Alum James Cunningham Choreographs New Work in Classics with a Twist at CCM

Alumnus James Cunningham (BFA Ballet Performance, 2010) returns to CCM to choreograph the world premiere of La Nymphe Brisée, one of the four short dance pieces that make up CCM’s final Mainstage performance of 2016, Classics with a Twist. The dance performance opens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1 and continues through Sunday, Dec. 4 in Patricia Corbett Theater.

James Cunningham with Youngwon French and Bradley Harris.

James Cunningham with Youngwon French and Bradley Harris.

Cunningham, a soloist with the Cincinnati Ballet, says La Nymphe Brisée loosely revolves around how people can become entangled with negative influences. The score was written by two composers — Youngwon French, who works as a pianist with the Cincinnati Ballet, and CCM composition graduate student Bradley Harris.

“Youngwon came to me one day last winter with this piece of music that she wrote late one night,” recalls Cunningham. “Immediately when I heard it, I was drawn to its haunting sorrow and simplicity.”

Cunningham says they originally didn’t have an outlet to make the work come to life but then he was approached by Jiang Qi, CCM Dance Department Chair, about guest choreographing for Classics with a Twist.

“I figured it would be the perfect chance to use this beautiful piece of music,” Cunningham says. “With a high energy beginning, a beautiful middle and a lyrical and peaceful ending, I set out to make a dance.”

Youngwon French’s piece became the central movement of the three-part work. Bradley Harris wrote two pieces to serve as bookends, the first upbeat and the second lyrical and serene. It’s certainly unusual for music of any kind to have multiple composers, but the collaborative experience of pairing fresh choreography with original music is also new to Cunningham.

“With this new composition I had the chance for the first time to be able to discuss directly with the composer and make adjustments. While respecting each other’s creativity, of course. I believe this makes the collaborative final product a much richer piece of art.”

Many CCM alumni visit the college as guest artists to coach students who share the same goals, dreams and worries that they once held, and perhaps still do. It can be a nostalgic and inspiring experience for the alumni but it also connects students with like-minded professionals as they pursue their careers.

“It brings back a lot of memories for sure,” Cunningham says. I think similar shared experiences with professors and classes has helped me to bond and break the ice with this new generation of students. The whole feeling is kind of full circle to me. It’s about giving back and touching the future. All art is cyclical and passed on, dance is no exception.”

Not only did Cunningham learn the art of ballet as a student at CCM, but he also honed a number of new skills that have made him a better dancer and choreographer.

Because of his time at CCM, Cunningham can confidently apply “out-of-the-ordinary” stage make-up and discuss stage lighting with lighting designers. He adds that courses in anatomy and injury prevention have done “wonders to save [his] career, too.”

“CCM gives you more than just how to smile under the spotlight onstage,” Cunningham says. “It provides a full range of knowledge of the performing world around you.”

Cunningham is now in a position to share all of that knowledge, both experiential and academic, with current CCM students as they work to create an entirely new piece of art.

To see La Nymphe Brisée, make plans to attend Classics with a Twist, which runs from Dec. 1 through Dec. 4 at CCM.

The performance also includes Schubert’s Winterreise choreographed by Jiang Qi, Alexander Glazunov’s Scènes de ballet choreographed by Michael Tevlin and Warm Hearts and Hot Feet, a collage of iconic works from the ’40s and ’50s, choreographed by André Megerdichian.

Visit the CCM Box Office website for more information and to purchase tickets.

Performance Times
8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2
8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4

Patricia Corbett Theater
College-Conservatory of Music
University of Cincinnati

Purchasing Tickets
Tickets to Classics with a Twist are $27-31 for adults, $17-20 for non-UC students and $15-18 for UC students with a valid ID. Tickets can be purchased in person at the CCM Box Office, over the telephone at 513-556-4183 or online at

Parking and Directions
Parking is available in the CCM Garage (located at the base of Corry Boulevard off Jefferson Avenue) and additional garages throughout the UC campus. Additional parking is available off-campus at the U Square complex on Calhoun Street and other neighboring lots. Please visit for more information on parking rates.

For detailed maps and directions, please visit

For directions to CCM Village, visit

CCM Season Presenting Sponsor and Musical Theatre Program Sponsor: The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation

Mainstage Season Production Sponsor: Macy’s

The Dance Department gratefully acknowledges the support of the Corbett Endowment at CCM

Story by CCM Graduate Student Alexandra Doyle

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