Zack Grubbs began his dance training at Tuzer Ballet to supplement his education as a competitive gymnast. He came to Cincinnati Ballet in 2002 as a soloist and was promoted to senior soloist in 2005. In 2016, he retired from Cincinnati Ballet’s professional company to assume the leadership position of Academy Principal at the Otto M. Budig Academy where he ensures the professional growth of the students through daily class instruction in preparation for performances.
You’ve lived in Cincinnati since 2002. From an arts standpoint, has the city changed since you moved there? If so, in what way?
When I first moved to Cincinnati, I was absolutely blown away by the level of quality and support for visual and performing arts in the city. Since then, it has only positively increased on all fronts. People are becoming more aware of (and engaged in) what Cincinnati has to offer, whether it’s the captivating repertoire of the ballet, opera, CSO, local theatre companies like ETC or the Know Theatre, or (re)discovering our wonderful Museum Center.
How has Cincinnati Ballet changed since you’ve been there?
Well, the Academy is now bursting at the seams, and we’ve beefed up our young men/boys program, which has really taken off (and I want it to further expand!) Also, Victoria Morgan has continued to push Cincinnati Ballet to be at the forefront of innovation, creativity, and exploration in our field of art…whether it be exciting new choreographers, collaborating with musicians/vocal artists/stage actors, or implementing visually-captivating technical and digital elements into our productions.
What do you do in your spare time (if you have any)?
Hahaha! That’s hilarious! Well, I go to the park with my kids if it’s nice outside, or play XBOX KINECT with them when it’s raining. Every once in a while, I play poker on Friday night with some of the dancers. Also, I’m currently renovating part of my basement to add a guest room.
Who are your favorite choreographers, either to watch their work(s) or to dance them…and why?
There are so many, and too many to list! To dance: Twyla Tharp, Jorma Elo, and Trey McIntyre. To watch: Crystal Pite, Nacho Duato, and Jiri Kylian. All of them have such incredible musicality, and they have an organic immersive quality to their choreography.
Given your history with Cincinnati Ballet (and the numerous roles you’ve held…and hold), you have a very interesting vantage point on the Company. What things stand out to you when you take a “30,000 foot” view of the organization?
The unbelievable level of support and determination (seen and unseen) from everyone in this organization…everybody striving to progress our art form and making it more accessible to our community.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as the Academy Principal of the Otto M. Budig Academy…and why?
Trying to balance (and find time for) the artistic and administrative sides of my job. We want to provide as many quality performance and training opportunities as possible for our students to grow artistically and technically. And yet, we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin, burning the candle at both ends.
What’s the biggest opportunity you see as the Academy Principal of the Otto M. Budig Academy…and why?
The biggest opportunity I see in my position is working with Sarah (Hairston) and Dawn (Kelly) on the artistic side of the Academy. We have all known each other for over two decades, and there is a very unique dynamic among the three of us. With common goals for the Academy, we’re able to bounce ideas off of one another. We’re a quirky trio of respect and rapport, but I’m sure (at times) the rest of the staff thinks that we’re crazy (or let’s say unconventional/eccentric)!
What do you believe dance brings to younger people in our society?
There are two things that I feel can truly bring people together in life, and that is music and dance. From an artistic perspective, everybody can relate to (or be engaged in) the world of music and dance in some way, connecting it to their own lives. As a physically technical discipline, dance provides a coordination and drive that will benefit and complement all aspects of your life.
What specifically about what it does for those children who are in the Academy?
Sharing a facility with our main Company dancers, our Academy students also benefit from seeing up close how our art form/discipline manifests itself on a professional level.
What’s your long-term dream for Cincinnati Ballet?
Continuing to expand our Academy programs, giving our professional Company more exciting performance opportunities across the U.S. and internationally, making dance more accessible throughout our own community, and continuing to educate our audiences about the diversity, potential, and joy of what dance is (and what it has to offer).
What’s your long-term dream for the arts in Cincinnati?
Increased support for our established arts organizations, while engaging and encouraging new artists to emerge into our vast and vibrant arts scene here in Cincinnati.