Before she was ever an arts programmer and executive at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Judy Morr devoted her young life to dance. And while she long ago hung up her own pair of pointe shoes, Morr now scours the globe in search of world-class dance companies to bring to Southern California.
It made sense, then, that she would go to Russia, one of the art form’s cradles, in search of the next great ensemble for Segerstrom’s stage. And so in St. Petersburg, about 15 to 20 years ago, she observed the famed Mikhailovsky Ballet and Orchestra.
“Their company is a very old company and considered one of the best, even though it doesn’t have much recognition in [America],” Morr said.
On Nov. 9 Mikhailovsky Theatre, which was founded in 1833 by Tsar Nicholas I, begins a three-date stint at Segerstrom with a performance of “Don Quixote,” the Cervantes tale of a knight on a fanciful quest, set to the balletic score by Ludwig Minkus.
“Their training is excellent, their repertoire is good, and they also have really fine musicians,” Morr said of the company, adding that the artistic directors have “an understanding of how important music is to dance, so that it also important to me.”
Morr, for whom the smaller Judy Morr Theater at Segerstrom is named, said she fell in love with dance, which is “what all little girls did,” and took lessons before transitioning to the programming side. When seeking acts for the Segerstrom’s main 3,000-seat theater, she takes into careful account how specific shows will play in that room.
“I have a definite dependence on Broadway musicals because they are the most popular art form for our audiences,” Morr said, “but for those people who feel dance is essential to their lives, as I do, I try to [program] approximately four to five companies a year. I look for how they will look in a very large theater and how we will be able to attract an audience that will make them feel warm and special.”
The Mikhailovsky rendition of “Don Quixote” fits the bill perfectly, she said. Morr looks at how such companies might work out in the Segerstrom space, what kind of repertoire they are known for — and, of course, how many tickets she believes Orange County patrons might conceivably purchase.
“We thought for a long time [that] a concert hall is not the best place for dance, and it probably isn’t … but you can still do it,” Morr said. “So I have to be very selective about what companies [to program] in there.”
Being a former dancer, Morr typically enjoys interacting with the artists backstage at Segerstrom, however, she said that will be difficult with the Mikhailovsky artists, as she does not speak Russian. She said that the power and the beauty of their rendition of “Don Quixote” will transcend language.
“They will see one of the great classics, and it will be done to perfection with an excellent orchestra and a wonderful conductor who understands the music and the dance,” Morr said. “I think they will have been transported to a better place and have two hours of pure joy and remember that as they leave.”
Eric Althoff is a contributor to Times Community News.
IF YOU GO
Who: Mikhailovsky Ballet “Don Quixote”
When: Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 11 at 1 p.m.
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: Tickets start at $29