Go ahead. Call Jorden Morris an opportunist. He’ll be only too happy to agree with you. “When you get a chance like this, you just go,” says the artistic director of Orlando Ballet when speaking of his plans for a season-opening blockbuster in observance of the company’s 50th anniversary. On tap: a 30-minute documentary tracking the company’s evolution, coupled with homages to two of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century – George Balanchine, the so-called father of American ballet, and the buoyant, equally iconic Paul Taylor, via a performance of two of their most imaginative works.
The Taylor piece, “Company B,” is an especially apt choice – a nostalgic look-back in its own right as a favorite work created by one of the last living third-generation members of America’s modern-dance artists. The dance revolves around the boogie-woogie music that was popular in the 1940s. Francie Huber, a former dancer with Taylor’s company who’ll travel to Orlando to set the piece on Orlando Ballet’s dancers, remembers a story that circulated in the Taylor company about how “Company B” came to be. “I can’t tell you for sure if this is true, but I remember something along the lines of Paul finding an old album that had been thrown out in the trash,” she remembers. His fascination with the discarded music and forgotten history of another era, as the story goes, gave Taylor, whose own storied history included being a dancer for Martha Graham, the inspiration to create the work, which features music by the Andrews Sisters, close harmony singing group of the 30s and 40s. “Mr. Taylor takes on wider subjects than the songs seemingly allow,” wrote the New York Times reviewer. “Mortality is his theme, taboos his concern.”
Morris, who replaced Robert Hill as director of Orlando Ballet two years ago, is a native of Canada whose career as a dancer began at the Royal Winnepeg Ballet in Manitoba. His leadership style so far has been marked by a respect for tradition but an imaginative willingness to reshape it: Concerned about ethnic stereotypes in the holiday go-to The Nutcracker, he’s asked for costume changes that evoke wildlife, rather than individuals.