Festival of the Arts is excited to announce its honorary co-chairs for the event’s 50th year – Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director for Grand Rapids Ballet and James Sofranko, the new Artistic Director for Grand Rapids Ballet. The two were selected to celebrate the link to the very first Festival of the Arts when the Ballet performed on Calder Stage nearly 50 years ago.
“I am excited to collaborate with Glenn and James to create a celebration of Festival’s 50 years that will be memorable and special for the entire community,” said David Abbott, Executive Director for Festival of the Arts. “We have already begun the work of highlighting the relationship during next year’s 50th celebration, and we look forward to sharing something amazing with the region!”
Glenn Del Vecchio serves Grand Rapids Ballet as Executive Director, and serves on a number of executive boards in the community including Vice Chair at Michigan Dance Council and Operations committee of the Convention Arena.
“Grand Rapids Ballet is thrilled to play a part in planning Festival of the Arts’ 50th celebration,” said Del Vecchio. “Our team has had a natural connection with Festival over the years and I am humbled to have been selected as honorary co-chair for such a momentous celebration.”
James Sofranko is the new Artistic Director at Grand Rapids Ballet and has been a soloist dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. He has danced in numerous works and world premieres by world-renowned choreographers. He is a choreographer himself and has founded and produced numerous dance projects during his time in San Francisco. He is excited to bring his experience and expertise to the Grand Rapids Ballet.
“I am honored to be welcomed into the Grand Rapids arts community with such an important appointment,” said Sofranko. “I am excited to share the Grand Rapids Ballet with the city through Festival of the Arts. The arts are all inclusive and should not discriminate against those who cannot afford to pay for it, so bringing high quality artistic performances to this completely free festival is something I strongly believe in.”
The Board of Directors of Festival of the Arts recently decided to follow a new process for honorary co-chairs starting with Del Vecchio and Sofranko in 2019. In order to re-connect with the arts institutions of the region, Festival will look to select leaders from partnering arts institutions in future years. The honorary co-chairs will serve as ambassadors to the community encouraging engagement for the event and also serve as conduit to all the other arts institutions in the region for solicitation of performers and artists.
David Abbott, executive director at Festival of the Arts, joined the organization in April of 2018 in an interim basis and is now charged with leading the vision of the organization into its 50th year and beyond as the organization’s first full-time executive director. He is working to bring the historically all-volunteer run event to a new level, offering consistent leadership year-to-year.
Festival of the Arts takes place the first full weekend of June every year, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary on June 7, 8 and 9 in downtown Grand Rapids.
About Festival of the Arts
In 1969, Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse was installed in front of City Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. The 43-foot-tall, vibrant red stabile, which became known as “The Calder,” inspired a celebration – one that’s grown to encompass most of downtown Grand Rapids.
Festival of the Arts, always the first full weekend of June, will celebrate its 50th year in 2019 on June 7, 8 and 9 in downtown Grand Rapids. The three day event family friendly remains free and features several stages of performances taking place all day, a juried arts exhibition, and dozens of food booths run by local non-profit organizations. Festival also offers creative activities for children and adults to enjoy with opportunities to make your own art or purchase art from many West Michigan artists. For more information visit festivalgr.org or check out Festival of the Arts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
As our 2018-2019 season draws closer, we’d like to introduce you to the newest additions to this growing company. We are so excited to expand our ranks, and continue to bring excellent dance to West Michigan as the stat’es only professional ballet company.
First up we have company member, Alexandra Meister-Upleger from Aurora, Ohio.Most recently she was a company member with Nashville Ballet. A native of Ohio, Alexandra began training at Sharron’s School of Dance. She continued her ballet training under Ana Lobe and various teachers throughout northeast Ohio as well as summer programs at Nutmeg and Houston Ballet. In 2008, she was invited to join Nashville Ballet’s second company, NB2. In September of 2010 she was offered an apprentice contract, and in the same season was promoted to company member. In the summer of 2016, Mrs. Meister-Upleger represented the USA at the 27th International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria Alexandra. She enjoys traveling and golfing with her husband and family. She loves working with young artists and sharing her passion for art. Fun fact: She owned a small business weeding gardens in Nashville called the Wacky Weeders.
Next up we have company member Emily Reed from Monee, Illinois joining us. Emily began dancing when she was three at Faubourg School of Ballet followed by the Ruth Page Center of the Arts, where she trained under beloved ballet master Larry Long. Emily attended various summer intensives across the country on scholarship and was one of the first trainees for Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. Emily spent 2010-12 in the Milwaukee Ballet II program where she performed a wide range of repertoire with MBII and in the main company productions. She spent six seasons with Minnesota Ballet and danced such roles as Lucy in Dracula, Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, in Salvatore Aiello’s Clowns and Others, and in George Balanchine’s Who Cares? and Tarantella. Emily has also performed in the Lake Arts Project in Milwaukee, WI, as well as guested for the St. Lucie Ballet in The Nutcracker as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Josue Justiz from Cuba is also joining us as a company member. He was born in Cuba where he started studying ballet at the age of nine in his hometown of Santiago de Cuba. When he was 14, he entered the National Ballet School of Cuba in Havana under the guidance of masters Fernando Alonso and Ramona de Saa. During his time there, he was a successful competitor in the International Ballet Competitions of Havana winning one silver and two gold medals. After graduation, he entered the National Ballet of Cuba under the direction of Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso. After only two years with the company, he earned the title of soloist. He came to the United States permanently soon after where he joined the Studio Company of the Washington Ballet. In 2014, he joined the former Ballet San Jose under the direction of ballet legend Jose Manuel Carreño. Jose is a founding member of Dimensions Dance Theatre where he collaborated with well-known choreographers such as Septime Webre, Tara Reid, Vicente Nebrada, and Yanis Pikieris.
Our 4th company member to join us this season is Nathan Young from Little Rock, Arkansas. Nathan began his training at the age of 13 at the Arkansas Academy of Dance under Mark Bush, Melinda Tobian, and Rebecca Miller-Stalcup. In 2013, Nathan graduated from the University of Oklahoma, where he received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Ballet Performance. After college, Nathan moved to Nashville, Tennessee, dancing for the Dance Theatre of Tennessee for one season and Nashville Ballet for four seasons.
Israel Garcia Chenge
Next to join us is apprentice Israel Garcia Chenge from Mexico. Israel began his ballet training when he was 17 years old at Fomento Artístico cordobés – PROVER with Adria Luz Velázquez and Martha Sahagún in Córdoba, Veracruz. In 2010 Israel joined the trainee program at Orlando Ballet School. Israel joined the Milwaukee Ballet II in 2012 where he performed soloist roles and did works by George Balanchine, Michael Pink, Tim O’Donnell, and Petr Zahradnicek. In 2013, Israel had the honor of being invited to perform as a guest artist at the Youth America Grand Prix Gala in Mexico. The following year, he joined the Joffrey Ballet studio company in Chicago, IL, performing a variety of classical roles and was featured in works by Jennifer Archibald, Stephanie Martinez, Christian Denice and Mariana Oliveira.
Nicholas Bradley Gray
Nicholas Gray is joining us this season as an apprentice. He is a recent graduate of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ballet and an Outside Field in Theatre and Drama. Nicholas grew up in Milwaukee, WI, studying at the First Stage Theatre Academy from 2006-2013 and beginning his classical ballet training at the Milwaukee Ballet School in 2010. Nicholas then moved to Torrington, CT in 2013 to continue his classical training with the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory. In his three years at IU Nicholas performed in works by world-renowned choreographers including Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, and Paul Taylor, and studied under ballet legends such as Violette Verdy, Kyra Nichols, Carla Korbes, and Michael Vernon. He had the privilege of performing in featured roles with the IU Opera Theatre and the IU Department of Theatre and Drama.
Finally, William Shearstone from Atlanta, Georgia will be joining Grand Rapids Ballet as a trainee. William began his dance training at 14 years old at the Cobb County Center for Excellence in Performing Arts at Pebblebrook High School where he trained in ballet, jazz, modern, music, acting, and musical theater. He joined Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education Academy’s pre-pro division his senior year. After graduating high school, he earned a Trainee position at BalletMet and spent two seasons dancing there.
Welcome, everyone! We’re all very excited to see how your talents continue to elevate the art of Grand Rapids Ballet. You can learn more about all of your favorite dancers here.
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.
We hope you’re as excited as we are about our amazing new season! Without further ado, here we go…
WILD SWEET LOVE
Photo of company dancer Yuka Oba in Allegro Brillante by Isaac Aoki
Enjoy four passion-filled works in one spectacular performance featuring Allegro Brilliante by the father of American ballet, George Balanchine, and music by Tchaikovsky; Trey McIntyre’s fun-filled epic musing on romantic rituals, Wild Sweet Love featuring an eclectic mix of popular music from Queen, The Partridge Family, Roberta Flack, and more; and the hauntingly alluring Ghost Light by our choreographer-in-residence, Penny Saunders. The evening will also include the first piece created specifically for Grand Rapids Ballet by new Artistic Director James Sofranko. And you won’t want to miss the black-tie gala on Thursday, October 18, welcoming James to Grand Rapids!
Photo of Ghost Light by Dane Wayne courtesy OwenCox Dance Group
Photo of Wild Sweet Love by Peter Mueller courtesy Cincinnati Ballet
Illustration by Chris Van Allsburg
It isn’t the holidays in West Michigan without The Nutcracker. The world-famous design of Chris Van Allsburg, Broadway-quality sets by Tony Award winner Eugene Lee, festive choreography by Val Caniparoli, and the live music by your Grand Rapids Symphony all come together to create pure magic you and your family will remember for a lifetime! Clara’s Nutcracker Party will take place on Sunday, December 18 at 11am at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, too.
Photo by Tim Motley
Photo by Scott Rasmussen
Photo of company dancer Cassidy Isaacson by Scott Rasmussen
Created for you by Princess Grace Award winner and our choreographer-in-residence Penny Saunders, Joffrey Ballet’s Nicolas Blanc, and the talented dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet, our contemporary dance series returns with works from the heart and soul that show a completely different side of their unique talents. This is personal— and hands down one of the most poignant productions you’ll see from us all season.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg courtesy Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
See things from an unexpected angle with the mystical Extremely Close by Hubbard Street’s internationally renowned resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo; Val Caniparoli’s, Ibsen’s House—a portrayal of strong female characters from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s most well-known plays including A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, set to a live performance of Dvorak’s compelling Piano Quintet No. 2; and a second new piece by James Sofranko.
Photo of company dancer Connie Flachs in Ibsen’s House by Isaac Aoki
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Photo of company dancers Cassidy Isaacson and Levi Teachout by Eric Bouwens
Go down the rabbit hole for the triumphant return of the dizzyingly beautiful Alice in Wonderland from choreographer Brian Enos and visual artist Luis Grané. No collaborative effort more fully captures the surrealist and symbolic possibilities of this beloved tale with such exquisite beauty and extravagant imagination. Revue Magazine called it “A modern masterpiece!”
So there it is: A season filled with classics and new works that you won’t want to miss. Single ticket sales start Monday, June 18 so stay tuned for more details!
We’re happy to announce Elizabeth McCarthy Musil as been appointed our new Director of Development. Elizabeth will join us February 19, 2018 to lead fundraising efforts and mission advancement of the 47-year-old institution.
Elizabeth comes to us from Disability Advocates of Kent County where she served as Development Director since 2015. There she provided leadership and management of mission advancement and philanthropic giving. As a member of the senior leadership team she shared in responsibilities of the organization’s strategic initiatives and community engagement. Prior to her tenure at Disability Advocates, she held previous development roles in arts and culture organizations including Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and Gilda’s LaughFest.
“I am thrilled and honored to join one of the greatest performing arts institutions in Michigan,” said Musil. “It is a privilege to work with staff and stakeholders to further enrich the Grand Rapids Ballet’s outstanding reputation and support in our community through sharing the joy of beauty and creative expression through dance and incredible performances with lasting social impact.”
Elizabeth is from Grand Rapids, Michigan and earned her B.A. in Communications from Grand Valley State University. She is a member of Association of Fundraising Professionals, The Economic Club of Grand Rapids, GVSU Women’s Center Advisory Council, and Inforum.
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.
Search Committee Co-Chairs Dana Baldwin and Leah Voigt announced today the appointment of James Sofranko as the new Artistic Director of Michigan’s only professional ballet company.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors, staff, and dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet, we are excited to welcome James Sofranko to Grand Rapids. He is a true star and brings a passion for dance along with the sophistication, grace, and knowledge required for this leadership position. We expect great things as we move forward in an incredibe new era of the Company’s history,” said Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director Search Committee Co-Chairs Dana Baldwin and Leah Voigt.
Sofranko, who is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, received his dance training at The Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, and The Juilliard School in New York City, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. Upon graduation in 2000, he joined San Francisco Ballet and was promoted to soloist in 2007.
“James is an intelligent, thoughtful, and versatile dancer who has dedicated so much to the Company over the last 18 seasons. He has also made a lasting impact on the Bay Area dance community through performances he has produced himself. With his vision, I have no doubt that he will bring Grand Rapids Ballet to new heights, and I wish him all the best on this exciting new chapter. We will miss him.” San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson.
Sofranko will be responsible for all artistic direction and artistic planning including programming and hiring of dancers and choreographers, production staff, touring, and outreach efforts. He plans to choreograph new works for Grand Rapids Ballet as well as hire outside choreographers. He is eager to build upon the reputation left by outgoing Artistic Director Patricia Barker as a company that presents new works while continuing to present established works from the world’s most respected choreographers, in both classical and contemporary styles.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to lead Grand Rapids Ballet into their next chapter. Upon my visits, I was impressed with the dancers, the board, the staff, and the city of Grand Rapids. The company works easily in both contemporary and classical styles, which makes them a natural fit for me. I’m excited to begin working to continue to bring great dance to the city of Grand Rapids, as well as to continue my growth as a choreographer.”
Sofranko’s last performance as a dancer with San Francisco Ballet will take place during the Company’s Unbound Festival, in May 2018. He will officially join Grand Rapids Ballet on July 1, 2018. In the meantime, he will play an important role in the development of 2018-2019 season programming to be announced in early Spring 2018.
JAMES SOFRANKO BIOGRAPHY
A dancer for the past 18 years at San Francisco Ballet, Sofranko has danced in numerous works and world premieres by choreographers such as Helgi Tomasson, Val Caniparoli, William Forsythe, Liam Scarlett, Justin Peck, Alexei Ratmansky, Edwaard Liang, Lar Lubovitch, Wayne McGregor, Mark Morris, Julia Adam, Yuri Possokhov, Christopher Wheeldon, Paul Taylor, Arthur Pita, Stanton Welch, Jorma Elo, Hans Van Manen, Jiri Kylian, John Neumeier, James Kudelka, Lila York, Kenneth Macmillan, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins. Some of his favorite roles include ‘Mercutio’ in Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet, ‘Eros’ in Mark Morris’ Sylvia, ‘Bugle Boy’ in Taylor’s Company B, and the second sailor in Robbins’ Fancy Free.
He received an Isadora Duncan award (“Izzie”) for Best Performance in 2011 in Yuri Possokhov’s Classical Symphony.
James was featured in the principal role of ‘Eddie’ in the Broadway touring company of Movin’ Out, a musical choreographed by Twyla Tharp to the songs of Billy Joel.
In 2012, Sofranko co-founded DanceFAR (Dance For A Reason), an annual benefit performance and after-party that brings the Bay Area dance community together to support the work of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC). In 2014, he received the Inspiration Award from CPIC. To date, DanceFAR has raised over $450,000 in support of their programs and initiatives to prevent cancer.
In 2014, Sofranko formed a new contemporary repertory company in San Francisco, SFDanceworks. The first two seasons have played to sold out houses and the company has presented works by Alejandro Cerrudo, Lar Lubovitch, José Limón, and world premieres by Penny Saunders, James Graham, Danielle Rowe, Dana Genshaft, and James Sofranko.
Sofranko has also created many original choreographic works, including two for the San Francisco Ballet School Trainee program, SFDanceworks, Long Beach Ballet, and Marin Dance Theater. James also works as a repetiteur for Yuri Possokhov, resident choreographer for San Francisco Ballet, and has staged his ballets on Cincinnati Ballet, Colorado Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.
Along with his duties to Grand Rapids Ballet, Sofranko will continue to develop SFDanceworks, currently presenting a San Francisco season every summer. (Season Three is June 8-10, 2018 at the Cowell Theater). Dance For A Reason (DanceFAR) is an event and a cause (cancer prevention) that Sofranko strongly believes in and hopes will continue. Discussions are ongoing regarding the future of DanceFAR.
Dawnell Dryja—long-time company member and audience favorite—announced her retirement from the stage will occur during the Grand Rapids Ballet’s 16th season. She will dance in the first show of the 2017-18 season only (From Russia with Love) and continue to be involved at GRB in her new role as artistic coordinator.
“Dawnell will be missed from our stage, but not from our hearts or the joyful memories we have of her wonderful performances,” said GRB Artistic Director Patricia Barker.
“The time that I have spent at GRB have been some of the most rewarding of my life—both personally and professionally,” said Dryja. “I will always remember my time dancing here with great fondness. The timing of my retirement aligns perfectly my new role as artistic coordinator working with Patricia Barker on the 2017-18 season and with the new artistic director on upcoming seasons.”
Her repertoire includes many leading roles from the classics to contemporary masterpieces, including Swan Lake, Giselle, Coppelia, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Where The Wild Things Are, Dracula, Red Angels, Rapture, Celts, Fingerprints, Jewels, Serenade, Who Cares?, Allegro Brilliante, Concerto Barocco, Slaughter On Tenth Avenue, Con Amore, and Il Distratto. She has worked with esteemed choreographers such as Nils Christe, Frederick Franklin, Kirk Peterson, Val Caniparoli, Suzanne Ferrell, Mario Radacovsky, Gordon Peirce Schmidt, Bruce Wells, Stanton Welch and Raymond Lukens.
“Dawnell came into my life as a bright light when she danced in the opening night of my production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for Detroit Ballet,” said choreographer Bruce Wells. “We would reunite again at GRB when she danced the role of Fairy Godmother in the world premiere of my production of ‘Cinderella.’ From the first rehearsals to the last, Dawnell and I had a sincere, unique connection and immediate respect for one another. She’s a consummate professional with an amazing career.”
Her final performances as a GRB company member will take place over the run of the first show of the 2017-18 season, From Russia with Love. Performance dates are:
Friday, October 6 at 7:30pm
Saturday, October 7 at 7:30pm
Sunday, October 8 at 2pm
Friday, October 13 at 7:30pm
There will also be a special performance for friends and family on Saturday, October 14 entitled From Dawnell with Love. This production will feature highlights from some of her favorite works, including a dance with retired GRB dancer (and current Grand Rapids Ballet School Director and Junior Company Artistic Director), Attila Mosolygo. At this time, tickets to the 10/14/17
performance are not available to the general public.
She is also the owner and artistic director of Academy of Dance Arts. She is married to Bryce Black and the couple have one daughter, Tevyn, who has inherited her mother’s love of dance and performing.