Grand Rapids Ballet to Open 2023-24 Season with Contemporary Visions

By Marketing Director Meghan Dolata
September 27, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., September 27, 2023 — Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB), Michigan’s only classical ballet company, is delighted to officially open their 2023-24 season and present the first in-theatre performance of the season, Contemporary Visions. The production features four stand-alone works created by explorative and dynamic choreographers who share relatable stories through their movements.   

The first work in the production, “Land of the Gods,” is a world premiere from the ballet’s own up-and-coming choreographer and veteran company dancer, Yuka Oba-Muschiana. “Yuka has a natural ease of movement and a knack for weaving steps together that look beautiful but also convey an emotion and story,” James Sofranko, artistic director of the Grand Rapids Ballet, says. “For someone still in the beginning of their career as a dancemaker, she has a lot of maturity and depth, and it’s not just about the steps,” Sofranko added.  


Yuka’s story draws inspiration from the personal experience of her father’s passing and the process of descending into the afterlife. “In Japan, the Buddhist belief is that our actions on earth are judged by seven gods, and they decide the fate of our spirit. In “Land of the Gods”, we see two separate travelers with different stories and judgments,” Oba-Muschiana said.   

Julian Gan in rehearsal for “Land Of The Gods.” Photo by SALT.

Next, the ballet’s production features “Berceuse,” choreographed by resident choreographer Penny Saunders. Initially created in 2011 for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, “Berceuse” is a sweeping and intricate duet set to Benjamin Godard’s gorgeous piece of the same name. “Berceuse,” meaning ‘lullaby’ in French, explores the nuanced line between classical and contemporary movement and zooms in on a relationship, amplifying its twists and turns as it falls through time.  


Following “Berceuse”, patrons can enjoy Donald McKayle’s (1930-2018) work titled “Spirit of Women.” A memorable, towering figure in American modern dance, Donald McKayle’s work can be intense, joyful, powerful, and dramatic. During his career, he did not shy away from contemporary social and political injustice issues. “Spirit of Women” is, in a sense, a world premiere, for this is the first time these three solos (excerpted from larger works) have been put together into one suite of dances. Stephanie Powell, stager of McKayle’s works, spent two weeks with the dancers of GRB, delving into the character and stories of these three spirited women. “‘The Spirit of Women’ solos offer the dancers a rich opportunity to delve deeply within oneself to uncover the truth behind their femininity, vulnerability, and power as a unique woman,” says Powell. “In Donald McKayle’s work, each artist was given a voice with which she contributed personal experiences, research, and emotion that will transform the approach to her artistry for a lifetime.” 

Jacqueline Burnett and David Schultz in Berceuse. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Stephanie Powell in rehearsal for Spirit of Women. Photo by James Sofranko.

The final work in Contemporary Visions is yet another world premiere, choreographed by Darrell Grand-Moultrie. Darrell has an extensive resume, including creating works for Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theater, and Beyonce. His new piece, “Le Grand Jazz!,” is the first group work he is creating for the ballet after creating solo pieces in previous seasons. Artistic director James Sofranko says, “Darrell and I were classmates at Juilliard, and I’ve never not seen him making dances. I knew that he would make it as a choreographer, and I’m so happy that we can bring him to Grand Rapids Ballet to create a brand-new work for our dancers.”  


The ballet’s production also includes a unique, free, Family Matinee performance explicitly designed for families to enjoy. The performance will feature an introduction to professional ballet and an excerpt from the Contemporary Visions program led by Artistic Director James Sofranko. It will include plenty of opportunities for audience interaction, a performance from the professional company, and a chance to meet the dancers.  


To accommodate sensory-sensitive audience members, the Family Matinee performance will feature low-sensory adjustments, including lowered volume, elimination of strobe lighting, and a 45–60-minute runtime. Tickets are FREE for this curated performance; they must be reserved through the ballet’s website 

Additionally, the ballet is celebrating the official start of the season with the Grand Rapids Ballet Soirée. The Soirée will occur at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market and the Peter Martin Wege Theatre. It will feature an elevated, strolling wine & dinner experience followed by an exclusive one-night-only performance curated by artistic director James Sofranko, including the first public viewing of Darrell Grand Moultrie’s world premiere from Contemporary Visions. Patrons can reserve their tickets on the ballet’s website for $150.

Contemporary Visions runs at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre from October 6-9, 2023. Tickets start at $36 and can be purchased online, via phone at (616) 454-4771 ext. 110, or in person at GRB’s box office.

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