At Cincinnati Ballet, the 2017–18 season boasts that 8 out of the 15 company productions are from female choreographers. For the past five seasons, Cincinnati Ballet had devoted one program a year to works by women, which allowed for a directed conversation about the need for female voices. "People always responded strongly to that series, so I thought, Why am I sequestering them?" says artistic director Victoria Morgan. "We have enough feistiness to respond to the conversations that are happening, not only in our community but across the country, about the lack of women in leadership."
To that end, the fall kicks off with the Kaplan New Works Series, featuring premieres by Heather Britt, Penny Saunders, Travis Wall, associate artistic director Johanna Bernstein Wilt and Morgan herself. (Two of Morgan's full-length ballets are also programmed this season.) The Saunders commission, set to the music of female composers from various eras, will explore the life of musician Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus' little-known sister. Later on in the season, two more premieres, from Kate Weare and Jennifer Archibald, will share the stage with Justin Peck's Murder Ballades. Archibald's new ballet will feature a collaboration with contemporary chamber ensemble Eight Blackbird, performing live; Weare will choreographer for pointe shoes for the first time.
Cincinnati Ballet in excerpts from Jennifer Archibald's Never.Nest
Making all of these collaborations and firsts even more exciting is the appointment of Archibald as the first female resident choreographer in the company's history. "Jennifer is powerful, smart and very demanding, and the dancers are highly responsive to her," says Morgan. The Ailey-trained choreographer, whose resumé ranges from the world of ballet to commercial dance, is slated to create an annual premiere during her open-ended tenure.
Archibald is looking forward to this opportunity to create work on a larger scale and see the dancers evolve within her aesthetic, which blends hip hop and ballet. "Of course powerful female choreographers exist, but doors are not always open to these voices," says Archibald. "When young female choreographers approach me and say, 'It's so nice to see a woman on the bill,' that's when it hits me. I am quickly reminded that this is not the norm, and female choreographers still struggle to be represented on ballet-produced platforms." However, with Morgan paving the way, a season like this could soon become the new normal. "My goal is always to have the best, most adventurous work, to be relevant to younger generations," says Morgan. "I put all those various hopes and dreams together and this is what I came up with."