Hougland's 'Firebird' pushes envelope

Hougland's 'Firebird' pushes envelope

By David Lyman • Enquirer contributor • March 13, 2011

Sometimes it's hard to know if Adam Hougland is a cheeky young man or a choreographer with a grand vision.

Hougland, the Cincinnati Ballet's resident choreographer, has a penchant for choreographing to epic music with reputations so vast that most choreographers want nothing to do with them.

Last season he choreographed a work to the Mozart Requiem. And in 2009, he created a work to Stravinsky's mammoth "Le sacre du printemps" (The Rite of Spring) for the Louisville Ballet, where he also carries the title of resident choreographer. He will restage that work for the Cincinnati Ballet next season.

Now, further cementing his reputation as an audacious dancemaker, he has created "The Firebird" for the Cincinnati Ballet. It premieres this weekend at the Aronoff Center on a program with George Balanchine's "Theme and Variation."

Sit and talk to Hougland, though, and there is little that is either audacious or cheeky about him. He is quiet, his speech measured. You don't really get a sense that he is trying to shock anyone, though this slightly punked-out version of "The Firebird" is likely to ruffle a few traditionalist feathers.

"So much of ballet today is riding on the coattails and the leftover fumes of the past," Hougland said. "When Balanchine was starting out in America, what he was doing was very risky and crazy and unlike anything that had been done before. I don't think that happens so much anymore.

"Often, ballet companies feel they need to give audiences something that's surefire, guaranteed. But in that effort to appeal to the widest possible audience, you run the risk of alienating the people who are most interested in ballet because it comes off looking a little bit - you know, desperate."

Hougland thinks that Cincinnati Ballet artistic director Victoria Morgan manages to achieve a balance that is healthy for the growth of ballet. He cites the company's season-opening New Works, a program consisting solely of premieres.

"The programming is all new, which people who really love ballet are sure to find inspiring," he said. "But because it's done in a smaller space (the company's studio theater), it's more affordable than doing it in some place like the Aronoff."

And then, of course, there is the freedom that she gives him with pieces such as "The Firebird."

"If I wanted an absolutely traditional approach to these ballets, I would have looked for someone else to be resident choreographer," Morgan said. "That's not the kind of choreographer Adam is."