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Cincinnati Ballet company in Jennifer Archibald's "Sit" (Image: Peter Mueller)

Cincinnati Ballet: New Season, New Works

Six pieces.
Four world premieres.
One Cincinnati Ballet.

Oh, how I've missed my favorite dancers. The Cincinnati Ballet, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, always leaves us wanting for more. It's truly a treat when the season starts and bittersweet when it comes to an end. Thankfully, we're at the beginning of that cycle right now.

In its 10th year, the Kaplan New Works Series is the kick off to the ballet season. The purpose of this program, a staple in the repertoire, is to move choreography forward -- one jeté at a time. (Or, something like that.) Although the work happens off-site, the audience, in the intimate setting of the Aronoff's smaller theater, can tell these pieces are different than the norm. (NOTE: The New Works series was previously held at the Ballet Center, but having become such a popular program, it outgrew the space.)

There's a playfulness between the dancers and choreographers. It's an open dialogue, dedicated to innovating, to elevating, and to pushing boundaries. And while some movements come out crisp, clean, and perfect on that first take, others feel very raw -- intentionally so.

Here's a bit about each piece:

1. Floating Forward
Choreography by Heather Britt
Music by Gabriel Gaffney Smith

Britt is known to choreograph with the music in mind first and then let the movement unfold. In that regard, the story that is told is more about emotions than plot points. Here, the six dancers are joined on stage by members of Cincinnati's Vocal Arts Ensemble. The title "Floating Forward" connotes a sense of community, being inspired and uplifted by those around you. Burdens are shared (not carried alone) and though the road is long, it is, in the end, joyful. Ya know, kinda like that epic sunset we had last night.

Dancer to watch: Romel Frometa

2. Above the Box
Performed by Elementz Studio Kre8v
Choreography by Derrek Burbridge

Elementz is an inner city organization that strives to foster the talent and creativity of kids in the urban core. In the second performance of the night, they take the stage with confidence and a message in mind. Subverting the system is not always about conflict, at least not the negative kind. It can (& should be) about change for the better. The hip hop/ performance art number is a welcome addition to the playbill and a wonderful showcase of talent that exists in the heart of the Queen City.

Dancer to watch: Nyjul Byrd. He's the kid in the Bulls jersey.

3. Fractured Glass
Choreography by Victoria Morgan
Music: 2Cellos; Songs: "Smooth Criminal," "Welcome to the Jungle," and "With or Without You"

This year CEO & Artistic Director Victoria Morgan wanted to place a strong emphasis on female choreographers. Even though most folks probably associate ballet with women, it's often men who dominate the shaping of that sphere. Therefore, Morgan's piece is about breaking the glass ceiling. It's her nod to Sheryl Sandberg's motto of leaning in. The music -- a collection of songs you know, performed on instruments you wouldn't expect -- is the perfect complement to this dichotomy of fast and slow, hard and soft, up and down, male and female.

Dancer to watch: Khris Santos, a newcomer to the company

4. Yesterday, Tomorrow
Choreography by Amy Seiwert
Music: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings; Songs: "Scarlet Town," "Tennessee," & "Six White Horses"

Think ice tea, probably even the ice box. ... And the south. Georgia perhaps? Like a painting that comes to life straight out of an art museum, this period piece, which felt very early 20th century, was breathtaking. I loved the interplay between the dancers, the use of the bench, and watching the story (one that could have easily been frozen in time, or, like I said, a picture frame) unfold.

Dancer to watch: Sarah Hairston

5. Triple Play
Choreography by William Whitener
Music by Francis Poulenc: Trois Novelettes; Piano Soloist: Marcus Kuchle

In this pas de deux, Grace Shivers and James Cunningham go through the motions of a young couple in love. It wasn't this, per se, but it's kind of how it felt: Texting evolves into hanging out, which leads to Netflix binge watching, ultimately climaxing in some real romancing of the stone. It was a nice piece, but left something to be desired.

Dancers to watch: James Cunningham and Grace Shivers

6. Sit
Choreography by Jennifer Archibald
Music: Midnite by Hang and Balance, The Art of Fusion Drumming by Taufiq Qureshi, and Komodo by Maro Jailo

Well, they saved the best for last. Inspired by the notion of "sitting," creating a moment of restfulness to quiet the mind, Archibald has choreographed a brilliant work. But I have to wonder, if this is sitting, then what have I been doing all these years? The movements are, at times, fluid, and other times raw and animalistic -- all of which are complemented by the Far East/ African drum beats. No matter the progressions playing, everything about it is HOTT. And it doesn't hurt that the guys are shirtless. Swoon.

Dancers to watch: Cervilio Amador and James Gilmer


The Kaplan New Works runs through Sept. 21 in the Jarson Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center. For more information, please visit the website.