In total, he danced for over 20 memorable years, all while refining and developing his costume-design skills. Unlike other performers, Ron simultaneously worked in the studio and in the costume shop. During his time as a performer he created countless costumes for short dance works and full length ballets. While in New York, he worked with costume designer Barbara Matera Ltd. to create costumes for Broadway musicals such as Beauty and the Beast, Sunset Boulevard, Damn Yankees, Carousel, Crazy for You, and A Christmas Carol.
Photo by Katie Aaberg. “I am thrilled to be working with a ballet company I have observed for years.”
He received his Masters Degree in Dance from Ohio State University and joined the faculty and staff at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2017. During his time in Nebraska, he worked as the costume shop manager for theater and dance, and taught costume design, costume technology, costume history, and ballet technique classes.
Ron’s unique background of both being a performer and costume designer will be valuable in the upcoming season. He states that he has “great empathy for the dancers – having been one myself – and recognize the importance of functionality in a costume. I want the dancers to feel good and comfortable in what they are wearing.”
Welcome, Ron! We are excited to present his work to you in our upcoming season.
Grand Rapids Ballet School
Hometown: East Lansing, Michigan
Dance experience: 29 years. Received a BFA in dance from Oakland University and a master’s in Arts Development from University of Denver. Danced for various contemporary companies. Performed as a B-girl and a backup dancer.
Favorite movie: Some Like It Hot
Favorite food: Sushi
Best season: Fall
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Maui
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.
The Grand Rapids Ballet welcomed accomplished dancer, choreographer and artistic entrepreneur James Sofranko as its new artistic director on July 1. In this capacity, Sofranko is responsible for all artistic direction and planning for the GR Ballet.
Sofranko, a Cincinnati native, received 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. After graduating in 2000, Sofranko joined the San Francisco Ballet, where he was promoted to soloist in 2007. His final performance as a dancer with the San Francisco Ballet was this May.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Proudest moment?
JS: My proudest moment was probably when I was hired into San Francisco Ballet straight after graduating from Juilliard. Juilliard sometimes has a reputation of being a school for only modern dancers, and I am very proud that I was able to show that my training in the modern techniques of Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and Jose Limon did not exclude classical ballet from my future.
I love all styles of dance and I believe that training in one style can inform another. Dancers today must be versatile and able to do so much more than just classical ballet. My versatility was one of my strengths at San Francisco Ballet and I’m very proud that I was able to dance in such a large variety of styles during my career.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Biggest career break?
JS: There is a role designed for a short man in Kenneth Macmillan’s “Elite Syncopations,” a ballet we did at San Francisco Ballet early in my career, set to Scott Joplin rags. A few of the shorter principals were cast in the role, but through injury or other circumstance, I ended up first cast in this role that required a lot of comedy and physicality.
I found myself, as a new corps member, dancing with long time principal (and the very tall) Muriel Maffre in this pas de deux with her legs constantly going over my head. I remember thinking to myself, “Whatever you do, just don’t drop her!” I was nervous, of course, but the comedy kept me on my toes and in the moment. To this day, audience members still come up to me and remind me of that duet and how that was the first time they remember knowing who I was.
Grand Rapids Magazine: What talent would you like to possess?
JS: I would love to be able to draw or paint. Unfortunately, I can barely do a stick figure.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Favorite movie of all time?
JS: Oh, so hard to choose! My wife and I could watch “When Harry Met Sally” forever. We know all the lines, but it’s still one of our “go-to” movies when we just want to relax and laugh. Also, “Bullets over Broadway” and “Meet the Parents” rank pretty high for comedy.
For more serious fare, I like “V for Vendetta” or anything written by Charlie Kaufman, and “West Side Story” is my favorite musical.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Morning or night person?
JS: Morning, although I can stay up late too… but I’m my best in the morning.
Grand Rapids Magazine: What are you most passionate about?
JS: I’m most passionate about showing people the value of art in their life and society. Without art, we lose sight of the beauty that humans are capable of. Without art, we lose a form of expression that speaks beyond language.
Grand Rapids Magazine: What makes you laugh?
JS: My two sons, Jack and Aiden!
Grand Rapids Magazine: Favorite getaway?
JS: In California, we love taking a drive to wine country; it’s like having Italy in your backyard.
Grand Rapids Magazine: Your best or worst habit?
JS: One (bad or good depending how you look at it) habit I have is doing too much and saying yes to too many projects! There’s just so much to do and not enough time!
Grand Rapids Magazine: How do you unwind?
JS: A walk on the beach with the family is always therapeutic.
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.
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.