The Kaplan New Works Series continues to wow audiences with the sheer talent of the Cincinnati Ballet dancers and the seemingly endless lineup of brilliant choreographers, all of whom bare their hearts and souls to deliver stories and beliefs that resonate with us all. Where last April’s New Works Series was awe-inspiring with its art installations and multi-layered performances, this most recent installment is almost minimalist in its single-minded focus on the dancers themselves and their extraordinary ability to bring to life the stories bestowed upon them without uttering a single word. Leveraging stunning lighting effects by Seth Jackson and inspired musical choices by these special choreographers, this year’s New Works performances speak for themselves and never disappoint.
“Nannerl,” choreographed by Penny Saunders, pays beautiful tribute to the suppressed brilliance of Maria Anna Mozart. Brought to life with stunning clarity by Kathleen Dahlhoff as Maria and James Cunningham as her brother, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, we begin to understand both the unspoken bond between siblings and the reality of a time when dreams, for some, are unattainable. The dancing itself was evocative and the ensemble interacted seamlessly to deliver an excellent opener to the evening.
“The Dance Will Set You Free,” choreographed by Johanna Bernstein Wilt, is stunning in both its message and execution. She reminds us that dance is personal not only to the eye of the beholder, but also to the dancers themselves. Each of the three movements are distinct and complete, but when woven together, they create a collective performance that will set your emotions free. As she brings to life the sheer beauty and power that is dancing, she also recognizes the unique strengths of her artists by showcasing David Morse as both a dancer and pianist, making this piece an even more poignant tribute to dancers and their many talents.
“Black Coffee,” choreographed by Victoria Morgan, provides a window into the choreographer’s fascinating persona. Her brilliant use of a single chair, low lights and the melancholy melodies of K.D. Lang bring to life a personal moment in time that helped shaped who she is today. Danced with perfect abandon by the soloist, all you really want to say upon the last note is, “Thanks for sharing.”
“I Couldn’t Fly When,” choreographed by Heather Britt, is powerful and raw. It resonates on a fundamentally human level with its insightful portrayal of both self-imposed limitations and those inflicted by others. Beginning with only the sounds of the dancers is a bold decision that pays off immensely as the dulcet tones of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” bring home the universal themes of the piece. The three rounds of dancers all deliver from the first to the last move, showcasing just how seamless this ensemble cast is and how much they believe in the pieces they are performing. Just as Nina Simone was an icon of musical storytelling that still lives with us today, Heather Britt is a dancing storyteller who is well on her way to imprinting on our hearts and souls.
“Then…Now,” choreographed by Travis Wall, is quite simply a tour de force. Burdened with unbelievably high expectations and anticipation, Travis Wall has created a piece that takes you on a journey of the potentially devastating effects of love and how it impacts who we are. With simple yet beautiful costumes and an array of apt musical selections (including the fabulous Joni Mitchell), he and the dancers manage to break your heart while still making you believe in the power of love. Appropriately setting the tone with “The Resistance” by Sirui Liu and Cervilio Miguel Amador, the piece sweeps you away into a love story that ultimately leads you to the unbelievably powerful “Betrayal,” danced by Maizyalet Velázquez and David Morse, which takes your breath away and sets you up on an emotional precipice. This leads you to experience “Loss” by Bella Ureta and Michael Mengden before the singularly talented ensemble comes together to show you “Both Sides,” and you realize that you have just witnessed something that rivals “If…Then” on Broadway for its honest portrayal of how choices impact who we are both “Then…Now.”
As you consider the entirety of The Kaplan New Works Series, you may realize that, beyond the privilege of enjoying an evening of superb dancing, you have been taken down a path of reflection across limits, love, loss and lessons learned. I want to express my gratitude to a group of choreographers and dancers that are brave enough to shine their light and share it with us. New Works is the perfect artistic expression of the “new” Cincinnati Ballet as they grow with new branding, dancers and opportunities, while always delivering stunning performances that never disappoint.
Christi Geary is the proud mom of two girls 10 and under, best friend and wife of her husband Brian, and an Associate Director at the Procter & Gamble Company focused on shopper and innovation insights and analytics. She enjoys art of all kinds, feeds an insatiable curiosity for learning, pursues different forms of exercise when she can find the time to balance out her foodie predilection, and delights in spending time with family and friends.