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.
Originally posted by Steve Sucato for Cultured.GR 3/6/17.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s Creative Director, Michael Auer, creates theatrical magic behind the scenes.
In preparation for this weekend’s “MOVEMEDIA: World Premieres” performances, the Ballet’s creative director can be found high above the stage hanging projectors—or whatever it takes to help choreographers and dancers realize their visions.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” said the Wizard of Oz after being caught for the elaborate stagecraft he presented to Dorothy and her compatriots in the 1939 movie classic of the same name. It’s a desire for anonymity Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) creative director Michael Auer, the organization’s own multi talented and multifaceted wizard, can identify with as well. When it comes to helping others find the courage, heart and smarts in their creative endeavors for the 46-year-old ballet organization, Auer stays behind the scenes.
Born in Vienna, Austria, Auer studied ballet at the Vienna State Opera Ballet and then at New York’s School of American Ballet. He went on to a professional dance career with North Carolina Dance Theatre, Eliot Feld Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet and at Pacific Northwest Ballet. With was there that he met wife Patricia Barker, a prima ballerina with the company. They’ve now been together for 33 years.
After his career as a dancer, Auer’s second career was as a self-taught computer software engineer. He has worked at Microsoft, Boeing, Carnegie Mellon and others—creating software, developing early virtual reality technology, and doing market research.
That diverse skill set has served him—and GRB—well since Barker took over as artistic director in 2010. The 62-year-old Auer is not only Barker’s right-hand man, artistic advisor, confidant, and sounding board. He also plays the role of website developer, IT guy, and technical liaison between guest choreographers and GRB’s production staff.
Instead of assuming the job title of “artistic associate,” standard at most ballet companies, Auer says he bestowed upon himself the title of creative director, a title he was used to at many of the tech companies he worked for in the past. Because, along with the aforementioned duties, he takes on rehearsing and coaching roles for the company’s dancers and teaching class, the position of creative director is more fitting to the broad scope of his responsibilities.
Perhaps his biggest duty is acting as a creative conduit between guest choreographers/répétiteurs and the capabilities of GRB’s 300-seat Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
“Primarily what I do when a choreographer comes in is help facilitate things like the use of music and any audio editing that needs done. [I help with] technical requirements, such as if they are looking to do projections and special effects, and how the stage needs to be arranged,” says Auer.
His efforts in those areas are perhaps best seen in GRB’s popular contemporary dance series “MOVEMEDIA.” The series takes the creative talents of some of today’s most sought after choreographers and blends them with visual elements and technology to provide a contemporary performance experience. In past “MOVEMEDIA” productions, Auer has helped choreographers with creating video projections and other special effects, including helping to make the background video of a film strip in choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ “One Take” (2014) look vintage, and remixing the music and navigating flashlight logistics for GRB resident choreographer Penny Saunders’ 2015 work for the company, “Slight.” He also came up with 3D stage floor projections of water and moonlight for Mario Radacosky’s 2012 ballet “Black & White: Swan Lake” that the company reprised last month.
Auer says he has a personal agenda to get choreographers to understand that they have an artistic purpose behind their works and that they are not just putting steps together.
“Their piece should say something,” says Auer. “It should speak to those in the audience and possibly raise a dialog in the community.”
For the latest iteration of “MOVEMEDIA,” “World Premieres,” happening March 10–12 at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre, Auer worked with Saunders again on her new ballet, “In Frame.”
“My goal with the work was to create an environment that connects the universal realities of love, life and death, creation and destruction, to the beauty and vulnerability of the creative process,” said Saunders.
Set to several tracks from Max Richter’s reworked version of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” Saunders says she enlisted Auer to help project images of ink and watercolor paintings by artist Alice Klock during her piece.
“The only reason I took on an endeavor like this is because I know that Michael Auer will figure out a way for all of this to come together,” says Saunders. “I have seen him in action enough times now to know that I can count on his brain to help me make it all work.”
Auer also had a hand in synchronizing video projections to the music used in Robert Dekkers and Vanessa Theissen’s new work for the program, “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness.” Titled after an excerpt James Merrill’s poem “Log,” the 26-minute ballet for 21 dancers is set to Caroline Shaw’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning composition, “Partita for Eight Voices.”
“This work was inspired by the dancers, my collaborators (Vanessa and costume designer Christian Squires), and the present environment in which we live,” says Dekkers.
Rounding out what Auer refers to as “probably the biggest ‘MOVEMEDIA’ we’ve ever done” will be award-winning choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ latest for the company.
There are certainly advantages for a ballet company in having their own theater space, like not having to pay to rent another theater space, having 24/7 access to it for rehearsals, and allowing for experimentation by choreographers and technical staff. But perhaps the theater’s most unique advantage is the way the stage is raked, with an incline from the front edge of the stage to the back. This allows for everyone in the audience to see the stage floor, making the use of floor projections that one might otherwise only see as an audience member in other theaters seated in the balcony. Auer says while the Peter Martin Wege theater has those advantage,s it also has its limitations. One of the biggest is the inability to fully “fly” in and out stage curtains, drops, and scenic elements such as at other venues they use like DeVos Performance Hall where the company performs its annual The Nutcracker production. Other limitations include the lack of an orchestra pit and having only a 10-foot loading dock door that prohibits bringing in large set pieces.
In addition to helping choreographers explore the capabilities of what they can technically do with their works, Auer also helps GRB’s dancers explore what they can do with their art.
As mentioned, Auer teaches and coaches the dancers but particularly enjoys rehearsing and “cleaning” dance works.
“I do like going in when the dancers know their steps and we can start getting people in line,” says Auer. “I help the dancers add quality, dynamics, intent, and purpose to their dancing.”
When he is not working his magic behind the scenes at GRB, Auer says he likes to cook.
“Having places like Fish Lads of Grand Rapids and Trader Joe’s has elevated our cooking at home,” he says. As for Barker’s culinary skills, he jokingly says “I keep Patricia [Barker] far, far away from the cooktop.”
She doesn’t deny it.
“I think [the kitchen] is a wasted room in the house,” Barker confesses.
The Seattle transplants bought a house in Heritage Hill that they share with their 23-year-old pet cat Mathilda and are settling into life in Grand Rapids.
“There has been a tremendous growth in the city for the better since we arrived with an influx of new people, new buildings, new restaurants and more,” says Auer.
But for now, the pair’s attentions are focused on the upcoming “MOVEMEDIA” production. There’s plenty of magic yet to be made Barker, her dancers, and though the audience may not realize it, by man behind the curtain, Michael Auer.
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.
Spring break is right around the corner and we have the perfect activity to keep the little ones busy!
Story ideas for ballets come from many places. Grand Rapids Ballet’s artistic director, Patricia Barker, came up with the idea for the company’s production for this year’s Spring Break for Kids program while snorkeling in Hawaii with her husband.
“I thought of the fairy tales that are out there, and then I thought it was time for something new,” said Barker. “It all takes place in a aquarium.”
The children’s ballet will be presented daily at Peter Martin Wege Theatre Tuesday, April 4 through Thursday, April 6 at 9:30am and 11am. Each performance will be preceded by 30 minutes of fun activities including arts-and-crafts, costume dress-up, prize giveaways, and more.
The 30-minute show is about Johnny Starfish, a rock star, who is getting ready for a show when his dolphin friends tell him one of his mermaids, who are part of his act, is missing and then is kidnapped by an Evil Villainess (pictured below) and her henchmen and taken to her lair.
“Her costume is over-the-top fabulous,” Barker said. “The costume shop has just gone wild with costumes.”
Johnny and his friends fan out across town to find the missing mermaid, calling upon the Mayor of Kelpville, the secret police, and even Julie the Newscaster.
“They all come from different places in the sea,” Barker said. “But Johnny’s a very American, California boy.”
The show stars Grand Rapids Ballet professional dancers. Brian Vander Ark, lead singer and principal songwriter for The Verve Pipe, is contributing original music with plenty of cultural flavor, such as Hawaiian ukuleles for the dolphins and music with a Spanish flair of the Villainess.
Tickets are only $5 each and are going fast, so don’t wait. Get yours 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.
Due to the popular demand for our upcoming run of “Black & White: Swan Lake,” we’ve added a special command performance on Tuesday, February 14. But that’s not the best part: We’ve partnered with the good folks at Humane Society of West Michigan (HSWM), too, and it’s called “Pas & Paws” (see what we did there?).
What does that mean exactly? Well, a sizable portion of the proceeds from the evening’s ticket sales will go to help in HSWM’s mission to promote the humane treatment and responsible care of animals through education, example, placement, and protection, that’s what. How great is that?
So, in addition to enjoying the amazing performance of “Black & White: Swan Lake,” you’ll also have the opportunity to learn more about the services provided by HSWM, including the adoption process. We even hear there will even be a few furry four-legged friends in attendance—in bow ties!—to greet guests in the lobby.
Photos courtesy of Isaac Aoki.
Photos courtesy of Isaac Aoki.
Photos courtesy of Isaac Aoki.
Photos courtesy of Isaac Aoki.
Photos courtesy of Isaac Aoki.
Photos courtesy of Isaac Aoki.
Photos courtesy of Isaac Aoki.
Photos courtesy of Isaac Aoki.
And our good friends at Gilmore Collection have generously offered to donate 15% of your check if you dine at Gilly’s at The B.O.B. before the show. Gilly’s is the restaurant group’s delicious seafood concept which is conveniently located just a couple of blocks away. You could totally park once and walk to both locations. Just make sure to let your server know by showing your tickets. Reservations are not required but are encouraged, so call 616.356.2000 to make yours today. We mean, just look at these delicious plates of food!
What a wonderful way to spend Valentine’s Day evening, whether you’re single, coupled, and/or parents with kids but no babysitter, right? Tickets are available at here or by calling 616.454.4771. We hope to see you there!
Save Tchaikovsky’s brilliant original score there was little choreographer Mario Radacovsky’s psychological ballet Black Swan White Swan (retitled Black & White: Swan Lake for 2017) had in common with traditional productions of Swan Lake. No feather-adorned tutus, no clack of pointe shoes hitting the stage floor and no love story of prince and a beautiful swan that transcends death. His contemporary version of the Marius Petipa classic instead had its dancers in modern-day costume, often barefoot, and told the story of a self-absorbed man who, faced with his own mortality, sought refuge in romantic relationships with two very different women only to be tormented by feelings of guilt and betrayal over his infidelities with them.
The world premiere of the black-and-white themed two-act ballet by Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre began with a darkened stage on which the moving image of the surface of a shimmering lake was projected. The lake’s waters gradually became more turbulent as apparition-like circles of white light rose from its depths.
The mesmerizing scene then shifted to two others that served as setup for the ballet’s storyline and where we were introduced to its main characters.
In the first, a brief encounter between Nicholas Schultz as Siegfried and Laura McQueen Schultz as the White Swan (she looking more like a secretary than a swan) left the impression that Siegfried was in poor health as he collapsed to the floor (repeating the gesture at intervals throughout the first act) and that whatever ailed him, as well as his inner demons, were being manifested in the form of the sorcerer, Von Rothbart. Dancer Kyohei Giovanni Yoshida was riveting in his portrayal of the clingy, jealous and sinister Von Rothbart who seemed to have an equal measure of aggression and desire for Siegfried. His dancing was a potent blend of skill and power.
The second found Siegfried at a dance party where he encountered Black Swan, Dawnell Dryja. Radacovsky’s contemporary dance choreography for the scene had its five couples rocking back and forth in each other’s arms in a slow dance then picking up the pace to a comedic level while the Black Swan fawned over a now-melancholy Siegfried while Von Rothbart inserted himself between the pair, grabbing at Siegfried or climbing onto his back.
Apart from the ballet’s leads, GRB’s dancers appeared at times uneasy in Radacovsky’s gesture-laden contemporary movement language; their dancing lacked energy and crispness.
Toward the end of the first act however, the ballet and the dancers’ performances seemed to come into their own thanks to a striking dreamlike scene where a corps of fourteen swans, barefoot and in white leotards, performed choreography that blended references to Petipa’s production with twisty, off-balance movement. The swans each danced in individual spotlights atop the shimmering lake projection that harked back to the ballet’s beginning and brought home the notion that the swans were in fact the apparition-like lights that rose from the lake’s depths. Backed by a wall of mirrored panels that multiplied the number of Swans, Siegfried and Von Rothbart slowly stalked each other as the swans danced, creating a marvelous juxtaposition of growing tension and animated beauty.
A lightning-quick dance of the four cygnets and a playful and acrobatic pas de deux between Siegfried and the White Swan followed to end the act. McQueen Schultz as the White Swan was radiant and her performance in the pas deft.
The ballet’s second act saw Radacovsky’s choreography abandon its sometimes cutesy elements in favor of rich, emotional and more technically challenging movement. It opened with Siegfried and Von Rothbart in another battle of wills in which both dancers shone.
The ballet then climaxed in the Black Swan pas de deux where a seductive and fierce Dryja partnered by Schultz wowed the audience. Darting legs, sharp turns and daring lifts were thoroughly enthralling.
The rest of the ballet saw Siegfried seemingly defeat Von Rothbart only to have him return when the White and Black Swans met each other and exposed Siegfried’s infidelities. The ballet ended with Siegfried and Von Rothbart lying lifeless on the stage as the projected image of a swan in flight surrounded them and GRB’s swan corps slowly flapped their arms to Tchaikovsky’s stirring music.
Perhaps not a production for the ballet purist and in some ways a flawed one, Radacovsky’s ballet was nonetheless a triumph. For GRB, now in its 40thseason and the second under new artistic director and former Pacific Northwest Ballet prima ballerina, Patricia Barker, Black Swan White Swan was bold and successful step in the new direction Barker is taking the company from a little-known regional ballet company to one in the national spotlight.
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.