Grand Rapids Ballet to Present Jumpstart 2022 Featuring World Premiere Choreography in Collaboration with GR Organizations

To Celebrate 50 Years of GRB, Each “Jumpstart 2022” Performance will Work in Partnership with Artistic and Educational Organizations in West Michigan

By Jessica Meldrum M.S.

Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) continues our 50th anniversary by collaborating with various Grand Rapids-area arts and education institutions to create eight world-premiere performances during Jumpstart 2022, taking place March 25-27 at Peter Martin Wege (PMW) Theatre. Jumpstart is an annual production at GRB, each year bringing new artistic elements to the forefront.

“We are an organization dedicated to our community, and I am especially excited this year, in honor of our 50th anniversary, to be able to incorporate collaborations with multiple organizations from around the city, adding yet another layer of creativity and shining a light on how Grand Rapids can come together to create art,” said James Sofranko, artistic director at GRB.

In preparation for Jumpstart 2022, GRB’s dancers are challenged to refocus their creative energies, moving into the role of choreographer, building works for other company dancers. Two works also will be revived from GRB’s 2020-21 virtual season, including a reworking of the film, “Amiss,” choreographed by Resident Choreographer Penny Saunders, and “Brothers” by Jennifer Archibald. Eight Company dancers are working as choreographers for the world premiere works, collaborating with prominent organizations, including Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), and Opera Grand Rapids.

Jumpstart is a program that I look forward to every season because the dancers always astound me with their abundant creativity and talent,” said Sofranko. “In a performance consisting of all world premieres, I never really know what the show is going to look like until opening night, and that makes for a very exciting process!”

GRB’s company dancers, consisting of 19 professional dancers, are eager to share these works with the community. The choreographers include Isaac Aoki, James Cunningham, Zach Manske, Alexandra Meister-Upleger, Yuka Oba-Muschiana, Emily Reed, Nigel Tau, and Adriana Wagenveld. Rehearsals officially began for GRB in early March, however, the works have been well underway for months as the various community partners began their preparations. Students from the Fashion Studies program at KCAD’s Pamella Roland DeVos School of Fashion began visiting GRB in January, working in the costume shop, creating custom costumes that will be featured in Adriana Wagenveld’s work, “Peri physeōs,” based on Empedocles’ poem of the same name, which translates to On Nature and will explore the four elements.

“I am excited for our students to be working with GRB again this semester,” said Lori Faulkner, Fashion Studies program chair and associate professor at KCAD. “Collaborations are an important part of our program’s learning environment. They enable Fashion Studies students to use their design techniques in real-life situations, improve creative problem-solving skills, receive critical feedback, and create beautiful work for their portfolios.”

In addition to costuming, community partners also lent their talents in production and visual elements ahead of Jumpstart 2022. Eighteen students from GVSU dedicated their time throughout the winter semester learning animation and movement exercises, which are being applied to Emily Reed’s work, “No Longer Left Outside,” which centers around two pieces of music and includes excerpts from “A Conversation with Myself” by Alan Watts. Moved by the last words of Watts’ lecture, Reed’s work will feature a backdrop with projections of nature, moss, and birds while each dancer is represented on-screen by the color they are wearing.

“The GVSU Department of Visual and Media Arts is thrilled to be partnering with GRB to celebrate their 50th Anniversary,” said Julie Goldstein MFA, assistant professor at GVSU. “The students in our second-level animation class are collaborating with Emily Reed to generate an immersive imaginary landscape for the Jumpstart performance.”

Company dancer Nigel Tau’s work, “What Remains,” takes inspiration from Hwa-Jeen Na’s photography collection at GRAM, which depicts people in their daily lives, capturing “the fleeting moments of introspection,” explained Tau. In addition to the photographic artwork inspiring GRB’s dancers, the dramatic architectural spaces at GRAM also have shaped inspiration for Isaac Aoki’s work, titled “soirée.”

“Working throughout the pandemic I wanted to do something on a bigger scale that is really joyful and pays homage to GRB and GRAM,” he said. “I’ve been going to the museum ever since I moved here and I am excited to use 28 dancers for this 9-minute piece.” Aoki’s work will incorporate elements from a dance film taking place at GRAM while onstage at PMW.

“It’s a pleasure for the Grand Rapids Art Museum to collaborate again with GRB in celebration of their 50th Anniversary,” said Dana Friis-Hansen, director and CEO at GRAM. “Looking back, the company has enriched the cultural scene in so many ways through its performances, artistic innovation, dance school, and public education programs. GRAM is thrilled to offer collaborative opportunities to two young choreographers, Nigel Tau and Isaac Aoki, who are shaping the future of dance. Partnerships like this are what Grand Rapids does well, and I hope it will continue for another fifty years and far beyond!”

Christine Amon, mezzo-soprano with Opera Grand Rapids shared that while working with company dancer Yuka Oba-Muschiana, the pair collaborated to create a story that would be told through music and dance. “It was a fun task to find a piece of music for Yuka and me. We thought about what kind of story we wanted to tell, and what elements of the music spoke to each of us artistically. I cannot wait until it all comes together!” Oba-Muschiana’s work is based on a poem that showcases a woman going through different stages in a relationship. “I always love listening to opera so I was very excited,” Oba-Muschiana said.

GRB company dancers, Zach Manske and Alexandra Meister-Upleger are working with Civic Theatre for separate pieces, each incorporating actors into their works. “Civic is honored to be collaborating on two pieces for Jumpstart,” said Allyson Paris, artistic director at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. “Manske’s beautiful and romantic piece features GRB dancers and actors from our recent production of ‘Shakespeare in Love’ with music by local composer Todd Lewis, and Alexandra Meister-Upleger’s thought-provoking work explores two poems from ‘The Spoon River Anthology.’ It’s a delight to merge these two approaches to storytelling to create something unique and memorable for our community!”

Meister-Upleger’s piece, “Das ist mein Sohn,” takes inspiration from a book of poetry that focuses on a town of people who reflect on their lives after their physical bodies left earth. “I came to find out it’s a popular collection for actors to use in auditions and monologues,” she explained. Manske’s work features two dancers performing a pas de deux that intertwines dance and acting. “It’s based on the text ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and Viola reading the pages for the first time,” Manske shared. “It’s a mirror reflection of their relationship and the story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that is multi-layered and explores the telling of a love story.”

The final work, “Zazous du Jour,” by company dancer James Cunningham, works in collaboration with Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra. It features five musicians performing alongside dancers portraying the Zazous subculture in Paris who epitomized the idea of quirky individuality and self-expression by integrating big band music of the early 1940s. “I hope to celebrate the idea of these independent free spirits and incorporate a message of acceptance toward all types of people who walk their own unique path in life.”

Jumpstart 2022 takes place March 25-27 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre with tickets starting at $24 via phone at (616) 454-4771 ext. 10, or in-person at GRB’s Box Office. Jumpstart 2022 is sponsored by The Rosemary and David Good Family Foundation and Dave Schmidt and Robert Oracz.

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