The Nutcracker is simultaneously the most enjoyable and exhausting part of any professional dancer’s season. Growing up at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, I performed in The Nutcracker for a decade straight. Over those 10 years, I danced in two separate productions: those choreographed by Stowell & Sendak and George Balanchine. I remember performing in my first show and watching the more advanced students dance while I was in the prologue sharing a part with Cassidy Isaacson (now a company dancer at Grand Rapids Ballet). They danced to immensely powerful and joyous music; they got to dance in the Snow Scene! But Waltz of the Snowflakes was my favorite; just hearing the orchestra and the beautiful music was enough to set my eyes on ballet as a career. The violins being plucked, paper snowflakes gently falling, opera singers singing the sweet melody, and ballerinas twirling in frosty blue and white tutus never fail to raise goosebumps on my arms.
After my first experience with The Nutcracker, I set a goal for myself: I would dance the Waltz of the Snowflakes one day. Eight years of hard work later, I finally reached my goal during my second to final year at PNB School as part of the Professional Division program. I twirled in a frosty blue and white tutu and felt the snowflakes fall upon my crown-laden head while listening to the orchestra grow and swell to the sound of the iconic waltz. With stage lights illuminating the expensive stage and the audience still, holding their breath as the even beat of the waltz grew stronger and stronger. Let me tell you, it was awesome!
Waltz of the Snowflakes is hands down the most challenging part in The Nutcracker when it comes to pure stamina and mental strength. For instance, in Grand Rapids Ballet’s production choreographed by Val Caniparoli, I spend less than one minute offstage during the seven-minute run time of Waltz of the Snowflakes. Talk about your daily cardio: my Apple Watch tells me it is almost equivalent to a mile and a half run.
In 2008, when I performed in my first Nutcracker at PNB, I had only one part and performed in just over half of the 45 scheduled shows. As I matured in age and experience, I performed in most of the shows doing multiple parts. My most current tally over thirteen years? Over 500 shows, three different productions, 15 parts, and countless hours of rehearsal.
All of this sounds wonderful and joyous right? And it is. But putting The Nutcracker on stage also includes seven-day work weeks and long nights in the theater. December is the holiday season for most, but for dancers it also includes sewing countless pointe shoes, trying to catch your breath after running the Snow Scene for the third time that day, and eating dinner while icing your feet and nursing your sore muscles. But, the joy that is brought to young children and their families alike in the holiday season makes it all worth it.
The experience of dancing in The Nutcracker remains just as magical to me as it was as a young ballet student. And now, as one of the “big kids,” I strive to make every audience member’s experience as transformative as my own.
Val Caniparoli’s The Nutcracker would not be possible without YOUR support! Become a season subscriber or donate today to help us continue doing what we love. Until next year, happy holidays and thank you for supporting Grand Rapids Ballet!
The countless intricate details in The Nutcracker all come together seamlessly every December to create West Michigan’s favorite family holiday tradition seen by over 50,000 people since its premiere in 2014.
• In each performance, there are 68 Grand Rapids Ballet School students and approximately 40 company dancers—most of whom are doing multiple roles. In fact, any company dancer can do up to five separate roles per show!
• There are 149 original costumes with 58 of those being tutus which require over 5,000 yards of tulle.
• There are three Sugar Plum Fairy tutus, five Marzipan Castle scene tutus, 19 snow scene tutus, 15 Waltz of the Flower tutus, two Spanish tutus, 10 harlequin tutus, and two Dream Clara tutus.
• It takes seven full-size semi-trucks to move the entire production to DeVos Performance Hall.
• It takes seven days to assemble the Broadway-quality sets designed by Tony Award winner Eugene Lee based on the illustrations of The Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg.
• There are 15 toy soldiers and seven mice in each fight scene including one infamous Mouse King.
• There are 12 individual snowflakes in the snow scene and 12 pink flowers twirl with one Sugar Plum Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers.
• In each performance, 30+ crowns and tiaras are worn: 12 snow scene crowns, 1 Dream Clara tiara, two Sugar Plum Fairy tiaras, and three Marzipan Castle crowns. Talk about glamour!
• Clara’s Nutcracker Party is attended by 400 happy children, parents, and grandparents.
• The company and school both spend at least two months rehearsing Val Caniparoli’s gorgeous choreography including two dress rehearsals.
All of this adds up to one spectacular show that you and your family won’t want to miss. Tickets are available at 616.454.4771 x10 or on our website.
The Grand Rapids Ballet welcomed accomplished dancer, choreographer and artistic entrepreneur James Sofranko as its new artistic director on July 1. In this capacity, Sofranko is responsible for all artistic direction and planning for the GR Ballet.
Sofranko, a Cincinnati native, received dance training at The Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, and The Juilliard School in New York City, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance. After graduating in 2000, Sofranko joined the San Francisco Ballet, where he was promoted to soloist in 2007. His final performance as a dancer with the San Francisco Ballet was this May.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Proudest moment?
JS: My proudest moment was probably when I was hired into San Francisco Ballet straight after graduating from Juilliard. Juilliard sometimes has a reputation of being a school for only modern dancers, and I am very proud that I was able to show that my training in the modern techniques of Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and Jose Limon did not exclude classical ballet from my future.
I love all styles of dance and I believe that training in one style can inform another. Dancers today must be versatile and able to do so much more than just classical ballet. My versatility was one of my strengths at San Francisco Ballet and I’m very proud that I was able to dance in such a large variety of styles during my career.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Biggest career break?
JS: There is a role designed for a short man in Kenneth Macmillan’s “Elite Syncopations,” a ballet we did at San Francisco Ballet early in my career, set to Scott Joplin rags. A few of the shorter principals were cast in the role, but through injury or other circumstance, I ended up first cast in this role that required a lot of comedy and physicality.
I found myself, as a new corps member, dancing with long time principal (and the very tall) Muriel Maffre in this pas de deux with her legs constantly going over my head. I remember thinking to myself, “Whatever you do, just don’t drop her!” I was nervous, of course, but the comedy kept me on my toes and in the moment. To this day, audience members still come up to me and remind me of that duet and how that was the first time they remember knowing who I was.
Grand Rapids Magazine: What talent would you like to possess?
JS: I would love to be able to draw or paint. Unfortunately, I can barely do a stick figure.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Favorite movie of all time?
JS: Oh, so hard to choose! My wife and I could watch “When Harry Met Sally” forever. We know all the lines, but it’s still one of our “go-to” movies when we just want to relax and laugh. Also, “Bullets over Broadway” and “Meet the Parents” rank pretty high for comedy.
For more serious fare, I like “V for Vendetta” or anything written by Charlie Kaufman, and “West Side Story” is my favorite musical.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Morning or night person?
JS: Morning, although I can stay up late too… but I’m my best in the morning.
Grand Rapids Magazine: What are you most passionate about?
JS: I’m most passionate about showing people the value of art in their life and society. Without art, we lose sight of the beauty that humans are capable of. Without art, we lose a form of expression that speaks beyond language.
Grand Rapids Magazine: What makes you laugh?
JS: My two sons, Jack and Aiden!
Grand Rapids Magazine: Favorite getaway?
JS: In California, we love taking a drive to wine country; it’s like having Italy in your backyard.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Your best or worst habit?
JS: One (bad or good depending how you look at it) habit I have is doing too much and saying yes to too many projects! There’s just so much to do and not enough time!
Grand Rapids Magazine: How do you unwind?
JS: A walk on the beach with the family is always therapeutic.
Yuka Oba in George Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante, photo by Isaac Aoki
A Closer Look at Wild Sweet Love
by Jade Butler
For his inaugural Grand Rapids Ballet rep (short for repertory:a production inwhichacompanypresentsseveral different works in one show), new artistic director James Sofranko thoughtfully selected vastly different masterpieces. Three will be Grand Rapids premieres: Allegro Brilliante by modern master George Balanchine; Ghost Light by our choreographer-in-residence and Princess Grace Award winner, Penny Saunders; and Wild Sweet Love by internationally acclaimed choreographer Trey McIntrye; and a fourth will be a world premiere work choreographed by Sofranko himself. This tour de force is a fantastic way to showcase our versatile, multi-faceted dancers and to open our exciting new season with fresh perspective.
Allegro Brilliante is a classic “lights and tights” ballet centered around a principal couple, supported by four corps couples. The ballet is set to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.3 (listen to it here), originally created from a unique composition intended to be part of Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony. Choreographed in 1956, Allegro Brilliante is still performed regularly by New York City Balletand other ballet companies worldwide. The demanding choreography paired with a quick tempo is a classic Balanchine trademark everyone has come to love. You can truly “see the music [and] hear the dance” with this brilliant work; it is a thrilling and delightful addition to this diverse mixed bill.
Penny Saunders’ Ghost Light is an alluringly haunting work inspired by the singular light that is often left on stage when unoccupied. Popular superstition holds that it is put out to appease any possible cohabiting spirits in the theater, hence the term “ghost light.” Similar notions are the light provide opportunities for ghosts in the theater to perform onstage. The ghost light in this work magically draws the dancers out of the shadows with masterful light design by Scott Bolman. This is the fifth work by Saunders to be added to our repertoire.
Wild Sweet Love
Trey McIntrye‘sWild Sweet Love is set to hit songs by popular artists such as Queen, Lou Reed, The Partridge Family, and Roberta Flack, with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March thrown in for good measure. Originally created at Sacramento Ballet in 2007, Grand Rapids Ballet is the third company to add Wild Sweet Love into its repertoire. Delightfully quirky and athletic, Wild Sweet Love measures up to be just as brilliant as Allegro Brilliante and just as captivating as Ghost Light.
“Like Balanchine, McIntyre builds an excitingly modern dance upon a very classic foundation. Wild Sweet Love is both wild and sweet. And very, very good.”
—The Sacramento Bee
Get Your Tickets!
This is the perfect show to kick-off our exciting new 2018-19 season—the first under the artistic direction of James Sofranko. It has something for everyone and will showcase your favorite dancers (and introduce you to some new ones, too).
Single tickets don’t go on sale to the public on Monday, June 18 (mark your calendars), but you can purchase season subscriptions now. To do so, call our box office manager, Kelly, at 616.454.4771, x10, email her, or visit our website today.