Grand Rapids Ballet Closes its 2021-22 Season by Presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Serenade

Continuing its 50th Anniversary, GRB offers two weekends of performances

By Jessica Meldrum M.S.

Grand Rapids Ballet continues its 50th anniversary by performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” April 22-24 and April 29-May 1 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. The performance also will include George Balanchine’s timeless, classical work, “Serenade.”

“`A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies and is a wonderful story to be made into a ballet, especially since Mendelssohn wrote such perfect music to accompany the play,” said James Sofranko, artistic director at GRB. “After waiting over two years to bring Midsummer to the stage, I am so excited to finally be able to share this beautiful ballet with our audiences. Midsummer utilizes our whole organization, not only the professional company members and apprentices but also our trainees and even students from our Grand Rapids Ballet School.”

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” shares a story full of magical spells cast by Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies, and the infamous mischief-making Puck. Featuring choreography by Christopher Stowell, associate director of the National Ballet of Canada, and music by Felix Mendelssohn, the production has something for everyone to enjoy.

“`A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is very enchanting,” said company dancer Emily Reed. “This production has been in the making for over two years; we started learning this in fall 2019 and it kept getting pushed back due to the pandemic. Now it’s finally time to perform, and it’s a great way to end this season.”

While “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is based on Shakespeare’s play, audience members need not have a thorough understanding of the story to follow along and enjoy the ballet. “It’s a comedic ballet with many stories interwoven,” explained company dancer James Cunningham. “The colors of the costumes help illustrate the characters and their corresponding storylines.”

The ballet features familiar characters such as Puck, the mischievous sprite who famously manipulates the human characters for his entertainment, and comedic characters such as Bottom, who is unknowingly transformed into a charming donkey. The storyline is dynamic and engaging throughout.

“There are multiple plots all at one time,” explained company dancer Nathan Young. “The audience will see a lot of comedy, mischief, romance, and athleticism. This production is fast-paced with big jumps and turns. You’re really transported into a Shakespearean world.”

Sharing a glimpse into what goes into preparing for this production, company dancer Alexandra Meister-Upleger shared how she and company dancer James Cunningham work together to portray their characters, Helena and Demetrius.

“Our couple is loosely based on other Shakespeare productions,” explained Meister-Upleger. “Hermia and Lysander are based on Romeo and Juliet, and Demetrius and Helena are based on Hamlet and Ophelia.”  In preparing for this role, she shared “I like to do character research beforehand. This character is tough for me, it’s not my natural tendency to perform this type of role. I’m generally more confident, and my character, Helena, is more withdrawn.”

Cunningham, on the other hand, shared that he turns to literature for inspiration. “I usually read texts or watch a film and see how the actors portray the role and do that through the steps that I’m given,” he said. “I have to find what works for my body and how to portray that for my character.”

The performances also will pay homage to George Balanchine, performing the timeless, classical work, “Serenade,” with music by Tchaikovsky. This classical ballet is widely known as Balanchine’s first ballet made in America. Using the students of his School of American Ballet, Balanchine choreographed this ballet in the early 1930s for an American audience that had not yet been widely exposed to ballet.

“I am happy to be presenting George Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’ in this program, one of ballet’s most treasured pieces of choreography, blended perfectly with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Serenade for Strings,’” said Sofranko. “`Serenade’ is one of those ballets that you never tire of watching, the way the music fills the dancers’ spirits and the way Balanchine moves the corps of women around the stage is pure genius, it is a work of art that every ballet lover should experience.”

Grand Rapids Ballet’s dancers are eager to perform both works as the organization continues its 50th Anniversary, which spans two seasons, through the end of 2022. “Starting with Ben Stevenson’s ‘Cinderella’ in February, and now adding Christopher Stowell’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and Balanchine’s ‘Serenade,’ the 50th Anniversary repertoire features two seasons full of well-crafted masterworks,” said Young.

As GRB prepares to conclude its 2021-22 Moving Forward season, the company is offering two weekends of performances for audiences to choose from. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is taking place April 22-24 and April 29-May 1 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre with tickets starting at $36 online, via phone at (616) 454-4771 ext. 10, or in-person at GRB’s Box Office. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is sponsored by Mary Yurko and Mark Gurney.

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