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Dancing around the world: Director of Dance Joseph Morrissey brings international experience to Interlochen
“In Munich, I was surrounded by the star dancers I watched on videotape as a kid.”
Joseph Morrissey is a true cosmopolite of the ballet world. From an early role in A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Boston Ballet School to working for the Hong Kong Ballet, Interlochen’s Director of Dance has pursued excellence at some of the world’s finest ballet schools. Morrissey’s experiences in the U.S. and abroad have shaped him into the dancer, instructor, and choreographer he is today. Now, he pours his international experience and love for performance into the students he trains at Interlochen.
From Boston to Hong Kong
Joseph Morrissey was just a young boy of seven when he began practicing his craft, eventually performing a child’s role in the Boston Ballet School’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While there, he had the opportunity to observe many of ballet’s finest artists—Fernando Bujones and Patrick Armand among them. Witnessing their technique had a profound impact on young Morrissey, who set his sights on the most competitive dance opportunities he could find.
“The bar was set very high at an early age,” he says. “I'm privileged to have studied with excellent teachers who instilled the utmost technical and artistic standards in dance.”
Morrissey took his calling seriously and soon built up a résumé of dance experience that spans the globe. At 14, he was accepted to The Harid Conservatory and completed four-years of intense dance training there. At 16, he was accepted to the Royal Ballet School summer course in London, giving him a preview of what his professional career held ahead. He later danced professionally for the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich, Germany; he was twice invited to choreograph the Stuttgart Ballet’s Noverre Society and the Festival Ballet d'Adriatico held in Ascoli Piceno, Italy. He currently sits on the jury for the International Baltic Ballet Competition in Riga, Latvia; the Japan Grand Prix in Tokyo; and the Youth America Grand Prix nationwide and in Paris, France. Before coming to Interlochen, he was Director of Artistic Planning and Touring for The Hong Kong Ballet.
Morrissey describes the excitement of becoming a part of the international ballet community: “That was one of the greatest bonuses of joining the Bavarian State Ballet and working with The Hong Kong Ballet—the people that I met, the dancers that I trained with and performed with on stage, the guest artists that came in to perform. In Munich, for instance, I was surrounded by the star dancers I watched on videotape as a kid.”
His experience abroad exposed him to a “variety of different influences” that have continued to shape Morrissey’s approach to the art of dance. As a result of his travels, he feels that he’s become more flexible and open to fresh modes of expression.
“I’ve learned that there's more than one way to do things. Having the privilege to work in a variety of different places gives me a unique perspective and allows me to integrate different approaches to my own teaching and leadership style.”
Producing world-class performances
Morrissey’s travels helped instill in him a passion for performance, which he brings to his position at Interlochen. For him, the number of performance opportunities is what makes Interlochen’s Dance program so distinctive.
“Essentially, the students that come here are joining a youth company while being given the guidance of a well-rounded high school education,” he says.
Interlochen welcomes and trains dancers of all genders. For male dancers, in particular, Interlochen provides an inclusive atmosphere with healthy competition and specialized technique classes, along with performing opportunities that rival many schools and companies.
“The program has a lot of opportunities for male dancers that they might not get elsewhere, creating an atmosphere of healthy competition. All of them are exposed to a variety of partnering techniques through classes and repertoire,” says Morrissey.
In his time at Interlochen so far, Morrissey has produced new versions of full-length ballets including The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. His students will soon premiere his new version of Cinderella in February 2023.
Morrissey takes great pride in the quality of productions that Interlochen is able to stage—the artistry that’s evident in every detail of sets, costumes, and music. Students wear costumes by world-renowned designers associated with respected companies across the globe. Morrissey especially appreciates the school’s ability to pair ballets with live music from the Arts Academy Orchestra as he views music and dance as the ultimate partnership.
Frequently, Morrissey brings in outstanding guest artists to work with his students. This fall, The Nutcracker will host guest conductor Gavriel Heine of the Royal Opera House, London. Other visitors have included Yoshito Sakuraba, Alexei Moskalenko, Kenya Clay, Shura Baryshnikov, and Wendy Whelan.
Morrissey relies on strong internal support from Interlochen’s staff to make the productions a reality. He’s especially delighted to maintain partnerships with Interlochen Presents and the Mallory Costume Shop.
“I think that they're the unsung heroes in a way—Brent Wrobel, Jeff Block, their whole team, and of course the costume shop, expertly led by Amanda Lifvendahl. The work with them continues to be rewarding and fun,” he says.
Rest, recovery, and staying inspired
Looking over what he’s accomplished so far and what he still hopes to do, Morrissey wants to leave a legacy of progress.
“I hope I've just taken the program to its next level and built upon the things they've already done,” he says.
For his students to reach lofty goals requires rest and a healthy sense of fun. As an instructor, Morrissey is mindful of the Interlochen 5 and encourages young dancers to build their resilience. Together with the Academy’s dance faculty, he places an emphasis on cross training and recovery. The dance division works closely with Interlochen’s Denison Center for Wellness and Recreation. A physical therapist also regularly visits the dancers, with a designated space Morrissey was keen to add as one of the features of the new Dance Center.
Through dance, we get to enhance our own lives and enrich other people’s lives.
Whether they’re practicing or performing, Morrissey wants all the dancers who come through his program to preserve their initial spark of inspiration.
“As a dancer it’s important to remember the feeling you had when you first discovered the art form, whether it was taking a class, or seeing or participating in a performance,” he often urges his students. “Through dance, we get to enhance our own lives and enrich other people’s lives. The discipline in itself is an ongoing pursuit of excellence and much of the inspiration for everything I do comes from music and the dancers I have the privilege to work with.”
To learn more about the Dance major at Interlochen Arts Academy, click here.