Dance impresario Judith Morr
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Ballet often can wallow and even list in its storied past, in danger, to the casual eye, of seeming like a never-ending stream of sameness. So finding a contemporary choreographer who works in the form but reinvents it as he goes is a prized find.
Rooting out this kind of talent is one of the primary pleasures of the job for Judith O’Dea Morr, who programs dance at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Morr has handled more than 50 companies performing 789 programs in the past 25 years.
An example of a Morr discovery: Boris Eifman, head of and chief choreographer for the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg in Russia. Before 2000, Eifman, now 65, was a complete unknown in the United States, an independent dance maker toiling on a shoestring budget to very little notice outside Russia’s borders.
Morr encountered his work and it clicked for her; she speaks with an almost maternal pleasure in charting his progress. “We were one of the institutions who were willing to take a chance on his work because his choreography was new -- some of his ballets were on familiar topics, but he added his own imagination to it,” said Morr.
Beginning in 2001, Eifman has been a staple of Spring at the Center, showing up with clockwork regularity in odd-numbered years. Each appearance has showcased Eifman’s own choreography, either a reworking of a repertory staple (this season, a sleek-looking “Don Quioxte”) or a dance title that sounds as if struck from ballet’s Russian, historic past (“Tchaikovsky -- The Mystery of Life and Death” in 2003 or “Red Giselle” in 2005). “He gets no government funding, so he is as thoughtful as he is creative -- every move in every dance is carefully monitored by him,” said Morr. “He has a wonderful ballet master. He has this incredible eye for searching out new talents.”
In the last decade, the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg has appeared locally six times, the same number of appearances its vaunted cross-town contemporary, the Mariinsky (formerly Kirov) Ballet has made over 25 years.
The Center’s president, Terrence Dwyer, sees this kind of dance to be part of the Center’s ongoing mission.
“We feel it’s important to present eye-opening companies doing new and different things,” said Dwyer. “Judy’s vision is helping develop the ways in in which the ballet form continues to change and grow. [She’s] a real treasure for us here.”
-- Christopher Smith
Bottom: The Eifman ‘Don Quixote’ at Segerstrom. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times