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.
Now in its seventh season, our MOVEMEDIA series presents a stunning perspective into the world of internationally acclaimed dance makers. In fact, over the past five years, this creative incubator has produced stunning new works by the most significant and celebrated contemporary choreographers from around the globe. And our next installment entitled “World Premieres” March 10-12 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre will feature three never-before-seen works from three of them—and we’ll introduce you to them in a series of blog posts, starting with Penny Saunders.
We are thrilled and proud to have Penny as our choreographer-in-residence. This means we’re able to call on her talents at the drop of a hat for a variety of different reasons from creating an entirely new work for our Company to assisting in refining an existing piece. Her creative input and direction is invaluable to us and integral part of our success.
Article of clothing: Tank tops Chicago restaurant:Royal Thai Dancer: Elisabeth Carroll Dessert: Mint chocolate chip ice cream
But enough words. Let’s take a moment to watch her magnificent work and completely unique style below. What she’ll bring to “World Premieres” we have yet to see, but we know it will be intimate, innovative, and unforgettable! For tickets to the show, call 616.454.4771 today.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Black & White: Swan Lake” returns to the stage at Peter Martin Wege Theater February 10-12, 2017. Here’s the MLive review of the premiere that was originally published in May of 2012…
Laura and Nicholas Schultz as Odette and Siegfried in the Grand Rapids Ballet’s premier of “Black Swan White Swan,” a variation of the classic ballet “Swan Lake.” (Chris Clark | Mlive.com)
By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk for MLive.com (May 11, 2012)
4 stars of 4
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Great art is great, in part, because, whether it’s Shakespeare’s plays or Beethoven’s symphonies, it can be created new again.
Natalie Portman, in the film “Black Swan,” is set against rehearsals for “Swan Lake.” Music from Tchaikovsky’s score is part of the 2010 film, but the tale of Von Rothbart, the sorcerer, is not told in Darren Aronofsky’s film.
Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s new production of “Black & White: Swan Lake” re-imagines it yet again to cap the company’s 40th anniversary season with an artistic accomplishment of the highest order. Startling special effects surround amazing choreography in the show.
Choreographer Mario Radacovsky’s new production – beguiling, captivating, ultimately enigmatic — is not a retelling of the story of Princess Odette, the White Swan; or of Von Rothburt’s daughter, Odile, the Black Swan.
GRBC’s production, which opened last weekend in its Wege Theatre, is the story of Siegfried and his journey of discovery, both in the real world as well as in the realm of his imagination, aided, abetted by Von Rothbart.
The most important duets, in fact, are those between Siegfried and Von Rothbart, as his Mephistophelean manipulator, and by Von Rothbart, as Siegfried looking inside himself, at his alter ego, mirroring his actions, sharing his coats, engaging in frequent combat.
Radacovsky’s tale is one for the 21st century, with a dance vocabulary to match. It’s classical dance, yes, but not at all classical ballet with women on pointe. Dancers all were in dance shoes or barefoot.
Manipulations of the spine, legs spread far apart, toes pointing at 90 degree angles to the leg were some of the unfamiliar, and even uncomfortable moves Radacovsky employed, to say nothing of any number of gestures to suggest swans in motion.
Four strong dancers, with strong characterizations to match, tell the 80-minute story to most of Tchaikovsky’s much loved, pre-recorded score to “Swan Lake.”
Friday’s cast, to open its second weekend of three performances, included Nicholas Schultz as Siegfried, Kyohei Giovanni Yoshida as von Rothbart, Laura McQueen Schultz as the White Swan, Dawnell Dryja as the Black Swan.
Schultz, a fine leading man, has developed the tools to grow a character in the short space of a show as well as the strength and stamina to partner so many people so much of the time.
Yoshida, an exciting dancer always, gave Von Rothbart a cunning, commanding presence, with some spectacular moves, but riveting even when he moved with catlike stealth.
McQueen Schultz danced a graceful, White Swan, partnered often off the floor, frequently in surprising lifts and carries, suggesting her sad, remote distance.
Dryja, as the Black Swan, was a sexy, magnetic personality with a touch of femme fatale. Her solo variation had energy crackling at the tips of her fingers and toes. The trust between her and Schultz when paired together is unmatched.
Radacovsky’s party scene, establishing the normalcy of Siegfried’s world, was witty and gay with five couples dancing the world’s oldest game.
No fewer than 14 swans, matching white outfits with loose, flowing hair, were a strong corps de ballet with willowy gestures often in perfect unison.
As Shakespeare’s plays profit from modern lighting and Beethoven’s piano concertos feature modern instruments, Radacovsky’s 21st century version of a 19th century ballet benefited greatly from set and lighting design by Marek Holly and projection design by Michael Auer.
Mirrored drops reflected the action and provide subtle entrances and exits. Pools of light served as accent lighting as well as destinations marking turning points in the tale.
Best of all were breathtaking projections transforming the Wege Theatre into the semblance of a lake itself. A surprising special effect at the end sealed the deal.
Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s 40th season ends on a high note, though two more chances remain to see “Black Swan White Swan.”
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Grand Rapids Ballethas spent years of dreaming of a new production of “The Nutcracker.”
Years of planning and designing, and months of choreographing and rehearsing its new production of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” culminated on Friday in DeVos Performance Hall.
It’s simply divine, delicious and delightful.
“The Nutcracker,” conducted by John Varineau, leading the Grand Rapids Symphony, opened to enthusiastic audience acclaim as Grand Rapids Ballet’s first, brand-new production of the holiday ballet in some 30 years.
Tchaikovsky’s beloved score is the same as before. The tale of Clara and her magical nutcracker doll come to life is mostly so as well. After that, everything’s new.
Settings by Chris Van Allsburg and Eugene Lee provide the authenticity of the Stahlbaum home down to shadow silhouette portraits over the fireplace mantle that set the scene in early 19th century Vienna. The meticulously painted drops also supply the whimsy of the imaginary Marzipan Castle in the second act, which Clara and her Prince reach by traveling on a boat pulled by dolphins.
Sumptuous costumes designed by artistic director Patricia Barker reflect the handsome, cutaway jackets and empire waist gowns of Regency Era. Clara’s godfather, the eccentric Drosselmeier, naturally, is something of a throwback in an old-fashioned, 18th century long coat and knee breeches.
Lights, projections and special effects add a touch of 21st century magic to supply falling snow, fireworks and scampering mice. As Clara falls asleep on Christmas Eve, her mesmerizing transformation into a tiny figure, coming face to face with now-gigantic mice beneath the Christmas tree, is a wondrous delight you have to see yourself.
Yet glitz, glamour and production values aside, the essence of the show is new choreography by Val Caniparoli, one of the best-known and best-traveled American choreographers working today.
Caniparoli’s “Nutcracker” is classical ballet at its best. Graceful and elegant, understated at times, Caniparoli fills the stage with deceptively simple yet highly technical ballet steps. Frequently his choreography flows as if the dancers were on ice skates instead of toe shoes. But the sheer athleticism of his lifts and carries cannot be dismissed.
The Stahlbaum’s Christmas party in full flow tells the tale of adults conversing and sharing social dances, children playing with drums and dolls, causing an occasional ruckus until distracted by Drosselmeier’s life-size Sugar Plum and Nutcracker dolls, both of which arrive in delightfully deceptive ways.
The battle scene between the Nutcracker and Mouse King was depicted dramatically with music to match and made a seamless transition into the ravishing Snow scene.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s two most veteran members, Stephen Sanford and Dawnell Dryja danced Friday as the Nutcracker Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy. Yet the two don’t dance the grand pas de deux in Act II.
Among the many changes in the re-imagined “Nutcracker, the young Clara, portrayed by Julia Rudlaff in Act I, becomes a slumbering Clara who dreams of herself as a young adult, danced by Yuka Oba.
Dream Clara dances the grand pas de deux because, after all, a girl who dreams of a handsome prince doesn’t sit back and watch some other girl dance with him.
Enraptured by the wonder of her journey Oba blossomed on stage, partnered confidently by Sanford. The Snow scene was unabashedly romantic, danced with the enthusiasm of newly discovered passion between two young lovers. Building upon that foundation, their grand pas de deux in Act II brought forth even greater technical accomplishments.
Dryja, leading 12 little fairies, was radiant in her solo with dainty feet and captivating presence that filled the stage even when dancing alone.
Grand Rapids Ballet last year launched a $2.5 million capital campaign to retire debts, build and endowment, and create a new production of “Nutcracker.” Realizing that vision led the company to expand by one-third this season. No fewer than 32 dancers are on the roster. Thirteen are newcomers this season.
The payoff in the Snow scene and in the “Waltz of the Flowers” was extraordinary with a corps de ballet of 16 snowflakes and 12 flowers, all professionals, apprentices, trainees or guests, who danced with nimble assurance and supple cohesion.
The Arabian Spice divertissement, with Ednis Gomez as a snake charmer and Monica Pelfrey as an asp, was sinewy and sensuous. Kyohei Yoshida’s spellbinding spins in the Chinese Tea divertissement, pursued by a new Chinese dragon, were electrifying.
Therese Davis, Connie Flachs and Laura McQueen Schultz danced with polished poise in the French Pastilles variation. The Russian Caviar divertissement had Isaac Aoki, Steven Houser and Nicholas Schultz exploding across the stage with powerful leaps as the audience clapped along to the Trepak rhythm.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s new production, as likely as not, will have its naysayers.
A prologue that has Drosselmeier, portrayed magnetically by Attila Mosolygo, planning Christmas surprises for his godchildren, as well as an epilogue that returns Clara to her home, safe and sound, are entirely new to DeVos Hall.
The enormous Mother Ginger is no more, though her masked Harlequin children still appear in the show. Overall, there are fewer students and children on stage.
But the new version of “The Nutcracker,” which the company plans to tour in future years, surely will elevate Grand Rapids Ballet’s reputation as a professional troupe of consequence while entertaining a new generation at the holidays with the magic of dance.
In 2014, locals were delighted to witness the stage debut of a new re-imagined ballet production of “The Nutcracker.”
For this new version of this popular Christmas production, Grand Rapids Ballet tapped the enormous talents of former Grand Rapidian and illustrator/author Chris Van Allsburg (“The Polar Express,” “Jumanji”), the Tony Award-winning set designer Eugene Lee (“Wicked,” “Sweeney Todd”) and choreographer Val Caniparoli (San Francisco Ballet), who, through their combined inventiveness, would bring to birth locally a brand new holiday classic.
And while we are all familiar with the dance of the sugar plum fairies, mice that duel and battle with a precision only a dancer could deliver, and, of course, the storybook thrill of the heroic toy soldiers all combined make this enchanting fable one that should not be missed, regardless of where you fall on the kid scale these days.
The magic of the night’s success is brought to life through the dancers who keep the audience spellbound as they perform to music of our Grammy-nominated Grand Rapids Symphony.
And, as an added bonus on the third year of this new production, the Grand Rapids Ballet’s dancers
and company invite guests to purchase tickets for the AfterGlow event immediately taking place following the opening night’s performance at the equally theatrically designed Pantlind Ballroom at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.
The cost to attend this special opening night party is $45 per person. Each AfterGlow purchased ticket includes delicious appetizers, desserts, two complimentary drinks, and a chance to dance in this elegant setting with a room filled with performers and fans of our local ballet.
If you wish to attend this special AfterGlow event, when purchasing tickets at ticketmaster.com for the Friday, Dec. 9 performance of “The Nutcracker” be sure to select the “add AfterGlow tickets” to your order before checking out.
Choreography is one of the most important ways to tell the story and communicate emotion in any ballet production. In 2014, Grand Rapids Ballet is reimagined The Nutcracker with the creative dream team of children’s book illustrator/author Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express, Jumanji) and Tony Award winning set designer Eugene Lee (Wicked, Sweeney Todd) for set and production design, and Val Caniparoli for choreography. Grand Rapids Ballet’s newest version of The Nutcracker is a unique production for West Michigan, which stays true to the original story. Grand Rapids Ballet chose Val Caniparoli of the San Francisco Ballet, who is known for his innovative choreography, to choreograph and create a new Nutcracker voice.
His Background Val Caniparoli, a longtime choreographer since 1982, is one of America’s most sought after choreographers. He has contributed to the repertoires of more than 45 dance companies and won many awards. He has been with the San Francisco Ballet for over 40 years, where he is a principal character dancer. Caniparoli is known for his innovative choreography and his versatility. His body of work is based in classical ballet, but his choreography is also influenced by many other types of movement, ranging from modern dance and ethnic dance to social dancing and ice skating. His diverse body of work has led to him being one of the world’s most highly sought after American choreographers.
Original Van Allsburg illustration of the “Street Scene” backdrop
Caniparoli believes in collaborating with the entire creative team on a ballet production. He also isn’t afraid to change a successful ballet if he comes up with a promising new idea while working on a production. Caniparoli shares some of his creative process: “I rarely think of steps. I’m inspired to create by being in the room with the dancers and with the music. I’m one that collaborates right away with everyone that’s involved in the project. I don’t wait for the designers to come in. They are in the studio from day one. They are affected by the rehearsals. Sometimes I’m affected by a design, and it gives me a great idea. It all intertwines with me.” He feels that collaborating with the dancers is important to creating choreography. “In many ways, the dancers take ownership of the ballet and give it a better quality product because of it. Everyone is involved and takes great pride in what they accomplished,” says Caniparoli.
Original costume sketches by Patricia Barker
Reimagining The Nutcracker
Grand Rapids Ballet’s Artistic Director Patricia Barker has worked with the creative team of Van Allsburg, Lee, and Caniparoli to create a new Nutcracker that is unique to West Michigan, while still honoring the traditional storyline. The choreography plays a key role in bringing the production together for this vision. Caniparoli choreographs from the perspective of both a dancer and choreographer. He comments, “I’ve been dancing the San Francisco Ballet version of The Nutcracker for over 40 years, and I’m still dancing it. I’m heavily influenced by three different choreographers within those 43 years: Lew Christensen, William Christensen, and Helgi Tomasson. I’m influenced heavily by Lew Christensen’s version of The Nutcracker. The Christensen brothers brought the first version of Nutcracker to North America, at the San Francisco Ballet. I’m highly influenced by their background, which was classical ballet and vaudeville. I was coached by Lew Christensen. There is this great picture of him coaching me as Drosselmeier during Nutcracker rehearsal, and I distinctly remember how he taught me and what he wanted me to do. So that is ingrained in my head for how I want this Drosselmeier to be. It’s my interpretation of how he taught me, so it is kind of cool how things are handed down.”
Caniparoli believes The Nutcracker is the hardest and most important ballet for a choreographer. He says, “The challenge is telling the story, and connecting everything, and making everything mean something to the audience. You want adults and children to love it and come back every year. The big challenge is also the importance of the work. It’s got to last, at minimum 10 years. It’s the hardest ballet for any choreographer because of audience expectations, and working with both children as well as company dancers.”
Reimagining The Nutcracker is not new to Caniparoli. “This is my third version of The Nutcracker, and each version is different. I love recreating it and rethinking it, and trying to find different ways of making that music work for me as well as the audience. It is like a different viewpoint of it. I love that challenge,” says Caniparoli. Caniparoli’s shares his hopes for audience reaction: “I want this Nutcracker to be fun for everybody and have a sense of humor as well as magic. I want the audience to have fun and to take their children, and watch their wonderment as they see it for the first time. I want them to see it through their children’s eyes.”
Val Caniparoli’s versatile choreography style and his Nutcracker history and training, make him an ideal voice for bringing Grand Rapids Ballet’s newest Nutcracker vision to life.