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

LUIS GRANÉ: MEET THE VISUAL ARTIST BRINGING OUR WONDERLAND TO LIFE

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.

grand rapids ballet extremely close dance michigan
grand rapids ballet extremely close dance michigan

Madison Massara as Rebecca West in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House; photo by James Sofranko

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 Rebecca West from the 1886 four-act play, Rosmersholm.

Rosmersholm was almost titled White Horses, to represent the ghostly specters referenced throughout the play whenever disaster threatens. Indeed, Ghosts would also have been appropriate if Ibsen had not already used that title in his previous work. Much of this play deals with the influence previous actions and people from the past have on one’s present. Rosmersholm further explores ethics and morality and questions whether they can exist outside a highly codified structure such as religion.

You sit in Johannes Rosmer’s (played by company dancer Josue Justiz) grand living room under the gaze of the stern family portraits lining the walls. You are struggling to keep your own gaze from darting to the mill-race just visible outside the window on your right. The whir of the mill and the splashing water threaten to conjure an image of the story you read in the papers nearly a year ago: Mrs. Beata Rosmer, in her fragile mental state, jumping over the railing in a last terrible exercise of agency.

In spite of your best efforts, Rebecca West (played by company apprentice Madison Massara) notices your straying eyes and rises to gently close the curtains. You shudder suddenly: The lack of sunlight combined with the morbid theme of your thoughts casts an eerie gloom over the room.

“We miss Beata dearly, Johannes and I both,” Rebecca states in a matter of fact manner.

“May she find peace in heaven,” you offer, embarrassed by your inability to hide your distraction.

A non-committal “Mm,” is all you receive in return from Rebecca.

“So, you’ve lived at the Rosmer residence for a while now?” You ask, to break the uncomfortable silence.

“Yes, indeed. Beata was so unwell, another lady of the house was a necessity. And Johannes and I have become quite close. He is a great thinker, a man of upstanding character. We have been following the debates happening in town with great interest. In fact, the papers just declared his alignment with the liberal cause. And, you know, he has left the church after his many years as a pastor. The laws of religion no longer govern his life. Nor do they govern mine, but I grew up in the passionate embrace of life, in the whirlwind of secular pleasures. And indeed, I’ve mellowed under the influence of the Rosmer rationality and nobility. But I’ve influenced him Johannes in return. His abandonment of the church went against the values the Rosmers have held for centuries. The existence of God has been unquestionable throughout the generations that live in this house. But times are changing now, rapidly, and we must look for the ultimate truth. The world is vast and quickly moving towards an era of free thought.”

“Ahhh…” you respond, struggling to process this speech. Women in town rarely put forth their opinions so blatantly, especially such heretical notions. You grapple for a response.

“You say and Johannes are close? Is there a celebration to be had?”

“Oh no. No no, nothing like that.” For the first time Rebecca’s unflappable nature seems shaken. “We have lived together as close friends, with great affection. If you must know – he recently proposed. But I couldn’t accept. No no. It’s not for me to take that role. Even if I do love- Even if I do respect him dearly.”

“Mm, well. I see. So…” The conversation is officially out of your realm of comfort. “Would you be so kind as to allow me to take a walk? I could use some fresh air.”

“Of course. Please, take your time. You can leave your coat and things here if you like.”

You exit to the garden and feel a rush of emotions flood over you as you step into the now blindingly bright sun. Laughter at the absurdity of Rebecca’s radical notions. Then tears of confusion at the emotionless calm around Beata’s death. It’s as though the house, steeped in the composure of Rosmer tradition, had suppressed your ability to feel this deeply. Shaking your head to clear your mind, you realize you have no desire for re-entry, not even to gather your belongings, and hurry away from the home, leaving behind the whir of the mill.

A few weeks later a knock on your door interrupts your work. The Rosmer’s maid, Madam Helseth stands on your steps, jacket and briefcase in hand.

“Oh how kind!” You exclaim. “I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you, I truly meant to-”

Madam Helseth bursts into tears.

“Gone!” She sobs. “Gone like Beata. They both jumped over the- Oh I can’t even speak it! I can’t. If they had just married. They were so in love. I heard them whisper of it. But it would have been a marriage based on guilt. After Rebecca urged Beata to end her own misery she could never have taken her place in good conscience. And Johannes would have been haunted by the disapproval of his ancestors. But is death better? Is it better? Perhaps the truth is that peace is only found in that final rest. Yes! YES!”

You grab her shoulders, trying to calm her down.
“They had such IDEALS,” she screamed, hysterical.
“Shhh… shhh…” you whisper soothingly.
“They couldn’t do them justice. And now – NOW! The dead wife has taken them,” she gasps, and faints in your arms.

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

extremely close grand rapids ballet michigan
extremely close grand rapids ballet michigan

Connie Flachs as Ellida Wangel in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House. Photo by James Sofranko.

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 Ellida Wangel from his 1888 five-act play, Lady from the Sea.

Lady From The Sea diverges slightly from Ibsen’s general attachment to realism, including some folklore and fantasy. Indeed, the story is based on the same tale Hans Christian Anderson derived The Little Mermaid from. The text explores craving and desire and the battle between ego and self in reconciling what one has with what one wants. Unlike many of the women we will meet who leave their husbands, turn away from convention, or regret their lifelong devotion to society’s norms, the free spirit of Ellida eventually chooses to remain with her kind and honest husband, Dr. Wangel.

You are greeted at the Wangel residence with streaming rays of sun and the warm air of summer. You’ve rarely visited in the past: There isn’t much to do here in this small town but admire the flowers that dot the hills.

“We are so glad you’ve come!” Dr. Wangel greets you, welcoming and earnest as always. “Ellida (played by company dancer Connie Flachs) has really been in a terrible state as of late. I hope an old friend can bring my wife back to high spirits. She’ll be right along, she’s just nearly finished her daily bathing.”

Sure enough, a few minutes pass and Ellida wanders up the hill, her hair drying in the breeze, still damp from her ritual swim in the inlet.

You’ve always been a bit jealous of Ellida. Most call her strange, wild even, especially in this provincial area. Yet, you envy the aura of mystery she carries with her and her freedom of spirit.

“Ellida, my dear. It’s lovely to see you, and on such a beautiful day!”

“Lovely. Nothing has seemed lovely to me for a while now.” Her eyes drift over the garden gate, out to the ocean.

You’re a bit taken aback, but the Doctor had warned you she’d been suffering as of late.

“What has been bothering you?” You ask tentatively.

“I am tormented. Oh, my dear friend, it’s terrible! There is so little to keep me busy here in this stifling town. I long for the sea and for that strange, American sailor (played by company dancer Matt Wenckowski) I met long ago. Do you remember how I spoke of him? I told you of our romance right after it occurred. A passion like I had never know, flowing and crashing like the waves of the ocean.”

“But why does it torment you so? I see it as romantic, the young love of two free spirits-”

“You do not understand.” Ellida says, standing and pacing the garden restlessly. “I have no desire to think of this man. I want him out of my mind. I have a wonderful, devoted husband here and duties to his girls. But the obsession infests me, worms its way inside not just my brain but my body.”

“What can you possibly mean by that? Ellida, you’ve always been known to speak of things more intensely than most, but no memory can alter one’s physical being!”

“My son. My son that I lost so quickly. The son of Dr. Wangel and myself. He had… He had…” She swallows hard, composing herself. “He had the stranger’s eyes.”

You feel any envy of Ellida’s mystique receding, leaving with the tide. Instead, a true picture of her torment emerges, just like the boat cutting through the fog on the horizon.

“It’s him!” Ellida screams, noticing the boat. “The sailor is on that ship, I’m sure of it.”

“What—what will you do?” You ask, at a loss.

“I must speak to Dr. Wangel at once. I must talk with the stranger free from any obligations. I know I want to stay here. All of my logic tells me I should. Staying is convenient, sensible, right. But my body has a terrible attraction towards the sea… And I cannot choose freely between the two if I am anchored still to the doctor.”

She exits in a frenzy. You are left to sit with your own struggle between reason and feeling. Because of course, Ellida is mad. That sailor could not have given his eyes to her son. And she would be crazy to throw away the security of her life on this island to be with a man she knows only from memory. But, more deeply, below the logical rationalizing of your brain, you feel how she yearns for freedom to speak with this stranger. Ellida, when you were close to her in your youth, was never one to avoid the ocean on the days when the water was choppy. She would test the water for herself. Here, in her safe, secure life, she has been landlocked. The Doctor must unmoor her if he can ever hope for her to float back to choose a life on dry land.

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

grand rapids ballet extremely close michigan
grand rapids ballet extremely close michigan

Alexandra Meister-Upleger as Mrs. Alving in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House; photo by James Sofranko

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.

Next, we meet Mrs. Helen Alving from the 1881 three-act play Ghosts which premiered in Chicago, Illinois.

Like many of Ibsen’s plays, Ghosts was the subject of great controversy, especially because of its inclusion of sensitive topics including religion, venereal disease, and infidelity. While Nora in A Doll’s House deals with breaking the standing moral code, Ghosts illuminates the tragic consequences of conforming.

You’ve journeyed a long way out of town to call upon Mrs. Alving (played by company dancer Alexandra Meister-Upleger), and nothing about her home lends a sense of ease after your extended travels. There is a chill in the air and the cold rain soaks through your overcoat as you hurry down the path to the front door.

You’re welcomed in by Regina—the young maid Mrs. Alving has always treated as a member of her own family. As you warm your hands by the fire, Mrs. Alving arrives, her image wearier than your memory of her: The lines around her mouth are deeply creased and a droop interferes with the proud posture of her youth. She is the portrait of a woman who has spent years holding herself together.

She places a book in your hand: It is not a text you would ever be caught reading.

“I admire your curiosity and thirst for information, Mrs. Alving, but really, I couldn’t possibly read a piece of literature that deals with—”

“Now, I know that Pastor Manders would never approve,” she interjects, “But I’ve found all sorts of information in this tome that I resonate with…”

She carries on talking about the radical novel, but you find yourself distracted by the smile dancing on her lips as she refers to Pastor Manders. It was rumored they were quite fond of each other and that she fled to him for refuge from her tumultuous marriage to the Captain, who is now deceased. But prior to his death, their son, Oswald (played by company dancer Isaac Aoki), was born and she and the Captain moved out here and the rumors were quelled.

“Oh! Oswald is doing beautifully!” She proclaims with a positivity that seems out of place in this dreary estate. “You should see the latest painting he’s been working on; it’s just wonder—”

She seems to have lost her voice, as well as her cheery air; Oswald is an artist who is now suffering due to the sins of his father.

“I have to tell you,” she whispers hoarsely. “All is not well. Oswald is contaminated. He’s been so tired, listless, since he’s returned home from abroad. He can’t work on his art. His joy for life has been infected. His doctor told him there is no chance of recovery. I tried so hard to save him, to keep him away from the influence of his degenerate father. I spent my life covering up my husbands’ infidelities and loose affairs. I had heard the talk of—was Nora her name?—the vile rumors about that woman who left her family. People would have spoken of me that way! I had to maintain order, uphold the law of my marriage, protect my son and our family’s reputation.”

“You chose nobility,” you offer, attempting to assuage her obvious distress.

“I chose cowardice,” Mrs. Alving refutes. “And for what? Devotion to duty did not result in devotion from my Captain.  Now, Oswald has the sickness.  This is my last chance to be brave.  I must choose whether to hold my son to the duty of life or to help him towards freedom.”

A silence falls between the two of you. Is she hinting at the unspeakable?  You’re not quite sure you understand her. You don’t know what to say.

“And now, I must ask you to take your leave. Regina will escort you back to town. Oswald, come say goodbye to our guest!”

Regina and Oswald appear at the staircase. For a moment, standing in the gloomy shadows of the hallway, their resemblance is striking. Regina steps out of the darkness with your jacket; she seems eager for you to leave.

“Goodbye Mrs. Alving, Oswald,” you nod to the mother and son who stand on the stoop, waving to you. You take one last look at the eerie estate, and when you turn back for a final wave the two have vanished.

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