grand rapids ballet jumpstart 2020

Photo by Isaac Aoki

A conversation with Marketing Director Michael Erickson

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to sit down with as many of the choreographers of Jumpstart 2020 as I can. Mind you, there are nine—yes, nine!—this year, so I’ll do my best. The show is March 6-8 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre and tickets are available here.

Jumpstart is our annual showcase of emerging talent featuring the dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet as both choreographers and dancers. Artistic Director James Sofranko provides this platform for them to explore their artistic vision and bring their inspiration to life by creating short works for the people of West Michigan while gaining valuable experience as choreographers.

First up is James “Jimmy” Cunningham who joined the Company in 2019. You can read his full bio here.

Q:  Thanks for your time, Jimmy. Tell us about your piece for Jumpstart 2020. What’s the title?

A. Of course. My piece is entitled Butterfly Walking.

Q: What inspired you?

A:  Initially, I stumbled across a motivational podcast as I was scrolling through my social media feedThe message centered on not fearing change when that very change may give you the potential to become something better than what you currently are. The podcast used a lot of metaphors to make its point, but there was one about a butterfly which really resonated with me: Don’t be the butterfly that merely walks. Butterflies have big beautiful wings and they are meant to fly!

Q: How does this message translate into your choreography? 

A: Well, first, I knew I didn’t want to create something literal and have the dancers flying around the stage like actual butterflies (laughs); I wanted something deeper.  So I took the ideas of flight, fear and hesitation, and change and growth; threw in different kinds of relationships; and I took it to the studio. Hopefully, the audience will find the end result poetic and moving. I do. 

Q: Obviously, music plays a big part in the creation of any work. What about yours?

A: My piece has four different sections featuring the beautiful music of three female cellists/composers:  Julia Kent, Zoë Keating, and Hildur Guðnadóttir. (Listen to their beautiful music on Spotify below.) 

Q: Anything about the set, lighting, and costume design on which you’d like to elaborate?  

A: I made a sketch for the costume design and was lucky enough to work directly with our amazing costume shop manager, Ron Altman, to make my vision come to life. As for any set design, I plan to keep it simple by utilizing the black curtain and white backdrop that exists at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
Hopefully, I can get the dancers to emerge from the light in an interesting, dramatic way, but that’s still a thought in progress.


Q: Is your piece contemporary or classical?

A: Classical lines and coordination w
ith a contemporary freedom, and some quirky shapes.  I like to build the use of momentum into my choreography.  With classical ballet everything can sometimes seem calculated, manufactured, refined, and delicate.  I find there is a special kind of poetry in the movement when you give into the force of it or add momentum.  The recovery tells a different story and makes the dance exciting to watch.  To me it can appear more human and evoke or emulate emotion. 


Q: So, you’re choreographing this piece on your fellow dancers. Is that a satisfying process? 

A: The dancers have been great to work with — so open to my ever-changing ideas.
They ask questions and provide constant inspiration with their thoughts and their natural coordination. I appreciate their patience, too; I know from being on the other side that it’s hard when the plan changes or suddenly the choreographer changes your favorite step.  I also tend to create in a cut-and-paste kind of way. My creativity isn’t consistently linear. They are on board with me and for that I am so grateful. Thank you!

Jumpstart 2020 is March 6-8 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. For tickets, visit our website, Ticketmaster, or call 616.454.4771 x10 today. 



© Copyright - Grand Rapids Ballet 2022