By Katie Aaberg

For those of you tuning in to keep up with Company dancer Madison Massara’s journey abroad, we have an update! Please read our previous blog post for more information on the program, how she applied, and how she funded her trip.

As you know, she has flown far from home this summer to Prague to attend the International Ballet Masterclasses. Today marks her tenth day abroad, almost the end of her journey. Soon she will be returning home to join us for the 2019-20 season, but until then check out what she has been up to in Europe.

I had class this morning and variations. In pas de deux class I was living my best life. I danced with a student from Royal Ballet, who was such a pleasure to work with and was very kind. After classes for the day Isabelle Ciaravola (Etoile from Paris Opera Ballet) had an interview with us and it was so fascinating to hear her story and to watch videos of her dancing. A large group of us dancers went out for Pho after class and we had a fun evening of talking and laughing. Excited for another day tomorrow!” 

“After dance I walked back to the dorms and came across some more gorgeous architecture then ate and got ready to go out for a fun night.”



After classes for the day we all went out to this adorable restaurant to celebrate our friend Sophie’s birthday, I had a quinoa avocado salad with pomegranate and grilled veggies (so good). Had a productive fun day and am excited to have some new teachers tomorrow.”




“Today started out great. I had the most amazing technique class with Daria Klimentova and she pulled me aside and asked where I was from and complemented my dancing, and after class had me do a photo of me jumping and her correcting me in the back.”








Photo by Katie Aaberg

By Katie Aaberg

Meet our new costume shop manager, Ronald Altman. Originally from northern Wisconsin, he has lived and traveled all over the US and abroad. His interest in dance and costuming started almost simultaneously early in his life: In high school he developed an interest for costuming and soon after started his dance career in college. Ron went on to dance with several dance companies including, Duluth Ballet, Academy of the Tidewater Ballet, Joffrey Concert Group, North Carolina Dance Theater, St. Louis Ballet, and New York Theater Ballet. Apart from this, Ron has danced in countless guest performances across the US, and in Japan and Iceland.

In total, he danced for over 20 memorable years, all while refining and developing his costume-design skills. Unlike other performers, Ron simultaneously worked in the studio and in the costume shop. During his time as a performer he created countless costumes for short dance works and full length ballets. While in New York, he worked with costume designer Barbara Matera Ltd. to create costumes for Broadway musicals such as Beauty and the Beast, Sunset Boulevard, Damn Yankees, Carousel, Crazy for You, and A Christmas Carol.

Photo by Katie Aaberg. “I am thrilled to be working with a ballet company I have observed for years.”

He received his Masters Degree in Dance from Ohio State University and joined the faculty and staff at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2017. During his time in Nebraska, he worked as the costume shop manager for theater and dance, and taught costume design, costume technology, costume history, and ballet technique classes.

Ron’s unique background of both being a performer and costume designer will be valuable in the upcoming season. He states that he has “great empathy for the dancers – having been one myself – and recognize the importance of functionality in a costume. I want the dancers to feel good and comfortable in what they are wearing.” 

Welcome, Ron! We are excited to present his work to you in our upcoming season. 

Photo by Isaac Aoki

By Katie Aaberg

Madison Massara is one of our newest company members and a Michigan native. She joined the company as a trainee in 2017 and was promoted to company dancer in 2019. Prior to her time at the ballet, she performed as a Guest Artist in Skye Ballet Center’s The Nutcracker; competed at YAGP and the Indianapolis International Ballet Competition; and attended various esteemed summer intensives.

“Day 1 in Prague. Got in at 8:30am Prague time and had the whole to day meet tons of new people, settle into the hotel, and explore the gorgeous city all day, witnessing all the beautiful architecture from all around Prague.”

This summer Madison has embarked on a new adventure. Madison spread her wings and soared far from home to Prague where she will be living for two weeks while she attends the International Ballet Masterclasses. The International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague was founded by former prima ballerina, Daria Klimentova. Her goal in creating the summer program was to bridge the gap between professionals and students. She wanted to provide rising stars and young professionals with an opportunity to engage with current artists to benefit from their experience and expertise.

“1st day of classes. I had a day full of dancing, learning, walking around town, and meeting more new people!”

After hearing about the opportunity from a friend, Madison quickly researched the program and filled out an application. Promptly after her submission she heard back with an acceptance. She was going to Prague! 

“Ate lunch on the river with a group of friends before our last class of the day.”

But how was she going to get there? Madison was intent on raising the money herself and decided to use the popular online platform GoFundMe as a way to secure funding for the trip. She blasted the GoFundMe through Facebook and with the generosity of her friends and family, Madison was able to fund her trip almost entirely. 

“Entrance to the studios. Another fun day of dancing. I had a wonderful class with Thomas Edur (artistic director of Estonian National Ballet) who introduced a lot of ballet philosophy into class which challenged me to reflect and come up with some personal philosophies.”

On July 27 Madison embarked on her first journey across the Atlantic. She said while she was most looking forward to meeting and learning from the esteemed faculty members, she also hoped to have time to explore the beautiful and historically rich city of Prague. She planned to immerse herself in the culture by touring the castles, visiting the medieval Astronomical Clock, attending museums, trying new food, and walking around to soak in the beauty of the city. She giggled when asked if she learned any Czech and replied that she planned on learning some before she left. 

“Today was a blast. In the morning I had class with Vladimir, then had another amazing variations class and we worked on the talisman variation.”

Good luck, Madison. Keep up to date with her journey through our Instagram!

“We had a fantastic interview with Thomas Edur (artistic director of Estonian National Ballet) and he discussed his career and philosophy behind ballet. I then went back to the hotel, ate, talked to my brother who is in London doing the Royal Ballets summer intensive, then I went to bed after another tiring yet inspiring day!”

Photo by Katie Aaberg

Grand Rapids Ballet School
Summer Intensive
Resident Assistants

Name: Keenan Kangas

Hometown: Lansing, Michigan

Dance experience: 10 years of musical theater and 5 years of ballet

Favorite food: Fettuccine alfredo

Favorite movie: Titanic

Favorite toppings on a pizza: Chicken barbecue

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Middle Earth

Favorite dance company: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Follow Keenan on Instagram

Photo by Katie Aaberg

Grand Rapids Ballet School
Summer Intensive
Resident Assistants

Name: Rebecca Levin

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Dance Experience: 15 years with an emphasis on ballet. Currently studies at Butler University.

Favorite movie: Monsters University

Favorite food: Mangoes and avocados

Best season: Summer

Favorite toppings on a pizza: Pineapple

Favorite ballet: Giselle

Follow Rebecca on Instagram

Photo by Katie Aaberg

Grand Rapids Ballet School
Summer Intensive
Resident Assistants

Name: Liz

Hometown: East Lansing, Michigan

Dance experience: 29 years. Received a BFA in dance from Oakland University and a master’s in Arts Development from University of Denver. Danced for various contemporary companies. Performed as a B-girl and a backup dancer.

Favorite movie: Some Like It Hot

Favorite food: Sushi

Best season: Fall

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Maui

Favorite choreographer: José Limón

Grand Rapids Ballet School Summer Intensive Nigel Tau

Grand Rapids Ballet School Summer Intensive Nigel Tau

Photo by Katie Aaberg

Grand Rapids Ballet School
Summer Intensive
Resident Assistants

Name: Nigel Tau

Hometown: Savannah, Georgia

Dance experience: 13 years. Trained at Next Generation and BalletMet. Currently dances with Grand Rapids Ballet as a company member.

Favorite food: Donuts

Favorite movie: Imitation Game

Favorite toppings on a pizza: Mac and cheese

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Japan

Favorite choreographer: Penny Saunders

Follow Nigel on Instagram

alice in wonderland grand rapids ballet

alice in wonderland grand rapids ballet

By company dancer Connie Flachs

Brian Enos stands in the front of the studio, dressed head to toe in black. His focused gaze is directed on the three girls learning Alice, waltzing across the center of the room.

“Good, good,” he declares softly. Approaching one of them, he asks her to stretch her leg farther in the arabesque pique and turn her pirouette more quickly. He demonstrates with fluid agility and she follows his lead, moving farther and with more dynamic range after incorporating these corrections.

Enos himself is a study in contrasts. Soft-spoken but direct. Kind but demanding. Even his succinctly styled mohawk hair is the opposite of what one would expect from a ballet choreographer. In essence, this makes him the perfect choice to choreograph Grand Rapids Ballet’s production of the classic story Alice in Wonderland, returning May 3-5 and 10-11, 2019, after it’s triumphant 2017 premiere.

Enos’ choreographic style draws on classical ballet technique, but the steps you will see on stage are a far cry from Swan Lake. The Mad Hatter and March Hare tango, the Cheshire Cat slinks jazzily across the floor, the White Rabbit spins neurotically with ferocious abandon. The score arranged by Brendan Vincent keeps with this fresh and modern feel. The story is taken out of the Victorian age and into a more abstract, timeless place. While the production has elements of the Disney version and is assuredly family-friendly, the ballet is modernized and complex.

Enos began his conception of the production by reading the original Lewis Carroll story. Despite the story’s original reception as “sheer nonsense,” Carroll’s puzzling world has persevered over time, appealing to both children and adults alike. Enos determined the ballet would follow the book more closely than the movie, incorporating some of the darker elements of the story and keeping with his sensibilities as a person.

Originally from San Francisco, Brian began studying ballet at 16. After his training at the Maria Vegh Ballet Centre and Houston Ballet Academy, he joined Houston Ballet at 18. He went on to dance for the acclaimed Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for eight years, before retiring from the stage in 2010. He is currently the artistic director of The Big Muddy Dance Company in St. Louis, Missouri.

Don’t be late for this very important date! Get your tickets to Alice in Wonderland today.

grand rapids ballet alice in wonderland michigan dance


Born in Argentina, Luis Grané studied medicine and worked in a human anatomy laboratory at Buenos Aires University before studying ine arts and graphic design. Following his true passion, Grané moved irst to London where he worked in advertising for almost four years, and then to Mexico, where he worked in visual arts and advertising and became strongly influenced by Mesoamerican Art.

Grané then moved to Toronto, where he won the Dick Friesen/Zlatko Grigic Award for Excellence in Animation at Sheridan College in 1996, and was recruited by DreamWorks Animation SKG. This meant relocating to Los Angeles, where he worked as an animator, visual effects artist, and character designer for DreamWorks, Pixar, Disney, Laika, Sony Pictures, Aardman, and Warner Brothers.

His credits include films as diverse as The Prince of Egypt, Spirit, Spiderman 2 (Academy Award Winner for Best Visual Effects), The Matrix, The Aviator, Ratatouille (Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Feature), Hotel Transylvania, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Boxtrolls. He has also collaborated with numerous renowned directors such as Sam Raimi and Richard Linklater.

While pursuing his career in Hollywood, Grané attended Peter Liashkov’s painting workshops for two years and studied painting with Bonita Helmer at Otis College of Art. Grané’s original work as an independent artist has been featured in group exhibits at the Pozzi Gallery in Buenos Aires, the Cartoon Museum in London, and the Enisen Gallery in Los Angeles, and worldwide as part of the Sketchtravel Book art project.

His work was also selected as the cover of the Totoro Forest Project book, an artistic venture that gathered prominent artists from around the world to save a forest in Japan. Grané currently works in his studio in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles and recently published his first solo book, Sad Stories.

Cassidy Isaacson as Hedda Gabler in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House

By company dancer Connie Flachs

We continue our series of introductions to the famously strong female characters of playwright Henrik Ibsen that appear in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House in Extremely Close April 12-14 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.

Here we are introduced to Hedda Gabler from the 1890 four-act play.  Hedda Gabler is among Ibsen’s most famous works. It would be diminutive to describe this play as a drama about a housewife: The title alone demonstrates Hedda’s reluctance to assimilate into her husband’s family. Instead she clings to her aristocratic background. Hedda appears powerful but has little true agency. She strives, through manipulation and desperate acts, to influence the other humans in her midst. The play examines the struggle for existential meaning within societal boundaries as well as explores the neuroses of the human psyche.

The sound of gunshots catches you off-guard as you approach the newly purchased, stylish manor of Professor Tesman (played by company dancer Steven Houser). You don’t often come to this refined part of town, but he had asked you to meet him to go over a recent homework assignment. You wonder how he affords this home on the modest salary of a research fellow. Not to mention his recent six month extravaganza of a honeymoon. Rumors say his wife Hedda Gabler (played by company dancer Cassidy Isaacson) – now Hedda Tesman – demanded the trip. Perhaps as a reparation for marrying below her means? Some had believed the daughter of the famous general would never settle on a husband.  You’ve spent many hours snickering with your peers over the absurdity of the match between Tesman’s earnest but exasperating bluster and Hedda’s class and glamour.

Another gunshot snaps you out of your reverie. The door to the manor swings open and the maids ushers you in to the expansive and beautifully decorated drawing room where Hedda herself sits, polishing a pistol, surrounded by fragrant bouquets.

“The professor will be down shortly.  Hedda will entertain you as you wait,” she informs you, and scurries off.

“Welcome,” Hedda says, fixing you with a piercing gaze. “Please sit down.” You make a move towards the chair furthest from the gun she still holds.

“Oh, not there, please.  Sit closer to me.” She pats the sofa next to her. You sit, tentatively, close enough to notice that every ten seconds or so her placid profile is marred by a twitch of the eye.

“So, Tesman tells me you’ve been incredibly helpful in his latest research.  You may even be part of the reason he has nearly secured his promotion.  I suppose I must thank you for your contribution to my husband’s work.” You nod, mutely.

“Well, I expect you used all your words on the research paper.” Hedda sighs disdainfully and rises to place the gun back in its display case.  She stays by the window, gazing blankly out.

“The flowers you have here are beautiful,” you babble nervously to fill the silence. “Gifts, I expect?  To celebrate the marriage of two souls newly in love?”

“HA!” Hedda snorts, and then regains her composure so quickly you are left wondering if you imagined the exclamation.

“Some do call it love…” she responds vaguely. “But lets talk about you.  What do you busy yourself with? Riding?  That was a favorite past time of mine as a child.  The freedom of it! Or perhaps shooting?  Another favorite.”

“No, no.  I don’t care for that at all.”  You shrink from her, hoping it’s imperceptible.

“Nonsense!” She says cheerily, her eyes suddenly gleaming.  “You’ll love it. Here!”  She retrieves the gun and places it in your hands, standing over you.  “See?  Do you feel the sense of control?  Doesn’t it feel powerful?”

“Hedda!” The professor’s voice rings from the corridor.  “What are up to with our guest?” You breathe a sigh of relief as Hedda removes the gun from your grip.

“We were just experimenting, George.  Something a little out of the ordinary.  Something of interest. For once.”

“Ahh, my Hedda.  Isn’t she lovely, uh?” He moves to kiss her cheek and misses as she pulls away and returns to her post at the window.  “Ah, well… Now, come to my study, we’ll talk about that paper.”

He ushers you into his room. Before the door closes you turn to catch a glimpse of this stunning and frightening woman.  She stands straight and poised, a picture of elegance apart from her arms, crossed in front of her chest, fingers clenched and nails digging into the flesh beneath her fine dress, as though fighting against a visceral scream.

For tickets to Extremely Close, call 616.454.4771 x10 or tap or click here.