We hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy during this unsettling time. Grand Rapids Ballet remains responsive to changing COVID-19 conditions as we keep the health and safety of our dancers, staff, and community as our first priority.

In compliance with federal, state, and local government recommendations, it is with the greatest of regret we announce the suspension of all remaining performances of the 2019-20 season, including Christopher Stowell’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (April 24-26 and May 1-3).

The good news? We are working diligently to bring you these performances at a later date; there’s nothing we’ll need more in the future than to have our human spirits lifted through the art of dance.

Additionally, Spring Break for Kids: Little Red Riding Hood (April 6-10) is cancelled and refunds are currently being processed and Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company’s Aladdin (March 13-15 & 21-22) will be postponed until a later date, as well.

We commit to providing you timely updates via email, our website, and social media. Due to the closure of Meijer-Royce Center for Dance and Peter Martin Wege Theatre, our administrative and box offices are not open, so please direct your questions to boxoffice@grballet.com or 616.454.4771 x10 and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.

Our motto is “What moves you?” Let us say we at Grand Rapids Ballet have been deeply moved by your sincere outpouring of concern and support. That’s why we continue to explore creative ways to stay connected with you while remaining in close discussions with West Michigan’s vibrant arts and culture community.

Thank you.

 

 

 

Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

James Sofranko, Artistic Director

 

 

 

Attila Mosolygo, School Director

 

grand rapids ballet coronavirus michigan

Grand Rapids Ballet has been monitoring the global outbreak of COVID-19 and planning for a variety of contingencies as the virus has spread. Our highest priority is to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of every audience member, dancer, student, parent, staff member, volunteer, and our West Michigan community. We are also reviewing guidance from government authorities at the federal, state, and local governments. Ensuring health and safety now means taking actions to limit potential exposure to the virus and create social distancing.

We encourage you to learn more about the virus, free virtual screening, symptoms, ways to prevent transmission, and more from our friends and partners at Spectrum Health.

Effective Friday, March 13, the following performances have been postponed:

  • MARCH 13 | Aladdin | 7:30pm | Peter Martin Wege Theatre
  • MARCH 14 | Aladdin & Jasmine’s Royal Tea | 11am | New Hotel Mertens
  • MARCH 14 | Aladdin | 2pm | Peter Martin Wege Theatre
  • MARCH 15 | Aladdin | 2pm | Peter Martin Wege Theatre
  • MARCH 21 | Aladdin | 2pm | Peter Martin Wege Theatre
  • MARCH 22 | Aladdin | 2pm | Peter Martin Wege Theatre

The following performances have been cancelled:

  • APRIL 6-10 | Spring Break for Kids: Little Red Riding Hood | 11am | Peter Martin Wege Theatre

TICKET POLICY FOR POSTPONED PERFORMANCES
Aladdin and Aladdin & Jasmine’s Royal Tea have been postponed. New dates to be announced and no refunds are being issued at this time.

TICKET POLICY FOR CANCELLED PERFORMANCES
For Spring Break for Kids refunds, contact our box office via email at boxoffice@grballet.com. Please provide your name, performance date, # of tickets purchased, and contact number and we will get back to you as quickly as possible with options.

GRAND RAPIDS BALLET CLOSURE DATES
Effective Friday, March 13, Grand Rapids Ballet administrative and box office staff will be working remotely and the office will be physically closed through Sunday, April 12.  However, we will have the ability to answer ticket inquiries and requests by phone on a limited basis and will get back to you as quickly as possible. In the meantime, tickets may always be purchased online at grballet.com.

GRAND RAPIDS BALLET SCHOOL CLOSURE DATES
Effective Friday, March 13, Grand Rapids Ballet School offices will be closed and no classes will be held through Sunday, April 5. You will receive updates via email should this date change.

We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your understanding. Thank you for your continued support of Grand Rapids Ballet and Grand Rapids Ballet School.

Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director

James Sofranko, Artistic Director

Attila Mosolygo, School Director

 

 

 

Photo by Isaac Aoki

A conversation with Marketing Director Michael Erickson

Next up in conversation with the nine choreographers of Jumpstart 2020 is trainee Sophia Stefanopoulos. You can read her full bio here.

Q:  Hi, Sophia. Tell us about your piece for Jumpstart 2020. What’s the title?

A. My piece is entitled Chroma.

Q: What inspired you?

A: Whether you’re looking at art in a museum, noting people’s fashion as they walk past you, or seeing what’s outside your window, the colors of every day things we see can provoke thoughts. Simple but beautiful colors can connect qualities with matching tones. Red for passion, yellow for happiness, blue for sadness, etc. Everyone has their own interpretation and association of colors with specific qualities that can make them feel a certain way. I wanted to explore that concept in a neoclassic ballet piece where the girls resemble colors and let that influence the way each one moves. Although they have unique sets of characteristics, they can all work together in harmony, just like a work of art.

Q: How does this message translate into your choreography? 

A: Choreographically, all the Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, and Gerald Arpino pieces I’ve learned and performed have influenced me in the creative process. They are artists that have always inspired me as a dancer and especially have as a choreographer for this piece.

Q: Tell us about your musical selections.

A: I have two pieces: Three Romances Without Words Op. 17: No. 2 Allegro Molto, composed by Saint Saëns, and Sonata for Cello and Piano in A Major, FWV 8: IV Allegro Poco Mosso, composed by Franck. Both pieces are played by Julian Steckel and Paul Rivinius.

Q: Is your piece contemporary or classical?


A: I would call this neo-classical (which refers to the 20th-century style of classical ballet exemplified by the works of George Balanchine).

 

Q: So, you’re choreographing this piece on your fellow dancers. Is that a satisfying process? 


A:
I’ve loved bringing my piece to life! Seeing the progress through every rehearsal was so exciting and gratifying, but it also challenged me to keep going and creating. I really enjoyed working with each of the girls in my piece. Just as they are learning the choreography from me, I’ve been learning from them as well.

Jumpstart is our annual showcase of emerging talent featuring the dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet as both choreographers and dancers. Artistic Director James Sofranko provides this platform for them to explore their artistic vision and bring their inspiration to life by creating short works for the people of West Michigan while gaining valuable experience as choreographers.

Jumpstart 2020 is March 6-8 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. For tickets, visit our website, Ticketmaster, or call 616.454.4771 x10 today. 

grand rapids ballet jumpstart 2020

grand rapids ballet jumpstart 2020

Photo by Isaac Aoki

A conversation with Marketing Director Michael Erickson

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to sit down with as many of the choreographers of Jumpstart 2020 as I can. Mind you, there are nine—yes, nine!—this year, so I’ll do my best. The show is March 6-8 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre and tickets are available here.

Jumpstart is our annual showcase of emerging talent featuring the dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet as both choreographers and dancers. Artistic Director James Sofranko provides this platform for them to explore their artistic vision and bring their inspiration to life by creating short works for the people of West Michigan while gaining valuable experience as choreographers.

First up is James “Jimmy” Cunningham who joined the Company in 2019. You can read his full bio here.

Q:  Thanks for your time, Jimmy. Tell us about your piece for Jumpstart 2020. What’s the title?

A. Of course. My piece is entitled Butterfly Walking.

Q: What inspired you?

A:  Initially, I stumbled across a motivational podcast as I was scrolling through my social media feedThe message centered on not fearing change when that very change may give you the potential to become something better than what you currently are. The podcast used a lot of metaphors to make its point, but there was one about a butterfly which really resonated with me: Don’t be the butterfly that merely walks. Butterflies have big beautiful wings and they are meant to fly!

Q: How does this message translate into your choreography? 

A: Well, first, I knew I didn’t want to create something literal and have the dancers flying around the stage like actual butterflies (laughs); I wanted something deeper.  So I took the ideas of flight, fear and hesitation, and change and growth; threw in different kinds of relationships; and I took it to the studio. Hopefully, the audience will find the end result poetic and moving. I do. 

Q: Obviously, music plays a big part in the creation of any work. What about yours?

A: My piece has four different sections featuring the beautiful music of three female cellists/composers:  Julia Kent, Zoë Keating, and Hildur Guðnadóttir. (Listen to their beautiful music on Spotify below.) 

Q: Anything about the set, lighting, and costume design on which you’d like to elaborate?  


A: I made a sketch for the costume design and was lucky enough to work directly with our amazing costume shop manager, Ron Altman, to make my vision come to life. As for any set design, I plan to keep it simple by utilizing the black curtain and white backdrop that exists at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
Hopefully, I can get the dancers to emerge from the light in an interesting, dramatic way, but that’s still a thought in progress.

 

Q: Is your piece contemporary or classical?


A: Classical lines and coordination w
ith a contemporary freedom, and some quirky shapes.  I like to build the use of momentum into my choreography.  With classical ballet everything can sometimes seem calculated, manufactured, refined, and delicate.  I find there is a special kind of poetry in the movement when you give into the force of it or add momentum.  The recovery tells a different story and makes the dance exciting to watch.  To me it can appear more human and evoke or emulate emotion. 

 

Q: So, you’re choreographing this piece on your fellow dancers. Is that a satisfying process? 


A: The dancers have been great to work with — so open to my ever-changing ideas.
They ask questions and provide constant inspiration with their thoughts and their natural coordination. I appreciate their patience, too; I know from being on the other side that it’s hard when the plan changes or suddenly the choreographer changes your favorite step.  I also tend to create in a cut-and-paste kind of way. My creativity isn’t consistently linear. They are on board with me and for that I am so grateful. Thank you!

Jumpstart 2020 is March 6-8 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. For tickets, visit our website, Ticketmaster, or call 616.454.4771 x10 today. 

 

 

eternal desire grand rapids ballet love stories

Learn more about the love stories fueling the passion behind the scenes of Eternal Desire

A Q&A with Grand Rapids Ballet’s Marketing Coordinator, Julie Lesniak

eternal desire grand rapids ballet love stories

Paul Vasterling’s Dracula photo by Karyn Kipley courtesy Nashville Ballet

In the spirit of Eternal Desire, our Valentine’s Day weekend program, we are sharing the love stories of some of your favorite Company dancers. Today we feature Alexandra Meister-Upleger who joined us in 2018 and her husband, Jon Upleger, who has been a Company dancer with Nashville Ballet since 2000.

Q: Alex, thank you for sitting down with us. How did you and Jon meet?

A: Of course. This is a fun idea; I’m happy to help. We met dancing together at Nashville Ballet. As silly as this sounds, I remember we used to flirt during The Nutcracker party scene rehearsals. A week after the performance, we went on a date, and now we’re married.

Q: What is your favorite part about being with Jon?

A: There is so much I love about being with Jon but one thing that particularly stands out is how much he cares that we actively communicate about how to maintain a strong and healthy relationship.

eternal desire grand rapids ballet love stories

Photo by Anthony Matula

Q: What does love look like to you in one word or sentence?

A: “Sacrifice.”

Q: You’ve dated and married a dancer. What’s the best part of that relationship and what’s the most challenging?

A: The best part is we share the same passion. We can always “talk shop” and have really wonderful discussions about our art form. He also understands this career and was supportive when I needed to make a change and move to a different Company. Consequently, the worst part is spending most of our marriage in different cities, but it certainly makes Jon and me cherish the time we do have together even more.

Q: Do you have #couplegoals?

A: Ha! I love that question.Our long term goal is definitely to start a family one day; we can’t wait to have children. Our short term goal is to stick to our budget. You know: the fun adult stuff (laughs).

See Alexandra and the rest of your favorite Grand Rapids Ballet dancers in Eternal Desire, February 14-16 & 21 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Tickets are on sale now on Ticketmaster, our website, at our box office at 341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, or by calling 616.454.4771 x10 today. 

junior company aladdin grand rapids ballet michigan

Learn more about Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company’s production of Aladdin

A Q&A with Grand Rapids Ballet’s Marketing Coordinator, Julie Lesniak

junior company aladdin grand rapids ballet michigan

Before Aladdin opens on March 13 and runs for two weekends at Peter Martin Wege Theatre, I went behind-the-scenes with choreographer, former professional dancer, and current Grand Rapids Ballet School and Junior Company Director, Attila Mosolygo. I wanted to learn more about his creative process and what audiences can expect from his production of this classic story.

Q: Attila, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions today. Is this your first time choreographing Aladdin?

A: You’re welcome. Yes, this is my first time choreographing this story myself and on the Junior Company. It’s very exciting to bring new material to the city and to our student dancers.

Q: What inspired your choice?

A: As a child, I read Aladdin and really enjoyed it. Fast forward to now and my son and daughter are big fans of the story, too. I thought it would make a great children’s ballet since it is obviously a story that is loved by many generations. My family is the perfect example.

aladdin grand rapids ballet junior company michigan

Q: What are the similarities and differences between this production of Aladdin and the Disney movie with which so many audiences are familiar?

A: Though my interpretation of the story is based on a folktale from the book One Thousand and One Nights and not the Disney movie, there are similarities. For instance, our story will have some of the same characters, but a key difference in ours is Aladdin’s mom is part of the ballet. Also, there will be not one but two genies in our version: the Genie of the Ring and the Genie of the Lamp.

Q: Who doesn’t need more magical genies in their life, right? That’s great! I hear a giant dragon will make an appearance, too. Tell us more.

A:  The dragon opens our story so he’s very important in setting the tone for the entire production which is why I’ve been working so hard to create him myself. This addition was my idea as I wanted to give a little background on the origins of the magic oil lamp. Building the dragon was a challenge, since I had never made one before. But I like a challenge as people know. There was a lot of paper, foam, and glue involved and I used vibrant colors to catch the attention of the audience right away. His character is as important as any other in the show and I know he’s going to love the applause (laughs).

aladdin grand rapids ballet school junior company michigan

Q: Wow, we are certainly excited to see him on stage! What about costumes and lighting? How will each compliment the dragon?

A: For both costumes and lighting I wanted strong, energetic colors; I want to make a big statement on stage. Costumes are designed by our costume shop manager, Ronald Altman. Once costumes are in place, we can begin designing the lighting plot, so that’s still very much a work in progress. It will be eye-catching and full of excitement, though. I can guarantee it.

aladdin grand rapids ballet junior company michigan

Q: Before you get back to work, how would you describe this production of Aladdin in one word?

A: The first word that comes to mind — or I would like audience members to think of when they see the ballet— is inspiring. The Junior Company dancers work very hard to bring my vision to life and they take my directions very seriously. For some, it is their first time performing with the group, so they have to give me their trust and be willing to try new things. Senior members of the company are wonderful role models for the new dancers as I am asking them to do things they have never done before. It makes for a very exciting creative process for everyone involved. This ballet is a great way to introduce children and adults to the wonderful world of costumes, lights, sets, props, choreography, storytelling, music, and the magic of dance. This is certainly a production full of adventure that you and your family don’t want to miss!

See the Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company preform Aladdin, March 13- 15 and 21-22 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Tickets are on sale now on Ticketmaster, our website, and our box office at 341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, or by calling 616.454.4771 x10 today.

grand rapids ballet eternal desire valentine valentine's day

Learn more about the love stories fueling the passion behind the scenes of Eternal Desire

A Q&A with Grand Rapids Ballet’s Marketing Coordinator, Julie Lesniak

 

grand rapids ballet eternal desire valentine valentine's day

Company Dancer James Cunningham and his wife Chisako Oga; photo by Jessi Petty

In the spirit of Eternal Desire, our Valentine’s Day weekend program, we thought it would be meaningful to share the love stories of some of your favorite Company dancers. Today, we’ll start with James Cunningham, who joined us in 2019. His wife, Chisako Oga, is a second soloist with Boston Ballet.

Q: Jimmy, thanks for sitting down with me today and sharing your story. Let’s start with the easy question: How did you and Chisako meet?

A: My pleasure. Chisako and I met dancing at Cincinnati Ballet. We were paired together to dance, but it took almost an entire year for me to work up the nerve to ask her out. Finally, one day in the spring, I spontaneously asked her over to my apartment for dinner, she said yes, and the rest is, well, history.

grand rapids ballet valentine valentine's day eternal desire

Photo by Peter Mueller

Q: How do your personalities balance each other?

A: We are almost total opposites, so I would say we are living proof that opposites attract. Although we challenge each other sometimes, it only helps us to grow and become more connected and build trust in the end. One of the major differences is I am introverted and she is very extroverted. I find it is easier to learn about yourself and grow when you and your partner have a healthy balance. When there is respect for these differences, it is nice to have the other person there to help you with your challenges because they understand you but they also have another helpful point of view.

Q: What does love look like to you in one word or sentence?

A: Great question. For me it’s “Forgiveness.”

Q: You’ve dated and married a dancer. What’s the best part of that relationship and what’s the most challenging?

A: The best part is easy: We understand each other’s unique passion for the art form. We are both extremely dedicated and empathize with the ups and downs of our careers.  In some ways, only a dancer knows a dancer’s struggle.  The not so best part is finding balance in your life. It’s hard to not bring work home making it easy to lose balance in your relationship and life. Also, we live in different states for the time being and this long distance poses obvious challenges. A dancer’s career is relatively short, so for us the best part and the worst part work together in a way to help us understand each other even better.

grand rapids ballet valentine valentine's day eternal desire

Photo by Peter Mueller

Q: An ideal Saturday with Chisako?

A: Sleeping in with lots of morning snuggles followed by brunch at a fun restaurant and, of course, lots of conversation over great coffee.  Then maybe a seasonal activity, preferably outdoors. If we decide to stay in, we love to cook, so we usually treat ourselves to a nice meal we prepare together starting with a cheeseboard and finishing with some sort of chocolate dessert. Then probably Netflix and chill…as long as I don’t let her browse the endless options for too long!

See James and the rest of your favorite Grand Rapids Ballet dancers in Eternal Desire, February 14-16 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Tickets are on sale now on Ticketmaster, our website, at our box office at 341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, or by calling 616.454.4771 x10 today. 

Grand Rapids Ballet Firebird Michigan Dance

Review: Firebird is an astounding display of Grand Rapids Ballet’s unbelievable talent

Written by  Marin Heinritz for Revue West Michigan 

Grand Rapids Ballet Firebird Michigan Dance

Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird; photo by Scott Rasmussen

 

With Firebird, Grand Rapids Ballet’s exquisite season opener, the company shows its extraordinary range, relevance, and reach under James Sofranko’s artistic direction, and that they never been stronger, better, or more beautiful as a company.

Though the program includes a variation of the titular work choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and set to Igor Stravinsky’s first classic composition, there is so much more to this show than this beloved storybook ballet based on a Russian folktale and originally commissioned for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghiliev’s Ballet Russes with choreography by Michel Fokine.

Thankfully so. For though the dancers’ technique and expressivity is excellent, their storytelling ability is constrained by the limitations of Possokhov’s choreography, and much of the other works in this program better showcase the extraordinary talent of this company. And yet, Yuka Oba-Muschiana’s Firebird is still mystical; Josue Justiz’s Prince and Julia Turner’s Princess are adoring, pained and lovely; and Matthew Wenckowski’s Kaschei is both terrifying and charming.

Their Firebird is still an audience pleaser and an enormous achievement with a huge corps de ballet and that gorgeous score; however, the program might have been better named “Cold Virtues,” after Adam Hougland’s truly stunning dance that originally premiered in 2003 for Louisville Ballet. It is riveting and disturbing, and will haunt the memory of anyone who sees it.

Raw and elemental, this dystopic piece looks like a sepia photograph sprung to life and feels as if it’s from another time yet also familiar. Shot through with masculine energy, seven men and seven women, all lithe, nimble, fierce, and strong, with angular arms and soft shoes, use every ounce of their classical training to create an unforgettable cinematic modern-infused ballet, with pairs Alexandra Meister-Upleger and James Cunningham as well as Emily Reed and Steven Houser at the center.

Set to Philip Glass’s “Glass Violin Concerto” with wild, dark, dramatic strings and costumes by Marion Williams, the dancers make backwards entrances with outstretched arms; they roll on the floor, shimmy, sway, and embrace in pairs; they get dragged across the floor on a diagonal line with 180 degree turnout; they freeze in midair; they move in a circle as if in a folk dance with one dancer at the center; and they otherwise create stunning lifts, extraordinary angles and swirls to heart-racing effect.

Principal dancers Yuka Oba-Muschiana and Matthew Wenckowski are transfixing in Penny Saunders’ sensual pas de deux “Again.” The tension-filled contemporary piece begins and ends with the dancers in deep bows to the audience and with moments in-between that shift from the closeness of full-body contact lifts in attitude to their being apart, with a distance between them that feels bigger than that which we can see. Their performance is elegant and nuanced, particularly as they draw circles on the floor with their toes as well as in the air with their bodies. It is gorgeous.

The opening piece, “Mozart Symphony,” is a wonderful original work by Artistic Director James Sofranko that premiered last June at Grand Rapids’ Festival of the Arts. The classical romantic dance is an ebullient celebration of Mozart’s notoriously joyful music that pays terrific homage to the master for its musicality. Though in an understated way, it takes a nod from George Balanchine and is very reminiscent of New York City Ballet’s heyday with its uplifted pas de deux, pleasing asymmetrical work, and glorification of the feminine yet with very strong male dancers. Lighthearted and at times funny, the five pairs of dancers each carry their own personality and quality, often spritely and impish. Little frog-legged lifts and a move in which a female dancer nestles herself under her partner’s arm into his embrace are but two examples of sweet yet lasting motifs.

Firebird is so much more than its titular piece and truly shows off the best Grand Rapids Ballet has to offer, which is more than can reasonably be expected of a professional regional ballet company. This is a group of dancers whose work is more than ready to be launched on a national if not international stage. And yet West Michigan patrons are among the lucky few who receive the gift of their live performance in the here and now.

Firebird
Grand Rapids Ballet
Oct. 18-25
grballet.com

Helen Daigle: Staging Cold Virtues for a West Michigan Audience

A Q&A with Grand Rapids Ballet’s Marketing Director, Michael Erickson

grand rapids ballet firebird cold virtues

Helen Daigle photo by Bailee Columber

Our powerful production of Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird is just a part of of what promises to be an exceptional presentation of dance. The show also includes a world premiere from our resident choreographer, Penny Saunders, entitled Again; Artistic Director James Sofranko’s Mozart Symphony for the first time on the Peter Martin Wege Theatre stage; and Adam Hougland’s Cold Virtues. Adam is the Principle Choreographer for Louisville Ballet and Resident Choreographer for Cincinnati Ballet. He is also Artist in Residence at The Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

grand rapids ballet firebird cold virtues dance

Terez Dean with the full company of Smuin Ballet performing Adam Hougland’s Cold Virtues. ©Keith Sutter

Adam’s a very busy man, to say the least, and was unavailable to come to Grand Rapids until a week before opening night — this is often the case with in-demand choreographers due to previous commitments and grueling schedules. It’s also true that, regardless of their availability, many choreographers don’t restage their own work and often prefer to bring in someone with that specific skill set. That’s where Helen Daigle comes in.

After 20 seasons with Louisville Ballet, Helen retired and transitioned to the Company’s artistic staff as ballet mistress. One of her myriad responsibilities there includes working with other companies to stage productions from its extensive repertoire. And we were lucky to have her spend time in our studios perfecting Adam’s Cold Virtues on our dancers. Let’s learn more about her and her process, shall we?

Q:  Welcome to Grand Rapids Ballet, Helen. Tell our readers a little about yourself.

A:  Thank you. Sure, I started dancing at the age of seven and received my early training from Baton Rouge Ballet Theater before attending Joffrey Ballet School and The School of American Ballet in New York. My professional career started at 18 with Feld Ballets/NY and Ballet Hisapanico before joining Louisville Ballet.

Photo by Bailee Columber

Q:  Have you worked with Grand Rapids Ballet before? If not, what are you finding most surprising about the Company and its dancers?

A:  I have not had the pleasure of working here before, and it is a pleasure. The dancers are lovely and very quick to take in the material I am throwing at them every day.

Q:  So, you’re here staging Cold Virtues for our production, Firebird, opening October 18. Tell us about this rather deliciously dark work – what does it mean to you and what will the audience take away from it? Is there a “story?”

A:  This was the first Ballet Adam created new on Louisville Ballet and it truly holds a special place in my heart. It is a somewhat dark work both in lighting and mood and while it does have a narrative, I feel it is more of a journey both for the dancers and audience. Certainly the two featured women are altered by their experiences during the piece, and I think the audience will be, too.

grand rapids ballet firebird cold virtues

Photo by Bailee Columber

Q:  How do you approach the acting component. I mean, it’s one thing to teach steps, but how do you work with the dancers to pull out the emotion?

A:  I talk a lot about the energy or intent of a step. Dancers act with their whole bodies so if they feel the intent of each step then the emotion will be imbued in every step they dance.

Q:  What’s the best piece of dance advice you’ve received and from whom?

A:  John Magnus, with whom I studied at The Joffrey Ballet School, said to me: “Never bring the outside world into ballet, but always take ballet into the outside world.” I took it to mean I had permission to let everything go when I stepped into a studio and only dance and, in turn, I could dance my way through the rest of my life and that was OK, too. It’s a lovely thought, isn’t it?

Q:  It really is. We could all benefit from dancing through life a bit more, couldn’t we? Speaking of dancing through life, what’s next for you?

A:  Louisville Ballet has a triple bill October 18-19, so I start work with the stager for George Balanchine’s Serenade first thing on Monday.

For even more information on Helen’s time here, listen to her recent appearance with Artistic Director James Sofranko on WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin.   

See Helen’s efforts when Cold Virtues runs as part of Firebird October 18-20 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 x10 or visit grballet.com today! 

 

 

midsummer nights dream grand rapids ballet michigan dance anne mueller

Staging A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a dream come true for Anne Mueller

A Q&A with Grand Rapids Ballet’s Marketing Director, Michael Erickson

anne mueller midsummer nights dream grand rapids ballet michigan dance

Photo by Bailee Columber

A ballet company’s rehearsal schedule is complex and layered; at any given time, the dancers may be working on as many as four or five different productions. That’s why it’s not at all surprising to see Anne Mueller in Studio A staging the final production of our moving 2019-20 season, associate artistic director of  the National Ballet of Canada Christopher Stowell’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will not open until April 24, 2020.

So, when I saw this multi-faceted and amazingly accomplished dance professional taking a rare (and short) lunch break, it seemed as good a time as any to sit down for a lightening-round Q&A to get to know her a little better.

Q: First, welcome to West Michigan. We’re so happy you’re here.

A:  Thank you. I’m loving Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Ballet; the vibe is wonderful in both the city and the studios, which makes my job an absolute pleasure.

Anne Mueller staging Stowell;s A Midsummer Nights Dream; photo by Damion Van Slyke

Q:  Speaking of Grand Rapids Ballet, what sets a company like ours apart from others with which you’ve worked.

A:  Well, every company has a unique culture, of course, but what I’m loving here is the generosity and openness the dancers have in their work process.  They seem excited to receive and apply information, which makes the staging process fun and effective.  They are taking on their characters beautifully, which is so important in a story ballet, especially one with a fairly complex plot.

Q:  Enough about us. Tell us more about yourself.

A:  <laughs> Sure. I live in Boise, Idaho with my husband, Lars, and dog, August.  I work for Ballet Idaho as Artistic Associate, which is a fancy way of saying I spend a lot of time in the studio with the company dancers teaching class, running rehearsals, staging ballets, assisting visiting choreographers and stagers, and supporting the work of our artistic director, Garrett Anderson.  Before my current job, I was co-artistic director of The Portland Ballet, was managing director for a theatre company, and held several positions on the artistic staff of Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT), where I also danced for 15 years.  At OBT, I worked for many years with Christopher Stowell who was artistic director there from 2003 to 2012.  Christopher brought an amazing repertoire of ballets to OBT and also choreographed a number of original works.  He and I enjoyed working together a great deal on new works, so I frequently danced in his ballets and sometimes assisted him as his choreographic assistant. I was also a co-founder of Trey McIntyre Project and danced for the company during the summers of 2005 to 2007.  I’ve staged ballets for McIntyre, Stowell, and Nicolo Fonte and have worked recently with the National Ballet of Canada as an assistant to choreographer Guillaume Côté and as a guest rehearsal assistant on The Second Detail and on Karen Kain’s Swan Lake.  

Yuka Oba-Muschiana and Steven Houser in Stowell’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; photo by Bailee Columber

Q:  You mention the term “staging” which you’re doing for our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Can you tell our readers what that means exactly?

A:  Of course. In terms of my work here now, I’m responsible for teaching the dancers in certain roles all of the steps that they’ll do as they portray these roles; this includes musical, spacing, and qualitative information, as well as elements of storytelling and character.  I’m tasked with re-creating the choreography in a way that’s as true to the choreographer’s intent as possible.  Sometimes small adjustments can be made to make things “fit” better with the current cast of dancers, but these changes are generally small tweaks rather than major changes.

Q:  How interesting! So in addition to teaching the actual dance steps, you’re also an acting coach. Which makes me wonder: What do you enjoy most about dance personally and professionally?

A:  At this point in my career — being almost ten years past my performing career — what I love most is connecting with dancers artistically and passing on information to them that I’ve gained throughout my journeys in dance.  I love to help them find ways to do things better and to improve. I find it very satisfying.

Q:  That’s a perfect segue to my next question: What’s the best piece of dance advice you’ve received and from whom?

A:   I’ve received a ton of great advice from many brilliant teachers and coaches through the years, but one that sticks out was, coincidentally, from Christopher Stowell. Early in my time with him, he was coaching me on Balanchine’s Duo Concertant which is one of my favorite roles; he observed I really felt my dancing in my legs rather than my upper body.  When he told me this, it shifted my thinking dramatically; in the years that followed, I enjoyed a whole new and different way of exploring movement, and it helped me grow considerably as an artist.

See Anne’s efforts when A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs April 24-26 and May 1-3 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 x10 or visit grballet.com today!