Alexandra Galla


A native of Leelanau County, Michigan, Alexandra’s passion for the arts bloomed at an early age.  Her artistic journey began at Western Michigan University, where she earned a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance in 2018. Furthering her studies, she participated in programs at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria. Since then, she has performed with various organizations such as, West Michigan Opera Project, Opera Grand Rapids, and the Grand Rapids Symphony. Her voice extends beyond fully staged operas finding expression in solo performances and chamber ensembles, most recently as a featured soloist for Fountain Street Church’s performance of Craig Hella Johnson’s Considering Matthew Shepherd.

Alexandra is thrilled to join Grand Rapids Ballet for Jumpstart, which celebrates artistic collaboration and pushes creative boundaries. Witnessing the dancer’s ability to translate music into movement serves as a powerful source of inspiration, and she is eager to contribute her voice to this unique fusion of art.

Allison Smalls (Diatribe)


Amanda Small is a Grand Rapids native poet, artist and activist. She is a two time Drunken Retort ‘Short Sh*t Slam’ winner and has one self published work “Lessons In How To Hold And Be Held”. She is currently working on a second collection of poems “I Spoke of Flowers”.

Gene Hahn


Violinist Gene Hahn debuted at Carnegie Hall as a guest soloist at age 13.  He was a winner of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Young Musicians’ Competition and studied at the Manhattan School of Music with members of The American String Quartet as well as the Philadelphia Orchestra and The New York Philharmonic.  He has performed with The Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, as guest soloist with the Grand Rapids Ballet and is the founding member of ESME (Eclectic String Music Ensemble).

Justin Gray


Justin Gray has built a reputation of being an accomplished dance accompanist, working as a rehearsal and class pianist for major dance institutions throughout the Midwest. Justin holds degrees in both ballet performance and piano performance from Indiana University. Justin has been a resident of Grand Rapids, Michigan since April of 2020 where he has built a thriving studio of piano students. Apart from teaching, Justin also works as a pianist for the Grand Rapids Ballet and serves as the Vice-President of the Piano Teachers’ Forum of Grand Rapids.

Margi Peterson


Margi Derks Peterson participates in a variety of music jobs and activities in West Michigan. She accompanies ballet classes at Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Ballet, directs the children’s, youth, and adult choirs at East Congregational Church, she teaches a middle school choir at UPrep Academy and general music for 3rd-5th graders at Coit for the Vocal Music Workshop, and she composes and arranges music for choirs, singers, and instrumentalists.

Margi has written the music for a 35-minute ballet of The Steadfast Tin Soldier and two books of piano music for ballet class, as well as numerous choral pieces, and two extended vocal solos, one for soprano and one for baritone. Margi sings with the Grand Rapids Chamber Choir.

Michael Schafer


Michael had played piano for fifteen years before he ever picked up an accordion. He sought out his first accordion in 2001, inspired by a dream in which he was playing a bellowed instrument in a dark room. Today, Michael can play around 200 songs from memory. Though he specializes in Italian, French, and Tango, he maintains an impressive repertoire of various styles, including polka, klezmer, Hungarian, and gypsy music. Michael also has recorded an album of original compositions. Through playing the accordion at restaurants and private events, partnering with other musicians for a variety of projects, and teaching accordion to students of all ages, Michael has built a strong reputation in the Grand Rapids area. He is passionate about sharing the accordion with students and audiences, bringing it back into the spotlight as a beautiful instrument with a rich history.

Michael is a visual artist, as well, having studied painting at Kendall College. His artwork has been exhibited at LaFontsee Galleries in Grand Rapids since 1995. A selection of Michael’s work can be viewed on his art website.

Ralston Bowles


Ralston Bowles’ musical history begins with his father, who played the fiddle, guitar and banjo in the Appalachia hills before he moved to Gary, Indiana, to work the steel mills. Ralston’s first professional job was at the age of 16 when he was asked to make up one of his story songs for a neighborhood party.

After graduation he found himself playing in clubs and coffeehouses throughout the Midwest, making up songs about the people and places he visited. His songs have been performed and recorded by Caroline Aiken, Peter Mulvey and Rachael Davis. He has received awards and recognition from American Songwriter Magazine, NSAI/CMT, Unisong, the International Song Competition and Mountain Stage New Song, among many others. As a Kerrville New Folk finalist, he opened for such artists as Shawn Colvin, T-Bone Burnett and Arlo Guthrie.

His first recording, “Carwreck Conversations,” was produced with Marvin Etzioni and earned him triple Jammy Awards locally and recognition as best musician in West Michigan by Grand Rapids magazine. It also led him to his first commercial release through Judy Collins’ Wildflower Records.

His second album Rally at the Texas Hotel also won best album of the year and features a duet with Bob Dylan band leader, Charlie Sexton. He has become a bi-annual favorite at Boston’s Club Passim. Ralston’s newest album “Little Miracles” features 35 top-drawer musicians and was produced by Phil Madeira, the band leader for Emmy Lou Harris. Ralston recorded his parts while in the midst of chemotherapy treating colon cancer. Tracks were recorded in numerous states and assembled in Nashville. He is currently in remission and glad to be back out playing again after a long two year break.

Ritsu Katsumata


Ritsu Katsumata is a performer-composer of music for synthesized electric violin and digital loops and an innovation junkie. “I collaborate with artists of multiple media, creating live audio collages that mix memory, desire and remorse. It’s an interdisciplinary jam session of dancers, visual artists, thespians and musicians in spaces near and far who ‘converse’ in the language of performance.“ The resulting performance simultaneously transforms and transcends expectations as well as the role of the audience as a network of collaborators.

Ryan Blok


Ryan is a pianist, educator, and music director around West Michigan. He has played for dance classes at the Grand Rapids Ballet since 2016, as well as collaborating at Grand Valley State University. Music direction credits include Assistant Director of the West Michigan Gay Men’s Chorus, music director for Pippin at Circle Theatre, and Spamalot at Circle Theatre this coming July. He is thrilled to be involved in this demonstration of Grand Rapids’ local talent.

Stephen Talaga


Pianist, composer and arranger Steve Talaga has been performing professionally for more than 40 years. He was chosen as the West Michigan Jazz Society’s 2008 Jazz Musician of the Year, and has released eight compact discs under his own name: “Mirage;” “Yin-Yang;” “Basement Alchemy” (which was chosen as best release of 2000 by Lazaro Vega at WBLV-FM); “Two Worlds;”  “Contemplating the Heavens” (a companion to the poetry chapbook of the same title by Linda Nemec Foster); “Heartside Sketches” (featuring a suite commissioned by MAJIC of Grand Rapids) which won the WYCE-FM “Jammie” Award for Best Jazz Album of 2010; “The Shapeshifter,” which includes “Deadman’s Hill,” for which Talaga won third place in the 2011 International Songwriting Competition (jazz category); and, most recently, “June Balloon.”  Most of his CDs are available on iTunes, Spotify, and other streaming services.  To purchase hard copies, send him an email at:

Talaga’s most recent project is the band, Lifeline, featuring him (keys), his son, Stephen Talaga (guitar), Caleb Elzinga (sax), and Larry Ochiltree (drums).  Their debut CD, “No Worries,” dropped in October, 2019.
Talaga is also co-leader of “Mind’s Eye,” a jazz quartet with four compact discs to its credit (“Angst for the Spoiler,” “Seasons,” “Lucky Nine,” and “Children of the Glacier”). Talaga has performed with “Mind’s Eye” at many venues and jazz festivals, including the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival in Michigan. Music from “Seasons” has been featured on the nationally syndicated public radio program, “Jazz After Hours.”
Talaga is also pianist for many other small and large jazz ensembles and is featured on recordings with several of them. He has performed with many jazz greats, including Kenny Wheeler, Terry Lynne Carrington, Wes Anderson, Marcus Printup, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Bob Berg, Adam Nussbaum, Wycliffe Gordon, Ric Margitza, Bobby Shew, Maria Schneider, Marvin Stamm, Denis DiBlazio, Jon Faddis, Claudio Roditi, Mark Elf, Johnny Bassett, Greg Abate, Walt Weiskopf, Phil Woods, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra.

Among the many composition commissions he has received are several from MAJIC (Musical Arts for Justice in the Community), Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Poet Laureate Linda Nemec Foster, and the West Michigan Lakeshore Jazz Connection.
Talaga has recently retired from his position as an adjunct professor of music at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He has also been a member of the music faculties at Aquinas College, Grand Valley State University, Cornerstone University, and Grace Bible College, teaching courses in jazz studies and music theory/composition. Talaga is frequently a faculty member at the Aquinas College Summer Jazz Camp and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.
Talaga received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Jazz Studies, Magna Cum Laude, and a Master of Music Degree in Composition from Western Michigan University. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast and Cinematic Arts from Central Michigan University.
As a student in 1993, Talaga won a Downbeat Magazine award in the jazz composition category. He has won outstanding soloist awards from the Elmhurst, Aquinas, Ohio State University, and Notre Dame Jazz Festivals; and awards for jazz composition from the Notre Dame and Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festivals. He received honorable mention in the 1995 Billboard Magazine Song Writing Contest, Jazz Category. From 1982 – 1989, Talaga was a producer and on-air personality at CMU Public Radio in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

The American Hotel System


The American Hotel System is a rock band from Grand Rapids, Michigan that aims to provoke the mind through heartfelt lyrics and intentional musicality. The band has opened for Bon Jovi on their 2022 tour and their music has been featured in Relix Magazine, BuzzMusic, and LEVELUP. They are two time Music Prize finalists and Grand Champions of Music Prize 2022.



Keala Venema and Thom Jayne are part of the Whorled trio.  Described by Local Spins as “a road trip for the ears,” Whorled transports their audiences around the globe with a fresh blend of re-imagined Celtic, bluegrass, French Café, and jazz influences. Whorled gained immediate critical acclaim in West Michigan’s music scene, with three tunes on their 2023 debut album “Reimagined” landing on WYCE’s top 100 songs of 2023.

© Copyright - Grand Rapids Ballet 2022