Two Decades of Visionary Leadership at Cincinnati Ballet
Photo provided by Aaron M. Conway
When Victoria Morgan landed at Cincinnati Ballet in 1997, she expected to face unique challenges as one of the very few female artistic directors of major ballet companies across the country. What she didn’t expect is that 20 years later, she’d still be among a select group of women so small she can name the other members off the top of her head.
“Honestly, it’s a pretty bare scene for women in leadership as artistic director,” she says. “And when I came to this role, I made an assumption that a few years would pass and that the stats would change. Well, 20 years later, there are five of us.”
Morgan isn’t about to let those stats stand as the end of this story, however. The past 20 years have been remarkable for the Ballet, two decades marked by incredible growth across the board under her leadership: a thriving ballet academy, record sales, a fully-funded endowment, nationally acclaimed productions and rich, meaningful community outreach where there once was none.
Some might view a smaller city like Cincinnati as a hindrance when it comes to producing world-class ballet, but Morgan has seized on the uniqueness of this market. “We’re grassroots,” she says. “We’re right in the heart of the country, and we have an opportunity partly because we can be feisty. We’re a mid-sized company, so we can be flexible. We can start making a statement that will resonate.”
Along the way, she’s made it a priority to consistently showcase, empower and lead through example when it comes to women in ballet.
The national dearth of female ballet choreographers has been a prime target for Morgan’s statement-making. This season marks the fifth year in a row where she has included a full series featuring women, and only women, choreographers, such as The Kaplan New Works Series in April, 2017.
These women and the other women in Cincinnati Ballet surely benefit from this talented artistic director’s support and her strong example, but Morgan is quick to point out that there is a mutual benefit here. “I have to say that I feel I have influenced other women,” she says, “and they have also influenced me.”
She feels continually impressed by the young dancers in the Ballet’s Second Company, dancers who have worked immeasurably hard to rise up through the ranks. “That’s my favorite pleasure,” she says. “I get the chance to see the technique grow – the frustration, the self-doubt, the drive to get through all that, and they really, truly inspire me. Quite often, I’m very moved by the effort and the evolution of our dancers.”
Morgan’s introspection extends beyond ballet, too. As a community leader, Morgan often finds herself in the company of other local female power hitters. She points to women like Candace McGraw, CEO of CVG Airport and Julia Poston, managing partner at Ernst & Young Cincinnati and Dayton offices, as women who regularly motivate and inform her. “It has been really educational to understand that our art form is not alone in the dilemma of women who are facing the same glass ceilings or leaning into doors that aren’t opening,” she says. “I’ve learned so much from these women about confidence, about making no excuses for yourself and about not feeling insecure.”
Morgan is hopeful that the next generation of women will continue to reap the benefits from a slowly but surely evolving landscape. “It’s changing,” she says. “I’m so impressed with young women today. My work with the YWCA Rising Stars leadership program shows me that women are braver now, more willing to tell stories. We need to help make it happen, to create a path. It is a shift, and we must be a part of the shift.”
Upcoming Cincinnati Ballet performances:
Coppélia, October 21-23
Tour to Kennedy Center in Washington DC, November 23-27
Frisch’s Presents The Nutcracker, December 9-18
King Arthur’s Camelot, February 10-12
Bold Moves, March 17-18
The Kaplan New Works Series, April 20-29
To find out more about the Cincinnati Ballet’s upcoming season, visit cballet.org.