’s ability to bring the company’s runaway budget under control and the high caliber of dancers she has been able to attract to perform with the company.
Institutionally, the biggest news of the new season is that Cincinnati Ballet will take its production of “Frisch’s Presents The Nutcracker” to the Kennedy Center. But to do that, the company will have to perform its Cincinnati engagement of the holiday favorite a little earlier than usual, Dec. 9-18.
“We’re excited about having two full weekends of performances before Christmas,” said Morgan. “So often in the past, various conflicts have prevented us from doing that. Other times, we’ve had to give performances after Christmas. So we’ll see how this works out.”
For her 20th anniversary season, Morgan has put together a collection of works that is equal parts crowd-pleasers and high-profile company premieres while leaving just enough room for a handful of world premieres.
Among the choreographers creating world premieres for the company:
- Jennifer Archibald, a New York-based choreographer who created a dazzling piece for the company in 2014, will collaborate with noted street artist Swoon on a new work.
- Ma Cong, the Chinese-trained resident choreographer of the Tulsa Ballet who created a memorable work for Cincinnati Ballet as part of its 2015 New Works Series.
- Heather Britt, a Cincinnati choreographer, founder of DanceFix, flash dance whiz and Northern Kentucky University faculty member. She has created several works for Cincinnati Ballet and has developed a wide following in the company’s audiences.
- Adam Hougland, Cincinnati Ballet’s astonishingly versatile resident choreographer. This will be his seventh ballet for the company. He has created mammoth full-length works such as “Mozart’s Requiem” and “The Rite of Spring,” as well as playful, more intimate works such as “All My Favorite People.” This new work will be performed to the live accompaniment of the renowned Ariel Quartet.
- Morgan also will create two new works this season. One will be part of the season-opening “Director’s Cut” program and the other for “The Kaplan New Works Series.”
Other season highlights include:
- A company premiere of Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Peck, a soloist with New York City Ballet, was the subject of a documentary called “Ballet 422” and is regarded as one of the brightest young choreographers working in American ballet today.
- A company premiere of “Minus 16,” created by distinguished Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company.
The full season program:
Sept. 16-17: “Director’s Cut,” featuring:
- Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers”
- Excerpts from “Raymonda,” providing a farewell performance for retiring company dancers Sarah Hairston and Zack Grubbs, who will perform with students from Cincinnati Ballet’s Otto M. Budig Academy.
- Victoria Morgan, world premiere
- Ma Cong, world premiere
Oct. 21-23: “Coppélia”
A fanciful story ballet about a toymaker who creates a life-sized doll that comes to life. Choreographed by former resident choreographer Kirk Peterson, a longtime colleague of Morgan’s when they both danced at the San Francisco Ballet.
Feb. 12-14, 2017: “King Arthur’s Camelot”
Premiered in 2014, this balletic retelling of the King Arthur legend was a highlight of Cincinnati Ballet’s 50th anniversary season, featuring a memorable new score by Canadian composer John Estacio.
March 17-18, 2017: “Bold Moves”
The program is the centerpiece of a weeklong series of cultural events showcasing Israeli artistic innovators. These performances will feature:
- Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16”
- Adam Hougland world premiere
April 20-29, 2017: The Kaplan New Works Series
Performances take place in the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater. The program showcases the works of female choreographers, including:
- Jennifer Archibald, world premiere, in collaboration with street artist Swoon.
- Heather Britt, world premiere
- Victoria Morgan, world premiere
- Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, “Eros Redux”
The company also will present these non-subscription performances:
Dec. 9-18: “Frisch’s Presents The Nutcracker”
Victoria Morgan’s 2011 production features everything from dancing poodles and tiny flying bees to one of the dreamiest snow scenes in the “Nutcracker” canon.
March 19, 2017: Ballet Toybox
This enormously popular one-hour program has proven to be an ideal way to expose young children to the world of live performance. Performed by members of Cincinnati Ballet’s Second Company, it includes a mix of ballet classics and storybook tales. Best of all, tickets are just $20.
Season subscriptions start at $87 and will go on sale Friday. Renewal subscriptions are already on sale. Call 513-621-5282 or go to the company’s website, cballet.org.