“Peter Pan” Celebrates Carmon DeLeone’s 50 Years with Cincinnati Ballet

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Video by Madison Schmidt

It’s nearly impossible to have a discussion about Cincinnati’s musical history without mentioning the name Carmon DeLeone. The legendary Music Director of the Cincinnati Ballet is celebrating 50 years with the ballet by bringing his original composition, Peter Pan, back to the local stage. The classic tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up runs from October 25 through October 28.

“I’m a lucky guy,” said DeLeone, “because this was a very fortunate situation for me to latch onto. I arrived in Cincinnati in 1960 (a student at UC’s College Conservatory of Music) and only eight years later, I was suddenly conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and one year after that starting with the Cincinnati Ballet Company as its music director.”

Peter Pan is not his only original work. DeLeone’s ballet score repertoire includes, among others, FrevoGuernicaWith Timbrel and Dance Praise His Name, and Ruth Page’s nationally televised production of Billy Sunday.  

But Peter and the crew have traveled to some of the most prestigious stages around the globe, thanks to DeLeone’s pen where he conducted its debut in London. It’s been performed in Lisbon and you can watch YouTube highlights of its performance in cities like Queensland, Kansas City and Knoxville, among many others. In his 50 years with the Ballet, the Maestro says it’s still one of his highlights. 

“Early on with the company, I wrote some pieces for the dance, smaller works,” he said, “but it wasn’t until 1994 that someone asked me to write a full-length ballet and the subject was “Peter Pan.” I didn’t know that I could do it, and as it turned out I would up having only one summer to compose it.

“I thought it was going to be two,” he continued, “but it was one instead so I enlisted a little help from friends to help me complete it, and it turned out to be Peter Pan and that turned out to be a very successful venture that’s continued.

“I remember we did a test of the flying of Peter Pan and it was outdoors,” he said. “We set up some kind of scaffolding and there were the dancers hoisted up, flying around and my music was playing in the background, and suddenly that turned into the piece we hear now. 

“It’s gone through four or five major productions, meaning different choreographers have put their stamp on it. The current one that we perform here is by Septine Webre, who first did it with the Washington D.C. ballet company that he was the head of at that time. Now he’s in Hong Kong and they’re planning on doing it there.” 

What keeps DeLeone going? 

He says it’s the athleticism and the dedication of the dancers who bring the works to life. 

“The dancers give me inspiration,” he said. “Even when I was younger they were still keeping me younger than I was and it still is the truth today. They work so hard and maybe among all artists they devote their entire lives, their bodies to this art form and no matter how hard I work I feel there’s always more we can do. We want to raise ourselves to the level of the dancers.” 

What’s next for Maestro DeLeone? 

It’s not like he’s sitting back waiting to retire.  

He plays drums, he plays French horn, he loves the music of Miles Davis but right now he’s concentrating on another children’s tale come to life, the Wizard of Oz, told from the ballerina’s viewpoint. “The star is the ballerina who has difficulties at the beginning of the story, and gains confidence. By the time it finishes, she is willing to trust her instincts. And you’ll see the Scarecrow, Tin Man and all those characters that you want to see.”

And another honor coming his way, one he totally did not see coming.

“Something crept up here in all of the celebration for the 50th anniversary that I never anticipated or expected, so exciting and humbling, a portrait of yours truly has been painted and will be hung in Music Hall along with all of those gentlemen who at one point in time I assisted there, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Erich Kunzel,” said DeLeone. 

“I cannot believe that I will be also staring from the wall at Music Hall and that is going to be unveiled on the second night of Peter Pan. That’s incredible, I don’t know what to say about that except that I’m very pleased.”

Peter Pan opens tonight at Music Hall with a 7:30 p.m. performance. For times and tickets, visit www.cballet.org/peter-pan.

You can hear Carmon DeLeone on the radio from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. on his Sunday Morning Music Hall show on WDJO, 99.5 FM or 1480 AM.