Sunday, March 12, 2000

Ballet director defends deja vu season

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Ballet's announcement of its 2000/2001 season last month left me wondering if the recent push toward the new and exciting has been abandoned. Including Nutcracker, next season features seven works seen here in the recent past. That leaves only four new works — all one-acts.

        The three full-lengths — Coppelia, Peter Pan and Romeo & Juliet — have been done by the company within the past five years. All had been choices of the previous artistic director Peter Anastos. Are we to expect the same “big” ballets to be rotated every five years, with only new works showing up in one-acts? Will this kind of programming continue to grow subscriber lists? Two years ago, the company saw a 20% subscriber increase; last year 10%.

        With three new works by acclaimed choreographer Val Caniparoli added over the past couple of years — “Lady of the Camellias,” “Bow Out” and “Aria” — exciting new blood was introduced. David Nixon's Butterfly served the dancers well. Why stop the momentum?

        Artistic director Victoria Morgan defends her choices this way: “Coppelia is going to be great because Kirk Peterson is a fantastic choreographer. I've seen his version and it's great dancing. This is going to be a piece the dancers love to do. ... The choreography is new. Costumes and sets are new.”

        Septime Webre, director of Washington Ballet, will set his first work in Cincinnati with Peter Pan. “Septime is a hot new choreographer, and he's fabulous. He did this piece for his company and people leapt to their feet. I'm psyched about his coming,” Ms. Morgan says.

        Romeo & Juliet will have new choreography by Ms. Morgan and Canadian theater director Eda Holmes. “This piece is about theater, and that's where Eda comes in. I'm going to spend some time in Canada this summer and we're going to research it to death,” Ms. Morgan says.

        There are only a few old ballets that company directors will tell you could sell out every year. Swan Lake is one of those. “Most people say you could count on two hands the number of (existing) ballets that are sure winners,” ballet executive director John Zurick says. “And there are those who say you could count on one hand.”

        Mr. Zurick is responsible for finding the money to pay for the ballets. When a ballet can cost as a much as a house, but without the 30-year payoff time, each season gets weighed for artistic merit, programming appeal and cost.

        “On the high end, a new ballet for a big company — like Houston Ballet's new Cleopatra — can cost a million dollars. We can do an original full-length for $250,000 and up. The variables are the expenses of sets, costumes and choreographer,” Mr. Zurick says.

        “We're trying to build a better company than Cincinnati has ever had. We think we can be a great company, but it's going to take several years. We have to be able to do it without going into debt.”

        He points out that big-name choreographer Stanton Welch will be creating a new one-act next season, an experience the company never dreamed of three years ago.

        “Our philosophy is to do original work by major, leading choreographers. There won't be overnight dramatic changes, but in three to five years you'll be surprised how far we've gone,” he says.

        Ms. Morgan is trying to keep seasons affordable by adding the new in the form of choreography, sets and costumes. It's yet to be seen if this will get people to the theater; or if they'll pass on a title they've seen recently.

        There's a balance between cost and artistry that most successful directors eventually achieve. Looking backward too often is not the way to get there.

        POOLE RESIGNS: With 11 ballets scheduled for the 2000/2001 season — and not one of them choreographed by Dennis Poole — dancers were beginning to wonder if he'd be back.

        Public relations manager Susan Eiswerth has confirmed that Mr. Poole had turned in his resignation.

        Mr. Poole, who joined the company in 1993, was resident choreographer and ballet master. He had created a number of successful ballets through the years; most recently a full-length Sleeping Beauty last season.

        He was much loved and admired by many of the dancers. Jessica Mylene, soloist with the company for four years, explained why.

        “When we're all frantic, he's always calm. He understands the dancers. You know he cares,” she said. “He's always positive — he's a very big reason I'm here. When he's gone we'll all feel it.”

        LOCAL TALENT: Saying he's eager to use local talent in his quickly expanding roster of teachers, Daniel Simmons, head of Cincinnati Ballet's Budig Academy, recently hired Donna Grisez Weber and Suzette Boyer Webb.

        “I like that they both have a previous connection to Cincinnati Ballet,” he says.

        Both are former principals — Ms. Weber danced with the company from 1978-85 and Ms. Webb from 1980-89.

        He's also hired Patrick J. Notaro, former dancer with Ballet Internationale of Indianapolis.

        IN-HOUSE CASTING: A big change is in the works for future Cincinnati Ballet productions of Nutcracker. The company will no longer hold open auditions to cast children's roles.

        Local youngsters have been involved in different ways in the ballet's 26-year history.

        During the late '80s and early '90s children from the School for Creative and Performing Arts danced in Act I; University of Cincinnati CCM preparatory students in Act II. For the past four years the company has held open auditions for all Tristate children.

        Future children's roles will be filled by students of the company's Budig Academy.

        “We have more than enough students to cast in-house,” Daniel Simmons says. “I want to make a commitment to full-time students in the school.” That doesn't mean every CB student automatically gets cast — they'll still have to audition for roles.

        Carol Norris is Enquirer dance critic. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax, (513) 768-8330.


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