ARTISTIC DIRECTOR JAMES SOFRANKO

james sofranko artistic director grand rapids ballet

James Sofranko assumed the position of Artistic Director of Grand Rapids Ballet in 2018 after an 18-year career as a soloist with the San Francisco Ballet.

He is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and received his dance training at The Harid Conservatory in Florida and later at The Juilliard School in New York City, where he received his BFA in dance.

At San Francisco Ballet, he danced in numerous works and world premieres by choreographers such as Helgi Tomasson, Val Caniparoli, William Forsythe, Liam Scarlett, Justin Peck, Alexi Ratmansky, Edwaard Liang, Lar Lubovitch, Wayne Macgregor, 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 starred 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 he 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 formed a new contemporary repertory company in San Francisco, SFDanceworks, presenting works by Alejandro Cerrudo, Lar Lubovitch, José Limón, Nacho Duato, Christopher Bruce, and world premieres by Penny Saunders, James Graham, Danielle Rowe, Dana Genshaft, and Sofranko himself. He continues his work with SFDanceworks currently in the role of Artistic Advisor.

Since 2018, Sofranko has created 11 original works for Grand Rapids Ballet: Two Tangos, Ballade, The Sweet By and By, A Dreamer, Calling Forth, Aubade, Julia, Piece of You, Ave Maria, Peter and the Wolf, and Romeo and Juliet Fantasy. In February 2023 he will create a world-premiere full-length production of Romeo and Juliet to be premiered at DeVos Performance Hall with the Grand Rapids Symphony. He has also created works for San Francisco Ballet School, SFDanceworks, Long Beach Ballet, and Marin Dance Theater. James has worked as a repetiteur for Yuri Possokhov, resident choreographer for San Francisco Ballet, and has staged his ballets on Cincinnati Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

Since assuming the directorship of Grand Rapids Ballet, the company’s repertoire has grown to include classical and contemporary works by some of the most sought after choreographers working today. The dancers have come from across the United States and around the world.

Sofranko has brought repertory which includes choreography by Yuri Possokhov, Alejandro Cerrudo, Penny Saunders, Trey McIntyre, Val Caniparoli, Adam Hougland, Danielle Rowe, Nicolas Blanc, Brian Enos, Christopher Stowell, Darrell Grand-Moultrie, Jennifer Archibald, Ben Stevenson, Edwaard Liang, Amy Seiwert, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, and George Balanchine. He instituted a program entitled Jumpstart which allows new choreographic talent to emerge from within the ranks of the dancers. He has personally collaborated on world premieres with musicians Gene Hahn and Jordan Hamilton, and the company collaborates frequently with other cultural organizations in the area, including with the Grand Rapids Symphony, ArtPrize, Festival of the Arts, DisArt and the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Since 2019 the company has performed annually at the amphitheater at the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park and in 2021 began performing at Studio Park Celebration Cinemas in downtown Grand Rapids.

During the 2020-21 season, Grand Rapids Ballet successfully weathered the pandemic by producing a first-ever virtual season, in collaboration with SALT Creative Production Studios. Sofranko curated four virtual programs, including “The Nutcracker Experience,” which was seen on television throughout West Michigan and earned the company an Emmy nomination.

James would like to thank his wife Cynthia Sheppard Sofranko for her ongoing support and creative input in all of his work.

Follow James on Instagram.

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