It's fashion week in New York City, and the Joffrey Ballet School is getting its moment in the style spotlight. Louis Vuitton has sponsored "Reconstruction 3.0," a collaboration between Parsons The New School for Design, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and New York's Joffrey Ballet School. Five teams of students from each program have created original choreography and music inspired by the French fashion house's heritage of travel, as well as costumes constructed from previous Louis Vuitton ready-to-wear garments. This Thursday, a panel of experts from all three artforms will watch the performances live at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, just down the street from the runways set up at Lincoln Center. The prize for best in show? A trip to visit Louis Vuitton's atelier in Paris and the historic Vuitton family home in Asnières, France.
If you'd have told me in 2009 that it would take 12 years to earn my bachelor's degree, I never would have believed you. Back then, I was a dancer in my early 20s and in my second year with Los Angeles Ballet. I was used to the straightforward demands of the professional ballet world. I knew that hard work and willpower were the currency you paid in the studio, and that the thrill of live performance made all that investment worth it. What I didn't know then is how life's twists and turns aren't always so straightforward. In hindsight, I can see how my winding road to higher education has strengthened me—and my relationship with the ballet world—more than I ever could have imagined.
I can't remember why I attended that first informational meeting in Los Angeles Ballet's lobby for the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals (LEAP) program at Saint Mary's College of California. The program allows dancers to transpose their professional performing experience into college credit toward a BA in performing arts. I must have had time to kill between rehearsals, because back then I didn't have any immediate drive to study. Even in high school, I'd seen going to college as a plan B that represented some failure in my overwhelming dream to become a professional dancer. After fulfilling that dream, I still considered life after dancing as some abstract future reality. Rationally, I knew that a dancer's stage career ended eventually—that there was bound to be a moment of "What next?" I guess it was that question that drew me to the meeting, and to joining the LEAP program the following fall.
The author, far left, with dancers of Los Angeles Ballet in Balanchine's Serenade.
Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy Los Angeles Ballet
While it's becoming more common for dancers on career tracks to attend college dance programs, for those pro dancers who joined companies right after high school there are a few ways to pursue college degrees. Some attend universities part-time; for example, many dancers in New York City study at Fordham University or Columbia University while balancing a performing schedule. And some ballet companies team up with local colleges, like Boston Ballet's partnership with Northeastern University, to help their dancers prepare for post-performance careers. Then, there are programs specifically geared to pros, like LEAP, which allows dancers to receive college credit for their professional experience. Combined with a core curriculum, transfer credits and portfolio essays, the program acknowledges experience in the professional dance world as a source of learning.
I took Writing for the Major as my first in-person class, on Monday nights. My class was filled with former professional dancers, at all stages of life. I was relieved to find that taking one course at a time alongside my dance career wasn't just manageable—it was fantastic! Coursework gave me a chance to think about something other than casting. In the studio, I could be in the present moment, focused on honing my performance. But outside of rehearsal, I started to explore new heights.
The author teaching local students during LEAP's study abroad program in South Africa
Annie Colbeck, Courtesy Lucy Van Cleef
Over those first few years, my college program gave me an amazing array of experiences. In the summer of 2011, I participated in a study-abroad program, traveling to Cape Town, South Africa, with six other dancers to teach at a two-week dance program—an adventure I'll never forget. I was also privileged to work with amazing teachers—Christian De Matteo and Jill Nunes Jensen, especially—who encouraged me to lean into my love of dance and writing.
My trajectory pivoted when I moved to Europe in 2012. At that point, performing was my focus. I danced in Copenhagen and Berlin, and traveled throughout Germany as a freelance dancer. It was an incredible time for absorbing inspiration; I was amazed at the massive scope of the dance world, both in its diversity of styles and its incredible history. While I took the odd online course (one of which was a beginning German class that led me to meet my husband), I admittedly lost sight of my degree.
Programs that award credit for dance experience can be a sticking point for some, who view college as a chance to develop a completely new set of skills. I would argue that recognition of a dancer's experience allows for the fluidity, and unexpectedness, of a dancer's life. Experience is cumulative, and a degree can serve as a stepping-stone to whatever comes next. The only question remains: What do you want to pursue?
The author (second from left) with other dancer-classmates during a study abroad program in Cape Town, South Africa.
Annie Colbeck, Courtesy Van Cleef
While I'm grateful for the chance to both broaden my knowledge in the humanities and social sciences and transpose dance experience into credit, it has actually been the ability to fuse my skill sets that has served me most. My course requirements encouraged me to articulate my love of dancing in a way that more people could understand—an ability that paved the way for the next stage of my career as a dance writer.
By 2017, I was on my way to a successful transition, even though I still hadn't earned my BA. I lived in Berlin and was building my writing resumé. I was grateful to have found something that excited me in the same way performing had. But I was bothered by the question: Why do I need a degree? That question went unanswered for a long time. I knew I should finish what I'd started; but why, exactly?
The answer came last March, during the first lockdown. I don't remember which came first: an interest in researching dance history or an email from Andrew Pearson, LEAP's Los Angeles program coordinator, about whether I'd be interested in resuming the program. After some back-and-forth, it was clear: I was now on the way to completing my very last credits toward my bachelor's degree.
I received my diploma in the mail in April of this year. It came just in time for me to submit my application to graduate school, where I'll be studying dance history. It might have taken 12 years, but the chapter was finally completed—thanks to the tireless support from three advisors: Mark Baird, Annie Colbeck and Andrew Pearson.
I can't tell you how the saga will end. I'm confident that my stage career has prepared me, and thankful that my BA is allowing the next stages of my life to unfold. I'm ready for the hard work and willpower that the next steps—or spirals, obstacles and redirections, in dancer lingo—of my life will take. Let's see what the next 12 years look like!
It seems hard to believe, but the last time that Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta performed together was more than 20 years ago. At the Havana International Ballet Festival in 2000, Ferri, who was then a principal with American Ballet Theatre, and Acosta, a Royal Ballet star, danced the bedroom pas de deux from Manon, but they never got to grace the stage together again.
When Acosta became the director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2020, shortly before the pandemic struck the UK, he announced to great excitement that his first season would include a world premiere duet for him and Ferri. While the initial performance was postponed, BRB confirmed last week that Acosta and Ferri's reunion will be part of the company's triple bill in London this October. To celebrate the pair's upcoming return to the stage, we're revisiting this video from 2000 of the duo in Manon.
As partners, Ferri and Acosta balance one another beautifully; her effortless suppleness contrasts and complements his soft, but commanding strength. Their duet starts out with flirtations and teasing, but it soon transforms into something more profound. As the music becomes sweet and melodic at 2:10, Acosta rises up from the knee to lift Ferri into a gorgeous balance perched delicately on his shoulder. They unfurl into a passionate kiss, and from there the pas de deux begins to swirl with pirouettes and promenades. Acosta sweeps Ferri up into a press lift as she plumbs the depth of her cambré. In the final seconds, she slides to the floor and Acosta pulls her into an embrace. As the lights rise, they're greeted by a full minute of loving applause! Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Last month, Victoria Morgan announced that she will step down as Cincinnati Ballet's artistic director at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. The organization's board of trustees has formed a committee to conduct a national search for her replacement.
Prior to coming to Cincinnati Ballet in 1997, the Salt Lake City native was a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, as well as resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera. She graduated magna cum laude from University of Utah, where she also earned her MFA, and has judged several international ballet competitions.
Entering her 25th and final season as director, Morgan has accomplished a lot at Cincinnati Ballet, not the least erasing the $800,000 in company debt she inherited at the outset of her tenure. To right the organization's financial ship she had to make tough choices early on—the first task the company's executive committee gave her was to release a third of the company's dancers. In her continuing effort to overhaul how the organization did business, in 2008 she became both the artistic director and CEO and set about building the company's now $14.5 million endowment. For the 2016–17 season, with the arrival of new company president and CEO Scott Altman, Morgan returned to being full-time artistic director and helped lead the realization of the organization's new $31 million home, the Margaret and Michael Valentine Center for Dance.
A champion of female choreographers, Morgan has also choreographed numerous ballets for the company, including world premieres of King Arthur's Camelot and The Nutcracker. She has also helped orchestrate several company collaborations, including 2013's Frampton and Cincinnati Ballet Live and joint productions with BalletMet.
Pointe caught up with Morgan to talk about her recent announcement.
Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet
Why leave Cincinnati Ballet now?
It's been an amazing run and I have seen it all. I am not sure where I would go from here. I also feel there is a required stimulus and infusion of new ideas and energy that always needs to be a part of a growing, evolving and exciting arts organization.
What made you happiest at Cincinnati Ballet?
The people, from the devotion of patrons and donors to learning from and feeling the pride in work from the staff. It has also been so satisfying for me to choreograph on and watch so many dancers evolve in their dance careers and lives.
Were there things you wanted to do for the company that you weren't able to?
There were other collaborations I wanted us to explore and choreographers I wanted us to work with. It takes quite an investment to make those happen.
Your legacy includes actively creating opportunities for female choreographers. What motivated that?
I started realizing, in a profound way, the gender inequities in our art form. Because I was in a leadership position, I thought I could do something about this and try to get to a 50-50 balance of male and female choreographers. It took a little time to find women to step forward, but it happened. Now there are many more prominent female choreographers, including our resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald, and I am proud of that.
If you could handpick your successor, what qualities would you look for?
Somebody creative, charged up, and who can be visionary. Someone who has had a high-level experience in our art form. A leader who is demanding but also kind and supportive, and who opens doors to find new ideas while still embracing Cincinnati Ballet's philosophies.
What do you feel will be one of the biggest challenges for the new artistic director?
The important cause of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility). Whoever steps into that position has to have awareness of the culture of today's conversation.
Do you plan to keep choreographing?
I am not being proactive about it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it would be fun.
I feel my next calling is bringing movement to the biggest segment of our population, baby boomers. I want to be part of an initiative that makes moving and wellness enjoyable and enlivens people.