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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.

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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.

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Yuka Oba in rehearsal as Nora Helmer in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House; photo by James Sofranko

By company dancer Connie Flachs

Now that we’ve met the author, Henrik Ibsen, let’s meet his famously strong female characters that appear in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House in Extremely Close April 12-14 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.

First up is Nora Helmer (played by company dancer Yuka Oba) from his 1879 three-act play, A Doll’s House, which premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 21.

The play is significant for the way it deals with the fate of a married woman, who at the time in Norway lacked reasonable opportunities for self-fulfillment in a male-dominated world. It aroused a great sensation at the time, and caused a “storm of outraged controversy” that went beyond the theater to the world newspapers and society.[Wikipedia]

Nora invites you into her immaculate sitting room, not too expensively furnished, but neat and orderly. She appears on first glance as the ideal nineteenth-century wife: dainty and saccharine-sweet like the macaroons she offers you. However, as you chat longer, you notice something is amiss. The doll-like existence she lives doesn’t fully suit her; her husband, Torvald (played by company dancer Nathan Young), treats her delicately, as though she is a child, without any agency. He draws attention repeatedly to her beauty and talks endlessly about their happiness. Stealing bites of macaroon as he looks away seems to be the only way she exercises her own power.

As her husband leaves the room, Nora leans in closely in confidence. Her previous smiles have vanished and a fire burns behind her eyes. She confesses she has recently taken out a secret loan to help pay for her husband’s medical treatment. At this point in history, women can’t partake in such financial endeavors so she cunningly forged a signature and she’s dealing with the fallout of it: blackmail.

“Something glorious is about to happen,” she whispers. Her husband is about to learn she has been performing “tricks” with other men in an attempt to pay off the debt ensued for his health. She believes he will sacrifice his reputation to protect her. You nod slowly, not wanting to mar her optimism, but leave with a queasy feeling about the matter.

No word comes from Nora over the next few weeks until a neighbor asks if you’ve heard of the Helmer’s scandal. “She just left,” your gossiping neighbor whisper-yells. “Walked out on him and the children. Can you even begin to fathom….?”

But you can. You have seen the fire in her eyes, you know of her defiance. Her husband failed her expectations, sacrificing his devotion and integrity to the woman he has married for the public theater of happiness and dignity. She was done playing the role of the doll. As the scene ends with the slam of a door, you wonder if you will see her again, free in the wild world outside the doll’s house.

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

extremely close grand rapids ballet

extremely close grand rapids ballet

By company dancer Connie Flachs

Grand Rapids Ballet’s next production, Extremely Close, includes Ibsen’s House, a ballet by Val Caniparoli (the choreographer of our production of The Nutcracker). This piece features a collection of literature’s most dramatic, complex, and emotive female characters including Nora from A Doll’s House, Hedda from Hedda Gabler, Rebecca West from Rosmersholm, Ellida from Lady from the Sea, and Mrs. Alving from Ghosts. But, before we meet these powerful women, we must meet the equally powerful playwright, Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), himself.

Depending on what year you choose, you could encounter Henrik in Norway, Italy, or Germany. Born Norwegian, Ibsen’s controversial plays led him to self-exile in Italy and Germany from 1862-1891. However, he was welcomed in his home country as a literary hero upon his return.

Ibsen’s plays observe the human condition. Known as the “father of realism,” he wrote pieces of theater that pick apart societal norms and peer inside the perfect Victorian facades to reveal the human struggles, angst, and complication within the living rooms.

If you met him at a party you may try to engage with him on the topic of women’s rights. After all, he was the first male playwright to incorporate female characters that existed on their own merit, rather than as a foil for the male role. Ibsen’s women pursue their own desires and fight for self-realization. However, Ibsen would cringe if you called him a feminist.

“That is not my agenda,” he may respond. “I write with no agenda. I am no feminist, but believe in the individual and their right to live with their personal beliefs and truth. Call me an observer. A realist, if you must.”

Ibsen certainly did pinpoint the uncomfortable, hidden effects of accepted social practices and taboos of the time. He had no problem with controversy. In fact, if you met him on his death bed, you would hear his final words: “Tvertimod (To the contrary)!”

Extremely Close runs April 12-14 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Tickets are available at online or by calling 616.454.4771 x10.

Next up, we’ll meet Nora from A Doll’s House…

The Nutcracker Grand Rapids Ballet Michigan
The Nutcracker Grand Rapids Ballet Michigan

The Nutcracker Snow Scene | Choreography: Val Caniparoli | Production Design: Chris Van Allsburg & Eugene Lee | Photo: Ray Nard Imagemaker

By Grand Rapids Ballet Apprentice Jade Butler

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 nutcracker grand rapids ballet michigan

By Jade Butler

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.

  • • This season, there are 14 performances including four shows at Midland Center for the Arts in Midland, Michigan and 10 at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids.
  • • 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.

festival of the arts grand rapids ballet michigan

Festival of the Arts is excited to announce its honorary co-chairs for the event’s 50th year – Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director for Grand Rapids Ballet and James Sofranko, the new Artistic Director for Grand Rapids Ballet. The two were selected to celebrate the link to the very first Festival of the Arts when the Ballet performed on Calder Stage nearly 50 years ago.

“I am excited to collaborate with Glenn and James to create a celebration of Festival’s 50 years that will be memorable and special for the entire community,” said David Abbott, Executive Director for Festival of the Arts. “We have already begun the work of highlighting the relationship during next year’s 50th celebration, and we look forward to sharing something amazing with the region!”

Glenn Del Vecchio serves Grand Rapids Ballet as Executive Director, and serves on a number of executive boards in the community including Vice Chair at Michigan Dance Council and Operations committee of the Convention Arena.

“Grand Rapids Ballet is thrilled to play a part in planning Festival of the Arts’ 50th celebration,” said Del Vecchio.  “Our team has had a natural connection with Festival over the years and I am humbled to have been selected as honorary co-chair for such a momentous celebration.”

James Sofranko is the new Artistic Director at Grand Rapids Ballet and has been a soloist dancer with the San Francisco Ballet.  He has danced in numerous works and world premieres by world-renowned choreographers. He is a choreographer himself and has founded and produced numerous dance projects during his time in San Francisco.  He is excited to bring his experience and expertise to the Grand Rapids Ballet.

“I am honored to be welcomed into the Grand Rapids arts community with such an important appointment,” said Sofranko.  “I am excited to share the Grand Rapids Ballet with the city through Festival of the Arts. The arts are all inclusive and should not discriminate against those who cannot afford to pay for it, so bringing high quality artistic performances to this completely free festival is something I strongly believe in.”

The Board of Directors of Festival of the Arts recently decided to follow a new process for honorary co-chairs starting with Del Vecchio and Sofranko in 2019. In order to re-connect with the arts institutions of the region, Festival will look to select leaders from partnering arts institutions in future years. The honorary co-chairs will serve as ambassadors to the community encouraging engagement for the event and also serve as conduit to all the other arts institutions in the region for solicitation of performers and artists.

David Abbott, executive director at Festival of the Arts, joined the organization in April of 2018 in an interim basis and is now charged with leading the vision of the organization into its 50th year and beyond as the organization’s first full-time executive director.  He is working to bring the historically all-volunteer run event to a new level, offering consistent leadership year-to-year.

Festival of the Arts takes place the first full weekend of June every year, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary on June 7, 8 and 9 in downtown Grand Rapids.

About Festival of the Arts

In 1969, Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse was installed in front of City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. The 43-foot-tall, vibrant red stabile, which became known as “The Calder,” inspired a celebration – one that’s grown to encompass most of downtown Grand Rapids.

Festival of the Arts, always the first full weekend of June, will celebrate its 50th year in 2019 on June 7, 8 and 9 in downtown Grand Rapids.  The three day event family friendly remains free and features several stages of performances taking place all day, a juried arts exhibition, and dozens of food booths run by local non-profit organizations. Festival also offers creative activities for children and adults to enjoy with opportunities to make your own art or purchase art from many West Michigan artists. For more information visit or check out Festival of the Arts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.