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Spotlight: Orlando Ballet's new artistic director Jorden Morris starts his first full season

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Orlando Ballet’s Jorden Morris is about to open his first full official season as Artistic Director...with what he calls "a Halloween treat."

It’s a good thing Morris's resume is as long as a ballet barre – he’s taking over from the storied Robert Hill, who in his 13-year tenure raised the profile of troupe performances, saw the organization into its new $12.5 million facility in Loch Haven Park after asbestos closed its former locale, expanded what’s thought to be the largest Community Outreach program of its kind in the nation…and generally made ballet cool again.

Morris has stepped up to build on the ballet buzz with a production of Michael Pink’s Dracula opening October 20th in Steinmetz Hall at Doctor Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Morris tells WMFE's Nicole Darden Creston audiences can expect a version of the gothic tale that is not only visually enthralling, but also cerebral.

https://youtu.be/wDH1he8PXEw

Jorden Morris:
There's really more of a mental structure to some of the characters that in a lot of productions doesn't translate from the book to the stage, almost like weaving the text into the choreography. So that you get a more visceral sense of the story connected to the movement rather than a telling of a tale. This is really the translation of a novel, which is brilliant. But then [Michael Pink] also took almost a phantasmagorical cinematic approach to the production as well. So there are moments that it sort of looks like the old black-and-white films. And you've just got this really incredibly talented creative team behind the show. And when you look at Steinmetz Hall theater, it sort of has that “Phantom of the Opera” old-world look to it, and it sort of brings that entire experience all together. It is going to be a great Halloween treat. What's a better time for Dracula?

Nicole Darden Creston:
So you worked with Robert Hill previously. What has your experience been like, taking over from him?

Jorden Morris:
Definitely big shoes to fill. I mean, Robert was really instrumental in building the foundation of this company, and the stability of the company, and bringing it through COVID, of course, which was, you know, a massive challenge – to be able to keep performing, keep the dancers engaged. So I feel very grateful and thankful for the foundation that he has established. And it allows me to take the company further sooner, because of the footprint that he's left. So I'm very grateful.

Nicole Darden Creston:
What are you looking forward to the most this year?

Jorden Morris:
Well, a couple of things. I'm looking forward to doing the full production of my Moulin Rouge in February, because we did a shortened version during COVID. So there were 37 minutes that I had to cut out, which was very difficult, you know, just storyboard-wise, but also, musically, the transitions and all that. So I'm really excited to put it all back together for the dancers and the audience. It's really all the underground Tango Cafe [scenes] that I was able to sort of take out as a unit and remove without messing too much with character arcs. So having all that back in will be wonderful. And we'll also be doing it with live orchestra, which is wonderful. All that Offenbach music, you know, when it's live from the pit you just get those tingles up your spine, as opposed to a recording! And then the other thing I'm really excited for is A Streetcar Named Desire. This is Annabelle Lopez Ochoa - she is European choreographer, an incredible storyteller. She's taking a very difficult [script], you know, Tennessee Williams is hard to begin with, with the spoken word, and then to have to take the spoken word away and replace that dialogue with movement and dramatics. I think her work is really genius.

Nicole Darden Creston:
Tennessee Williams, wow! Been there, tripped over that. (laughter)

Jorden Morris:
Right, haven't we all! (laughter) So, in her telling of the story. I mean, there are difficult moments in it. There are tragic moments in it. But I think it's also our responsibility as artists to reflect society. And a lot of the problems we encounter in Streetcar are still very relevant today. And I think if we can continue to shine a light on those, that is how the arts can help lift society forward. So I feel that it's not just our responsibility to entertain, it's also a responsibility to be a mirror and reflect what society is doing so that we can all engage in it together.

[caption id="attachment_203367" align="aligncenter" width="743"]

Orlando Ballet's Artistic Director Jorden Morris in his office at the Ballet's new facility, Harriet's Orlando Ballet Center overlooking Lake Formosa in Loch Haven Park.[/caption]

Nicole Darden Creston:
Are there going to be additional opportunities, or are you expanding [Orlando Ballet’s existing] programs to see the arrival of more diversity and inclusion in the ballet world?

Jorden Morris:
Absolutely. Yep. That's really one of the big things. I think. All of us, as directors on the team of directors… it's up to us to sort of grab that chalice and move the needle forward. Nobody else can really do it. So the responsibility is on us. That will go into our Community Enrichment and Outreach Programs.

Nicole Darden Creston:
What made you want to take on the challenge of this role?

Jorden Morris:
I mean, it was a difficult decision. I've been a director before. I was the interim director for Boston Ballet. I was the associate school director for Canada's Royal Winnipeg ballet. I was the artistic director of City Ballet at Edmonton.

Nicole Darden Creston:
So this is really not your first rodeo. (laughter)

Jorden Morris:
No. (laughter) And it’s scary, you know? It's almost better if you sometimes don't know what's ahead of you (laughter). Sometimes it's a little more trepidatious when you're like, “Okay, I actually do know what that entails.” But I think first and foremost, for me, I fell in love with the artists that are here. The dancers, the company, the energy. It's also a great administrative team. And it's a very strong, committed Board of Directors. The more I get to know the artistic community here and listen to people like yourself on NPR, I think the bubble is ready to burst open on the artistic community here and I think the support is there. I think if we, as directors in the visual arts, produce the work, that “if you build it, they will come” sort of philosophy. I feel that that energy is here and bubbling, so that intrigued me as well.

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined WMFE in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from extraordinary hurricanes to historic space flights, from the people and procedures of Florida’s justice system to the changing face of the state’s economy.