Real Life Dance: Tech Effect

On tour or at home, a technical rehearsal is the one chance to see how the lights, music, scenery and costumes will come together before the audience arrives. Ordinarily, there is plenty of work to be done, but imagine having to tech a program at an elevation of 8,000 feet during sporadic storms, on a stage that is not entirely sheltered from the rain and is surrounded by evergreen-clad peaks as far as the eye can see. Welcome to the Vail International Dance Festival.

Jim Leitner, now in his eighth year as technical director and lighting designer at the VIDF, plays a different, but always indispensable role at each show. “In the nine days of performances and rehearsals [at the festival], I worked some 150 hours,” he says, adding that some of those hours are more supervisory, while other times he is designing cues, loading in props, or up on the scaffolding replacing or refocusing lights. For the “Different Dimensions” program, which included Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, nandanse and Smuin Ballet on August 2, Leitner worked with three different companies that had three very different sets of technical needs. 

The tech for San Francisco–based Smuin Ballet was first that day. The company arrived with a lighting designer and stage manager, so to prepare Smuin’s Fly Me to the Moon, Leitner turned his booth over to them, lingering in the background in case there were questions about the space or lights. Leitner is well aware that, for crew and performers, the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater takes some getting used to. “It’s handsome, but it’s not very flexible: no wings, no flies, nothing to make the tech easier,” he says. 

One of the challenges particular to this space is the erratic weather. “This space gets so hot and so cold quickly,” he says, adding that the rapid temperature changes have a drastic impact on the floor, which expands and contracts with the weather. Pulling the floor taut at the beginning of the day, before the companies arrive to tech, usually prevents it from being an issue during the rehearsals. 

The day’s second technical rehearsal was with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, and it required a little more hands-on attention. Walsh brought only his technical director, so for his ballet, Katharsis, the festival’s stage manager called the cues and both Leitner and the company’s tech director made sure the piece ran without a hitch.

Lauri Stallings’ tech for her work for nandanse, Bacchus’ Vessel, proved the most demanding. In addition to having to finish setting light cues (an electrical storm the night before had derailed the process when it was only two-thirds complete), Stalling’s tech person didn’t show up. Leitner gave Stallings a crash course in calling light cues. “She would say, ‘cue 43,’ but then she didn’t say the magic word,” Leitner recalls. For the cue to be acted on, the crew has to hear the word “go.”

During the hour-and-a-half stage time that each company gets to tech, the dancers are also busy fine-tuning their use of the stage.

“There’s a huge adjustment, in that you’re pushed back by the space,” says Michael Levine, of nandanse, and also a member of The Joffrey Ballet. “You [always] have to find your leg and your center, [but] that’ s amplified in an outdoor space, because you’re competing with the environment around you, which is so much bigger. You feel that size, and you’ve got to create a larger scale. You’ve got to push yourself even more.”

Add to that the challenge of dancing at a high elevation. The festival has employees available to administer oxygen if necessary. Walsh chose to bring in his company early to deal with the thinner air. By the time tech rehearsal came around, the company had already been dancing in Vail for almost a week. “I wanted to make sure they were secure with the altitude,“ says Walsh. “A couple of them were sick the first night, so I’m glad that we got that out of the way.”

Difficulties aside, the sheer beauty of the setting may be another distraction, but it’s a pleasant one. “I love dancing out here,” says Lisa Keskitalo of nandanse and a former member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. “You’re onstage and if you get a moment, you can just look and see these majestic mountains. [Being here] gives you some nice perspective on what you’ re doing and why you’ re doing it.”


Cari Cunningham is currently pursuing an MFA in dance at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is the dance critic for The Daily Camera.

Latest Posts


The author, Lucy Van Cleef, dancing Balanchine's Serenade at Los Angeles Ballet. Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy Los Angeles Ballet

My 12-Year Journey to a Bachelor’s Degree While Dancing Professionally

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.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta in "Manon" (2000)

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.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Victoria Morgan with Cincinnati Ballet principal dancer Sirui Liu. Jennifer Denham, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

After 25 Years, Victoria Morgan to Step Down as Cincinnati Ballet's Artistic Director

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.

Victoria Morgan is shown from the side standing on stage right, turning to smile at a line of costumed dancers to her left during bows. She wears a patterned green dress with chunky green high heels and holds a red rose in her hand.

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.

What's next?

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.

Editors' Picks