Cincinnati Ballet takes a leap with ‘Bold Moves Festival’

Since Cincinnati Ballet launched its “Bold Moves” series in 2017, the performances have occupied a very specific place in the season. Besides having a title that suggested an evening of edgy and innovative dance, the series was meant to provide an end-of-season treat that would entice patrons to renew their subscriptions for the following season.

Cincinnati Ballet Bold Moves Festival
Cincinnati Ballet dancers Samantha Griffin, Jhaelin McQuay, Luca De-Poli and Samantha Riester. (Photo by Aaron M. Conway)

Last year, the company set out to present two weekends that featured numerous big-name guest choreographers. “Bold Moves, Cincinnati’s Dance Festival,” they called it. But like so many events during the peak of the pandemic, it didn’t happen. There eventually were performances called “Bold Moves Plus.” But a festival? Not so much. Many of the biggest choreographic names had disappeared from the repertoire.

At the time, Scott Altman, the ballet’s president and CEO, promised that not only would “Bold Moves” return, but it would be even bigger and more spectacular than the one that had originally been planned.

At the time, the comments sounded like institutional bravado meant to offset a difficult and unpredictable situation. After all, who knew what the future might bring? But when the company revealed the line-up for this season-closing “Bold Moves Festival,” coming up May 12-22, we discovered that Altman was absolutely as good as his word. 

The 2022 incarnation of ”Bold Moves” is a full-fledged dance festival. Not only will Cincinnati Ballet perform two full and wonderfully varied programs, including some that were supposed to be on last year’s program, but we’ll also have appearances by two other companies, as well as an extraordinary line-up of special events. CB2, Cincinnati Ballet’s second company, will be part of the festival, as will members of the Professional Training Division, the most advanced students of the company’s Otto M. Budig Academy.

Not enough? Tucked away on the only two nights that Cincinnati Ballet won’t be performing, the company will co-host (with the Cincinnati Arts Association) two evenings of performances by the recently reinvigorated Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Dance Theatre of Harlem will perform as part of the “Bold Moves Festival”

“I’m kind of obsessed about everything that is going to be happening,” said Victoria Morgan, who is completing 25 years as artistic director with these performances. One of those things, incidentally, is the revival of Morgan’s “Boléro,” a massive piece that premiered in 2007 as a celebration of Morgan’s first 10 years with the company.

“What I love most is the feeling that this festival is embracing the future of our art form,” Morgan said. “There’s no getting around ballet’s history. Our roots are aristocratic, from the upper echelons of the French and Russian courts.”

But you would hardly know that from the many works that make up the festival. This is a showcase of dance that is unabashedly contemporary, with works by Twyla Tharp, Helen Pickett and Israeli dance master Ohad Naharin. There is a world premiere by company member David Morse, as well.

The guest companies are every bit as forward thinking. Axis Dance Company, from Oakland, Calif., is an ensemble made up of disabled and non-disabled performers. And Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which was founded in 1968, showcases African-American dancers and choreographers.

“We’re seeing the evolution of our art form unfold in front of us. We’re part of that evolution.” Victoria Morgan

“Seeing all of this is so energizing to me,” Morgan said. “We’re seeing the evolution of our art form unfold in front of us. We’re part of that evolution. To be honest, I have a bit of envy for our dancers. I watch this and wish I could still get up on the stage and do it with them. I’m just so amped about what dance is looking like today.”

The impetus for this expanded “Bold Moves” programming came from Altman, said Morgan, adding that she fully supported it from the moment he presented the idea to her. For his part, Altman said that evolving and growing the company was at the heart of his proposal.

Cincinnati Ballet dancer Jhaelin McQuay; Photography: Aaron M. Conway
Cincinnati Ballet dancer Jhaelin McQuay (Photo by Aaron M. Conway)

“For the company, I would say that this is a landmark,” he said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve done before. Remember, we used to do two repertory series in the spring – ‘Bold Moves’ and ‘Director’s Cut.’ But with this, I think we’re proving that by putting all of our efforts into a single fabulous series, we can create something that is more powerful than the sum of its parts.”

In some ways, the “Bold Moves Festival” is inspired by the way the largest ballet companies program their seasons. With San Francisco Ballet, for instance, the spring season is a month long, with seven performances a week. And the ballets are presented in a repertory format, meaning that you could see one mixed repertory program one night and a different one the following night. “Bold Moves” isn’t exactly the same sort of mix, but there is an unprecedented variety of activities for audiences.

“I think our audiences will really enjoy this,” Altman said. “They can come over the course of two separate weekends and see an entirely different combination of ballets and guest companies. This sort of philosophy, in my opinion, is a hallmark of a mature and thriving company. And I think you’ll see more of this in future seasons.”

Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs”
Cincinnati Ballet performing a movement from Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” part of the 2022 “Bold Moves Festival”


One of the most intriguing elements of the festival is that it isn’t limited to traditional performance settings. There is a massive menu of “other” activities, from things you might expect – master classes and panel discussions with choreographers and guest artistic directors – to a walk-and-dance mural tour with Pones Inc.

Upstander Panel – May 19, 6:15 p.m. Focusing on those who use the arts to provide a stronger voice and more visible presence for groups that might go unnoticed. In partnership with The Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center; with Kick Lee (Cincinnati Music Accelerator), Piper Davis (Playhouse in the Park) and Jodi Elowitz, HHC.

James Young and “Our Story” Discussion – May 22, 11:30 a.m. The background and creation of the world premiere of the Holocaust-themed “Our Story,” by David Morse.

World Dance Masterclass – May 14, 10 a.m. 20-minute crash courses on the basics of various types of dance – classical Indian Dance, African dance, bellydance, salsa and more.

Frank Sinatra Karaoke – 9:45 p.m. (date TBA) at Tokyo Kitty; To go along with the performances of Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs,” you can take your own shot at those classic songs.

Bold Moves Festival

May 12-22, Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center

Program 1: Helen Pickett: “Petal,” Twyla Tharp: “Nine Sinatra Songs” and Ohad Naharin: “Minus 16.” (May 12, 14, 15, 20 and 21)

Program 2: CB soloist David Morse: “Our Story” (world premiere), Victoria Morgan: “Boléro,” (May 13, 14, 19, 21 and 22) plus performances by Axis Dance Company (May 13-14) and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (May 19, 21 and 22)

Dance Theatre of Harlem, May 17-18, 7:30 p.m.

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