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.
The Nutcracker is simultaneously the most enjoyable and exhausting part of any professional dancer’s season. Growing up at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, I performed in The Nutcracker for a decade straight. Over those 10 years, I danced in two separate productions: those choreographed by Stowell & Sendak and George Balanchine. I remember performing in my first show and watching the more advanced students dance while I was in the prologue sharing a part with Cassidy Isaacson (now a company dancer at Grand Rapids Ballet). They danced to immensely powerful and joyous music; they got to dance in the Snow Scene! But Waltz of the Snowflakes was my favorite; just hearing the orchestra and the beautiful music was enough to set my eyes on ballet as a career. The violins being plucked, paper snowflakes gently falling, opera singers singing the sweet melody, and ballerinas twirling in frosty blue and white tutus never fail to raise goosebumps on my arms.
After my first experience with The Nutcracker, I set a goal for myself: I would dance the Waltz of the Snowflakes one day. Eight years of hard work later, I finally reached my goal during my second to final year at PNB School as part of the Professional Division program. I twirled in a frosty blue and white tutu and felt the snowflakes fall upon my crown-laden head while listening to the orchestra grow and swell to the sound of the iconic waltz. With stage lights illuminating the expensive stage and the audience still, holding their breath as the even beat of the waltz grew stronger and stronger. Let me tell you, it was awesome!
Waltz of the Snowflakes is hands down the most challenging part in The Nutcracker when it comes to pure stamina and mental strength. For instance, in Grand Rapids Ballet’s production choreographed by Val Caniparoli, I spend less than one minute offstage during the seven-minute run time of Waltz of the Snowflakes. Talk about your daily cardio: my Apple Watch tells me it is almost equivalent to a mile and a half run.
In 2008, when I performed in my first Nutcracker at PNB, I had only one part and performed in just over half of the 45 scheduled shows. As I matured in age and experience, I performed in most of the shows doing multiple parts. My most current tally over thirteen years? Over 500 shows, three different productions, 15 parts, and countless hours of rehearsal.
All of this sounds wonderful and joyous right? And it is. But putting The Nutcracker on stage also includes seven-day work weeks and long nights in the theater. December is the holiday season for most, but for dancers it also includes sewing countless pointe shoes, trying to catch your breath after running the Snow Scene for the third time that day, and eating dinner while icing your feet and nursing your sore muscles. But, the joy that is brought to young children and their families alike in the holiday season makes it all worth it.
The experience of dancing in The Nutcracker remains just as magical to me as it was as a young ballet student. And now, as one of the “big kids,” I strive to make every audience member’s experience as transformative as my own.
Val Caniparoli’s The Nutcracker would not be possible without YOUR support! Become a season subscriber or donate today to help us continue doing what we love. Until next year, happy holidays and thank you for supporting Grand Rapids Ballet!
The countless intricate details in The Nutcracker all come together seamlessly every December to create West Michigan’s favorite family holiday tradition seen by over 50,000 people since its premiere in 2014.
• In each performance, there are 68 Grand Rapids Ballet School students and approximately 40 company dancers—most of whom are doing multiple roles. In fact, any company dancer can do up to five separate roles per show!
• There are 149 original costumes with 58 of those being tutus which require over 5,000 yards of tulle.
• There are three Sugar Plum Fairy tutus, five Marzipan Castle scene tutus, 19 snow scene tutus, 15 Waltz of the Flower tutus, two Spanish tutus, 10 harlequin tutus, and two Dream Clara tutus.
• It takes seven full-size semi-trucks to move the entire production to DeVos Performance Hall.
• It takes seven days to assemble the Broadway-quality sets designed by Tony Award winner Eugene Lee based on the illustrations of The Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg.
• There are 15 toy soldiers and seven mice in each fight scene including one infamous Mouse King.
• There are 12 individual snowflakes in the snow scene and 12 pink flowers twirl with one Sugar Plum Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers.
• In each performance, 30+ crowns and tiaras are worn: 12 snow scene crowns, 1 Dream Clara tiara, two Sugar Plum Fairy tiaras, and three Marzipan Castle crowns. Talk about glamour!
• Clara’s Nutcracker Party is attended by 400 happy children, parents, and grandparents.
• The company and school both spend at least two months rehearsing Val Caniparoli’s gorgeous choreography including two dress rehearsals.
All of this adds up to one spectacular show that you and your family won’t want to miss. Tickets are available at 616.454.4771 x10 or on our website.
Yuka Oba in George Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante, photo by Isaac Aoki
A Closer Look at Wild Sweet Love
by Jade Butler
For his inaugural Grand Rapids Ballet rep (short for repertory:a production inwhichacompanypresentsseveral different works in one show), new artistic director James Sofranko thoughtfully selected vastly different masterpieces. Three will be Grand Rapids premieres: Allegro Brilliante by modern master George Balanchine; Ghost Light by our choreographer-in-residence and Princess Grace Award winner, Penny Saunders; and Wild Sweet Love by internationally acclaimed choreographer Trey McIntrye; and a fourth will be a world premiere work choreographed by Sofranko himself. This tour de force is a fantastic way to showcase our versatile, multi-faceted dancers and to open our exciting new season with fresh perspective.
Allegro Brilliante is a classic “lights and tights” ballet centered around a principal couple, supported by four corps couples. The ballet is set to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.3 (listen to it here), originally created from a unique composition intended to be part of Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony. Choreographed in 1956, Allegro Brilliante is still performed regularly by New York City Balletand other ballet companies worldwide. The demanding choreography paired with a quick tempo is a classic Balanchine trademark everyone has come to love. You can truly “see the music [and] hear the dance” with this brilliant work; it is a thrilling and delightful addition to this diverse mixed bill.
Penny Saunders’ Ghost Light is an alluringly haunting work inspired by the singular light that is often left on stage when unoccupied. Popular superstition holds that it is put out to appease any possible cohabiting spirits in the theater, hence the term “ghost light.” Similar notions are the light provide opportunities for ghosts in the theater to perform onstage. The ghost light in this work magically draws the dancers out of the shadows with masterful light design by Scott Bolman. This is the fifth work by Saunders to be added to our repertoire.
Wild Sweet Love
Trey McIntrye‘sWild Sweet Love is set to hit songs by popular artists such as Queen, Lou Reed, The Partridge Family, and Roberta Flack, with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March thrown in for good measure. Originally created at Sacramento Ballet in 2007, Grand Rapids Ballet is the third company to add Wild Sweet Love into its repertoire. Delightfully quirky and athletic, Wild Sweet Love measures up to be just as brilliant as Allegro Brilliante and just as captivating as Ghost Light.
“Like Balanchine, McIntyre builds an excitingly modern dance upon a very classic foundation. Wild Sweet Love is both wild and sweet. And very, very good.”
—The Sacramento Bee
Get Your Tickets!
This is the perfect show to kick-off our exciting new 2018-19 season—the first under the artistic direction of James Sofranko. It has something for everyone and will showcase your favorite dancers (and introduce you to some new ones, too).
Single tickets don’t go on sale to the public on Monday, June 18 (mark your calendars), but you can purchase season subscriptions now. To do so, call our box office manager, Kelly, at 616.454.4771, x10, email her, or visit our website today.
“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.” —Oscar Wilde
The Happy Prince Oscar Wilde, already an established and beloved poet and playwright, works at his desk as the London streets bustle beneath him. He joins the action on the street, theatrically reading his playful children’s tales to the passing youth. His mother greets him and together they poke fun at Victorian society’s strict conventions, while keeping an eye out for a wife suited to his fashionable lifestyle. Encouraged by his parents, Oscar meets the beautiful, clever, and poised Constance Lloyd. A flirtatious courtship ensues, resulting in a happy and enthusiastic marriage. They are a popular couple, admired for their witty humor and audacious faison. All appears wonderful and satisfactory. Together they give birth to two sons and welcome them to the world with love.
The Selfish Giant After the birth of their second son, cracks emerge in the strength of their marriage and Oscar finds solace in his friend Robert Ross. Through Ross, Oscar is introduced to Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, who fills the needs Constance can no longer meet. Bosie, well aware of Oscar’s infatuation, leverages Oscar’s devotion to him to convince Oscar to cater to his every need. Bosie gets Oscar acquainted with London’s bawdy underground society. As Oscar sinks deeper into his treacherous relationship with Bosie he becomes further estranged from his family, absorbed in his new, alternate life. A beautiful linnet emerges: Can this hopeful bird help him to overcome his selfishness? Or perhaps it is the society that is selfish, determined to define devotion in a specific way rather than acknowledge the complexities of relationships and the sentiment that, ultimately, love is love.
The Nightingale & The Rose Constance and Oscar attend an extravagant ball. They are still the talk of the town but suspicions have arisen that all is not rosy between them. Indeed, as the party cedes to the privacy of the Wilde’s home, Constance can no long turn a blind eye to her husband’s infidelities. She withdraws with the children, determined to maintain her honor. Oscar is disgracing the family name. This Happy Prince has fallen from his pedestal. The public, who loved him so much, turns on him and Oscar is cast into exile. With his reputation, finances, and career in ruin, he is left to reflect on his life, career, and lovers. From this bleakness a nightingale emerges, singing a sweet and beautiful birdsong that lingers as all else fades.
The Happy Prince & Other Wilde Tales runs May 4-6 and 11-12 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre in downtown Grand Rapids. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 x10 or visit grballet.com/happyprince today.
written by Connie Flachs; costume and character illustrations by Sadie Rothenberg
Oscar Wilde – The Happy Prince
A talented playwright, poet, and author with a penchant for flowery language, gaudy fashion, and witty humor. At the height of his career he is a beloved figure in London society. He values beauty in art above utility or deeper meaning and strives to create “art for art’s sake.”
After the birth of his second son, Wilde loses his strong attraction to his wife and is tempted by newfound affections. He spends few nights at home, living in lavish hotels with his lover, Bosie, and sees his children rarely. His inflated ego convinces him to bring a court case of libel he has no chance of winning and this naive pride lands him in jail, his family broken and the name of Wilde disgraced.
“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” – Oscar Wilde
Constance Lloyd – Oscar’s Wife
A clever writer and artistic persona herself, Constance and Oscar are fully and authentically in love as newlyweds. She shares his love of unusual (for the Victorian era) dress and helps to design their London home in the most progressive fashion and together they have two children, Cyril and Vyvyan.
“The air is full of the music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours.” – Oscar Wilde to Constance
Robert Ross – faithful friend, literary executor
A precocious art critic and dealer, Ross is a pivotal figure in London’s art scene, as well as a fan of Oscar’s work. Ross is openly gay and makes no secret of his attraction to Wilde, introducing Oscar to love. They remain close while Oscar struggles between his Happy Prince and Selfish Giant sides, Ross offering financial and emotional support throughout. Ross is instrumental in the protection and distribution of Wilde’s work after his death.
“He was never quite sure himself where and when he was serious.” – Robert Ross, on Oscar
“Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer.” – Oscar Wilde
Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) – lover
Handsome, spoiled, and utterly reckless, Bosie is in his undergraduate studies when he first meets Oscar. They quickly become passionate, tumultuous lovers. Oscar does his best to satisfy any and all of Bosie’s materialistic and romantic desires. Bosie does little to repay him, dragging Wilde deeper into an illicit world, acting incredible rude towards Constance, and antagonizing those who disapprove of the two men’s relationship.
“[Oscar], when you are not on your pedestal, you are not interesting.” – Bosie to Oscar
“The basis of character is will power, and my will became utterly subject to yours.” – Oscar to Bosie
A hopeful bird who is a harbinger of good news, around to help the Selfish Giant locate his gratitude and reconnect with the youthful innocence of children.
“The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. “How happy we are here!” they cried to each other.”
Jane & William Wilde – mother and father
Jane Wilde is a writer herself, involved in many progressive political movements, advocating for better education and more rights for women. She passes this critical attitude towards established society onto her son and supports even his far-fetched endeavors. William Wilde is a remarkable eye and ear surgeon who earned his knighthood in Ireland.
“My mother and my father had bequeathed me a name they had made noble and honoured, not merely in literature, art, archaeology, and science, but in the public history of my own country, in its evolution as a nation.’ – Oscar Wilde
This brave, idealistic bird values love over all else. She will go as far as to give her own life to ensure that the beauty and hope of true love may have a chance to flourish.
“Be happy, be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart’s-blood. All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover.”
The Happy Prince & Other Wilde Tales runs May 4-6 and 11-12 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre in downtown Grand Rapids. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 x10 or visit grballet.com/happyprince today.
Diversity is a hot topic right now—and for very good reasons. As the world becomes more inclusive, it’s important that these changes are reflected and celebrated by the arts and culture around us.
That’s why the next two installments of our contemporary dance series, MOVEMEDIA, will focus on the topic of diversity in its many different forms and interpretations.
The brainchild of creative director, Michael Auer, MOVEMEDIA: Diversity brings together choreographers from all over the globe and from every facet of society to create very personal world-premiere works on the issues of diversity which speak to them most. Hear more from Michael below, along with company dancers Yuka Oba and Ednis Gomez, on why the time was right to tackle this topic through the beauty of dance. Thank you, Feel Like You Belong, for the video.
“We felt that the time was right to address the issue of diversity. We wanted to provide a platform for choreographers to express their view of what diversity means to them.” —Michael Auer, Grand Rapids Ballet Creative Director
The first installment of MOVEMEDIA: Diversity will take place February 9-11 and Peter Martin Wege Theatre. This show will include three individual pieces in one spectacular performance. Let’s meet the choreographers and learn a little more about their works.
Jennifer is the founder and Artistic Director of the Arch Dance Company and Program Director of ArchCore40 Dance Intensives. She is a graduate of The Alvin Ailey School and the Maggie Flanigan Acting Conservatory where she studied the Meisner Technique. Archibald has choreographed for the Atlanta Ballet, Ailey II, Cincinnati Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Kansas City Ballet, Tulsa Ballet II, Ballet Nashville; and worked commercially for Tommy Hilfiger, NIKE and MAC Cosmetics as well as chart-listed singers and actors. She was recently appointed as the first female Resident Choreographer in Cincinnati Ballet’s 40-year history. In 2018, she will be creating new works for Cincinnati Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, Ballet Nashville and Stockholm’s Balletakademien next season.
Archibald’s works have been performed at venues including New York’s City Center, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Aaron Davis Hall, Jacob’s Pillow Inside|Out Stage and Central Park’s Summerstage Mainstage. Jennifer was awarded a Choreographic Fellow for Ailey’s New Directions Choreography Labunder the direction of Robert Battle. She is 2015′s Choreographic Winnings recipient by the Joffrey Ballet. She also choreographed “Seven”, a biographical work about Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, commissioned by St. Louis based MADCODance Company. Her new work “Delilah” is currently touring Scandinavia. Arch Dance Company’s “Chasing Shadows” will be remounted for Dallas Black Dance Theater for their 2018/19 season. Jennifer is currently an Acting Lecturer at the Yale School of Drama.
In 2015, she was appointed as Guest Faculty Lecturer to develop the Hip Hop dance curriculum at Columbia/Barnard College. Jennifer is also a guest artist at several universities including Fordham/Ailey, Purchase College, Princeton, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of South Florida, Goucher College, Columbia College Chicago, and Bates College. In 2017, she premiered new works for Miami New World School of the Arts, South Carolina’s Governor’s School of the Arts, Ailey Fordham, Boston Conservatory, and Point Park. Internationally, she has taught master classes in Brazil, Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, France, Russia, Mexico, China, and Ecuador.
Her piece is entitled Vapor and in her own words:
Each of us interprets and negotiates the world around us through the lens of our own identity, culture, and experience. Today’s diversity should speak to individuality, for it is the individual that makes up the grassroots foundation of a society. People should be encouraged to recognize, explore, and cultivate their individual qualities. This work is designed to process a greater sense of self-awareness needed to succeed in our diverse and complex society; cultivating movement that explores on-going physical negotiation amongst the dancers. We must train ourselves in acceptance every day. Through acceptance the dancers will open up an infinite inner space. I like to enter the rehearsal space guided by the words of Nelson Mandela: ‘It is for us to adapt our understanding of a common humanity; to learn of the richness of how human life is diverse; to recognize the presence of disability in our human midst as an enrichment of our diversity.’
Jennifer working in the studio with dancers (from left to right) Isaac Aoki, Mari Beer, Ednis Gomez, and Claire Ashcraft.
NORBERT DE LA CRUZ III
Born in the Philippines, Norbert is a NYC and LA-based freelance contemporary dance choreographer and educator. Since receiving his BFA from the Juilliard School in 2010, he has been commissioned by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Tulsa Ballet II, Barak Ballet, Hubbard Street II, James Sewell Ballet, Attack Theatre, Ballet X, and Grand Rapids Ballet. De La Cruz has been awarded fellowships from the Jerome Robbins NEW foundation, the Princess Grace Awards – USA, The Jerome Foundation, The Wolf Trap Foundation, and the Commissioning Choreographers Campaign.
He has been selected for professional development programs such as the NY Choreographic institute (an affiliate of the NYCB), the National Choreographers Initiative (Irvine, CA), Hubbard Street’s National Choreographic Competition (Chicago), Joffrey Academy of Dance Winning Works (Chicago), Alvin Ailey New Directions Choreography Lab (NY).
His work has been presented by the Joyce Theatre (NY), Wolf Trap (VA), Ailey CitiGroup Theatre (NY), Martha Knoebel Dance Theatre (CA), Peter Jay Sharp Theatre (NY), Blanch Touhill Performing Arts Center (MO), Aspen District Theatre (CO), Lensic Performing Arts Center (NM), Wallis Annenberg (CA), Kelly Strayhorn Theatre (PA), the Broadway Playhouse (IL), Irvine Barclay Theatre (CA), and McCallum Theatre (CA). In teaching and choreography, his credentials include The Juilliard School Summer, Ailey/Fordham University, Princeton University Ballet, University of Hartford Dance Division, The University of Richmond Department of Theatre and Dance, SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance, Marymount Manhattan College, NJ Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Ramon C. Cortines Visual and Performing Arts High School, Windward School for the Arts, Westside Dance Project, Hawkins School for the Arts, Charles Maple Youth Conservatory, and No.OneArthouse. He conducts seasonal workshops and projects in both New York City and Los Angeles.
Additional honorable mentions include the Asian Arts Alliance Jadin Wong Award, McCallum Theatre Choreography Festival, and Dance Magazines Top 25 to watch in 2016. Working as a freelancer, Norbert is currently pursuing his MFA in dance at Hollins University Graduate Program.
Norbert’s work is entitled The Return of Balance:
In this piece, I want to explore diversity by destabilizing the relational aspects of heteronormative pairings. Set to a cinematic, ambient, and emotionally charged score, the energy and content of the dance is a result of a collective creative studio process. I hope to interrogate the arising tensions of our relationships, its proximity effects, and the balance and/or symmetry that is desired and physicalized between those bodies. The 14-minute contemporary work hopes to reflect on heteronormative codes.
Norbert has videos of his piece on Instagram you can check out here.
Loughlan is an Aussie/Kiwi choreographer and performer based in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. He is the choreographer in residence at the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and the creative director of Prior Visual, a project based film collective.
A graduate of the New Zealand School of Dance, his choreographic work began as early as his first school years where he received the Warrandyte Youth Arts Award. He joined the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2010, and in 2015 was awarded the prestigious Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award by the Ballet Foundation of New Zealand.
In 2016 Loughlan received the Tup Lang Choreographic Award from Creative New Zealand for his work as a unique artistic voice and was made choreographer in residence in 2018, under the directorship of Patricia Barker. He is invested in producing theatre, film and multi-media projects with his work currently receiving premieres in New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong and the United States.
His ballets have been described by the New Zealand Herald as ‘dance that uses extreme geometries, innovative partnering, elegance and refinement’. His works for the Royal New Zealand Ballet include Diminished Illusions, EVE, The Long and the Short of it, LARK, Ideale and Between-Us. In 2018 he created a short film for the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Te Papa (New Zealand’s National Museum) to launch the new National Gallery Toi Art Collection.
Prior maintains a strong bond with the New Zealand School of Dance where he has been invited to create three works for student casts – Verse, FirstLight and Curious Alchemy. FirstLight made it’s premiere in 2014 at the closing gala of the Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong, while Curious Alchemy premiered in 2017 at Toronto’s Assemblée Internationale, and later at the School’s 50th Anniversary Celebration programme.
Loughlan’s piece is entitled They/Them and explores the topic of gender neutrality:
Gender expression and the debate to use gender neutral language is an ongoing and multilayered issue. Our social landscape, as it has developed over thousands of years, is fixated on binary paradigms and exists under an outdated ideology. Tradition dictates the portrayal of gender and gender identity in ballet dancers as almost always exclusive to male and female partnerships and strict gender-specific roles. This work aims to present gender identity as a fluid construct highlighting the importance of the individual as a neutral entity undefined by gender or physical form. Are traditional gender constructs holding us back, and would adopting a gender fluid, non-binary ideology help to decrease trans issues and gender inequality? Are we more than the sum of our parts?
Gender neutral costumes for They/Them by William Fitzgerald. From left to right: Cassidy Isaacson, Mari Beer, Sidney Scully, Matt Wenckowski, Nigel Tau, Isaac Aoki, Yuka Oba, and Ednis Gomez.
“I want them to walk away with something. A thought, an emotion, a topic–and I want to have choreographers rethink what it is that they’re creating. I want the audience to be touched somehow.” —Michael Auer, Grand Rapids Ballet Creative Director
This will be a thought-provoking show that will have you talking for days. Be a part of the discussion and get your tickets today! Call 616.454.4771 x17 and speak to Kelly our box office manager or visit grballet.com/diversity.
MOVEMEDIA is Contemporary Dance at Grand Rapids Ballet
Written by Grand Rapids Ballet Company Dancer Connie Flachs
Photography by Eric Bouwens
As a dancer with Grand Rapids Ballet, I have felt firsthand the lack of publicity when the arts section of the Grand Rapids Press dissolved. The excitement of opening night’s review was lost. A platform for critical discussion evaporated. The work being done at Grand Rapids Ballet is too important to exist only within the walls of the Peter Martin Wege Theater. Art needs to be reviewed, critiqued, and discussed not only by those of us who create it but by those who view it. I hope this extremely biased review helps spark interest and discussion within the community. The views expressed here are only my own and do not reflect the opinions of Grand Rapids Ballet.
This is the sixth year Grand Rapids Ballet has produced MOVEMEDIA, a show that seeks to push the boundaries and preconceptions of dance beyond what most people visualize when they think “ballet”. MOVEMEDIA has introduced Grand Rapids’ audiences to ballets danced sofas, performed barefoot, or featuring politics. The program also provides a platform for emerging choreographers to create on talented, professional dancers in an experimental environment. This year’s program continues on this path, creating work that utilizes modern technology, the latest dance trends, and the unique talents of Grand Rapids Ballet.
The program opens with “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness” choreographed by Robert Dekkers, the artistic director of Post:Ballet in San Francisco. Ambient music and a barren stage with a greenish glow initiate the experience. A single man walks on draped in a warrior-like sweater and scaly tights settling, stagnant on the stage. Others fill the empty space, barely acknowledging each other’s existence. The single man, Levi Teachout, begins to dance in an intense, angular way. A series of solos follow. Just as the piece risks becoming generic movement study the mood breaks and dancers exit, replaced by small trios and solos. This piece clearly exists in a world of its own, as though the audience is peering through a microscope to see what occurs beyond the naked eye. Is this world only at the microscopic level? Is it in the past? Is it a future society? Dekker’s work is particularly unusual for Grand Rapids Ballet. The choreography was created with
large input from the individual dancers. The avant garde costumes, designed by Christian Squires, are shiny and structured in a futuristic manner, accessorized by glittering facial tattoos. The intensity of the performers’ stares raises questions: What are they looking at? What are they searching for? How are they related?
Particularly memorable is an intense shaking section that resolves as a line of dancers washes across the stage. A solo danced by Grace Haskins is especially striking due to her sharp and quirky movements. The eye is also drawn to the strong movements of Caroline Wiley, Cassidy Isaacson, and Adriana Wagenveld as they forcefully descend upon the stage. A pas de deux between Jack Lennon and Yuka Oba is the apex of the piece. Lennon’s powerful stance supports Oba’s fluidity and together they build suspense along with the music’s crescendos. As the ballet draws to a close, Oba is enveloped into the wings by her fellow performers, leaving only Ednis Mallol Gomez and Matthew Wenckowski on stage, struggling with some sort of force. Their superhuman movement, from whizzing revolutions to one armed pushups, fit right into the strange, fantastical world Dekkers has created.
The mood of Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Glean” is a deep contrast to Dekkers’ work. Adriana Wagenveld and Nicholas Schultz emerge into a path of light, dancing a pas de deux filled with manipulation; Wagenveld’s head follows Schultz’s hand; her step forces his knee forward. The movement is simple and honest, as though they’re in the beginning stages of a relationship. The movement isn’t memorable, but Wagenveld’s deep gaze into Schultz’s eyes is hard to forget.
The first pas de deux dissolves into a second duet between Cassidy Isaacson and Matthew Wenckowski. Dressed in costumes identical to the first couple, I found myself imaging their dancing as a later phase of the same relationship, one where the couple is less ensconced with each other and more selfconscious. Isaacson and Wenckowski partner intricately but rarely make eye contact, often staring out at the audience as though wondering what others think of them. The fuzzy, grainy music adds to the feeling that there are spectators just outside of view, whispering, judging, and commenting to each other. Wenckowski is left on stage alone. The combination of the dark lighting and his black pants draw attention to his bare torso, emphasizing each muscle. His arms reach further than imaginable, emanating from some sort of angst. His gorgeous movement ends in slow walking, mirrored by Isaac Aoki. Wenckowski leaves Aoki works himself into awkwardly beautiful positions. Yuka Oba meets him on stage and they begin dancing, perhaps representing the final, mature stage of the relationship. Their steps are the most complicated and intricate, suddenly resolving into identical poses the way a long-term couple can finish each other’s sentences.
Oba is left on stage alone as Aoki fades into darkness, moving with distress showing openly on her face. She stops, facing the public, as though she can no longer go on without her partner. But she begins again, continuing on as the lights black out. Williams’ piece is pretty, choreographed with a vocabulary of steps that veteran MOVEMEDIA audience members will be familiar with. The simplicity of lighting and costumes allows the viewer to assign their own meaning to each relationship.
Penny Saunders shares a similar background with Williams: both have danced with Hubbard Street, a mainstay of Chicago’s contemporary dance scene and began their choreography while working for that company. Both have choreographed on Grand Rapids Ballet previously and tend to use space holding, manipulation, and a certain fluidity in the movement they create. Saunders’ work, “In Frame”, danced to Max Richter’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s esteemed The Four Seasons, is a more cohesive vision than “Glean” and exhibits complexity that outdoes Saunders’ own preceding works. The choreography itself features well-rehearsed unison movements but breaks off into variations and intriguing patterns before the synchronicity grows tiring. The movement of the dancers bodies creates shapes that expand beyond the dancers themselves, building architecture that spans the breadth of the stage. Together the dancers operate like cogs in a machine, passing an invisible fireball between them, holding the intensity in their deep lunges and engaged arms.
The piece opens and closes with the image of a single dancer sitting on a bench, contemplating artwork by Alice Klock that’s projected onto a hanging picture frame. Others enter in the darkness, as though they are the ideas she thinks of while examining the work. As the lights come up, this dancer is absorbed into a diagonal, interacting with the fragments of her imagination. They all become part of the imaginary world inspired by the artwork, participating in the journey of creativity art can inspire. Saunders’ work gathers power from the strength of the group work that swirls over the stage through the Spring, Summer and Fall movements, making Caroline Wiley’s solo to Winter stand out in its simplicity and quietness. There’s very little technical movement in this dance: Wiley spends most of her solo on the floor in the center of a projection of a Klock painting. Despite the absence of pirouettes, jumps, or extensions, this solo is absolutely breathtaking. Wiley gives each detail immense importance, forcing the viewer to also immerse themselves in the minute movements of her body. Perhaps this is the true portrait of an artist, alone, experimenting, unassuming and free of self-consciousness despite the onlookers on the outskirts.
My biased review is only one take on this diverse MOVEMEDIA program. I encourage you to experience and interpret it for yourself and continue the discussion.
In our continued meet-and greet of the contemporary dance choreographers of “MOVEMEDIA: World Premieres,” we’d like to introduce you to Robyn Mineko Williams.
Robyn danced for River North Dance Chicago and was a member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for twelve seasons, during which she performed choreography by numerous renowned artists including Ohad Naharin, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe and Johan Inger, and originated roles in new works by Jorma Elo, Sharon Eyal, Twyla Tharp and Lar Lubovitch, among others.
She began making her own work in 2001 through Hubbard Street’s Inside/Out Choreographic Workshop and, in 2010, co-choreographed with Terence Marling Hubbard Street 2’sHarold and the Purple Crayon: A Dance Adventure, designed for young audiences. She has since created multiple premieres for Hubbard Street’s main company including the Art of Falling, a critically acclaimed, full evening production by the artists of The Second City and Hubbard Street and has made work for Atlanta Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet, Visceral Dance Chicago and The Nexus Project, presented at the Kennedy Center, the American Dance Festival, the Joyce Theater and other venues.
Named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” for 2014, Williams was one of Northwest Dance Project’s 2012 International Choreography Competition winners, received a 2013 Princess Grace Choreographic Fellowship and was selected as an E-choreographer for Springboard Danse Montreal the same year. In 2015 she completed a Princess Grace Foundation–USA Works In Progress Residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center and recently received a Choreography Mentorship Co-Commission Award from the Princess Grace Foundation–USA in support of Mariko’s Magical Mix: A Dance Adventure, her second full-length children’s program in collaboration with shadow puppetry performance collective, Manual Cinema. In 2016, Williams was selected as one of NewCIty’sPlayers: 50 People Who Really Perform for Chicago and named “2016 Best of Chicago – Best Choreographer” by Chicago Mag. Her collaborative performance, UNDER(cover), premiered in Chicago this past May with four sold out shows.
The bottom line? Robyn is one of the world’s most respected and important choreographers of contemporary dance and we couldn’t be happier to be working with her again on MOVEMEDIA: World Premieres. Don’t miss what is sure to be a dramatic and memorable performance at Grand Rapids Ballet. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 or visit ticketmaster.com or tap or click here.
Meet Choreographers Robert Dekkers & Vanessa Thiessen
We continue to showcase the choreographers of “MOVEMEDIA: World Premieres” with a profile of Robert Dekkers , the founder and artistic director of Post:Ballet in San Francisco, and Vanessa Thiessen, a San Francisco choreographer known for her collaborative abilities.
Robert and Vanessa began collaborating in 2014, several years after first meeting as dancers with ODC/Dance in San Francisco. Working together to create original works for Post:Ballet, the two artists are passionate about integrating diverse disciplines, as well as the dance artists’ unique creative voices, to develop works that “seek collaboration as a force for change, for creative growth, for departure from the norm” (Critical Dance).
Named “25 To Watch” by DANCE Magazine, Robert is also resident choreographer for Diablo Ballet. Collaborating with eclectic artists to create choreography that is “anything but risk averse” (SF Chronicle), Robert’s work has been presented at SF International Arts Festival, Tanzsommer Festival (Vienna), Ballet Builders Showcase (NYC), Against the Grain (Seattle), and WestWave Dance Festival (SF). Recent commissions include Kansas City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, sjDANCEco, Smuin Ballet, and Quixotic/Fusion. Robert teaches for LINES Ballet, Smuin Ballet, and ODC/Dance, and is on faculty at Berkeley Ballet Theater. He danced professionally with Ballet Arizona, ODC/Dance, Company C Contemporary Ballet, and Diablo Ballet, where he was nominated for an Isadora Duncan award for “Outstanding Performance- Individual” in 2013. He has performed in works by notable choreographers including José Límon, Val Caniparoli, KT Nelson, Lar Lubovitch, George Balanchine, Jodie Gates, Trey McIntyre, Twyla Tharp, and Paul Taylor. Robert also holds a degree in business from Rio Salado College.
Vanessa, originally from Portland, Oregon, trained at the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre with Haydée Gutiérrez and James Canfield. She danced for ODC/Dance, Smuin Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, Skinner/Kirk Dance, Opera Parallele, Tanya Bello’s Project b, and Post:Ballet, where she is now the company’s movement director. Vanessa has performed in works by diverse choreographers including KT Nelson, James Canfield, Brenda Way, George Balanchine, Eliot Feld, Kirk Peterson, Trey McIntyre, David Parsons, and Bebe Miller. She is currently a choreographic collaborator with notable Bay Area artists KT Nelson, Amy Seiwert, and Robert Dekkers. Vanessa also teaches ballet, repertory, and modern classes at Reed College, BodyVox, Sultanov Russian Ballet Academy, and Northwest Dance Project in Portland.
We’re very excited to see the amazing collaboration Robert and Vanessa will bring to “MOVEMEDIA: World Premieres” March 10-12 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Aren’t you? Tickets are available by calling 616.454.4771 or vising Ticketmaster or our website today.