Search Committee Co-Chairs Dana Baldwin and Leah Voigt announced today the appointment of James Sofranko as the new Artistic Director of Michigan’s only professional ballet company.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors, staff, and dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet, we are excited to welcome James Sofranko to Grand Rapids. He is a true star and brings a passion for dance along with the sophistication, grace, and knowledge required for this leadership position. We expect great things as we move forward in an incredibe new era of the Company’s history,” said Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director Search Committee Co-Chairs Dana Baldwin and Leah Voigt.
Sofranko, who is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, received his dance training at The Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, and The Juilliard School in New York City, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. Upon graduation in 2000, he joined San Francisco Ballet and was promoted to soloist in 2007.
“James is an intelligent, thoughtful, and versatile dancer who has dedicated so much to the Company over the last 18 seasons. He has also made a lasting impact on the Bay Area dance community through performances he has produced himself. With his vision, I have no doubt that he will bring Grand Rapids Ballet to new heights, and I wish him all the best on this exciting new chapter. We will miss him.” San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson.
Sofranko will be responsible for all artistic direction and artistic planning including programming and hiring of dancers and choreographers, production staff, touring, and outreach efforts. He plans to choreograph new works for Grand Rapids Ballet as well as hire outside choreographers. He is eager to build upon the reputation left by outgoing Artistic Director Patricia Barker as a company that presents new works while continuing to present established works from the world’s most respected choreographers, in both classical and contemporary styles.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to lead Grand Rapids Ballet into their next chapter. Upon my visits, I was impressed with the dancers, the board, the staff, and the city of Grand Rapids. The company works easily in both contemporary and classical styles, which makes them a natural fit for me. I’m excited to begin working to continue to bring great dance to the city of Grand Rapids, as well as to continue my growth as a choreographer.”
Sofranko’s last performance as a dancer with San Francisco Ballet will take place during the Company’s Unbound Festival, in May 2018. He will officially join Grand Rapids Ballet on July 1, 2018. In the meantime, he will play an important role in the development of 2018-2019 season programming to be announced in early Spring 2018.
JAMES SOFRANKO BIOGRAPHY
A dancer for the past 18 years at San Francisco Ballet, Sofranko has danced in numerous works and world premieres by choreographers such as Helgi Tomasson, Val Caniparoli, William Forsythe, Liam Scarlett, Justin Peck, Alexei Ratmansky, Edwaard Liang, Lar Lubovitch, Wayne McGregor, Mark Morris, Julia Adam, Yuri Possokhov, Christopher Wheeldon, Paul Taylor, Arthur Pita, Stanton Welch, Jorma Elo, Hans Van Manen, Jiri Kylian, John Neumeier, James Kudelka, Lila York, Kenneth Macmillan, George Balanchine, and Jerome Robbins. Some of his favorite roles include ‘Mercutio’ in Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet, ‘Eros’ in Mark Morris’ Sylvia, ‘Bugle Boy’ in Taylor’s Company B, and the second sailor in Robbins’ Fancy Free.
He received an Isadora Duncan award (“Izzie”) for Best Performance in 2011 in Yuri Possokhov’s Classical Symphony.
James was featured in the principal role of ‘Eddie’ in the Broadway touring company of Movin’ Out, a musical choreographed by Twyla Tharp to the songs of Billy Joel.
In 2012, Sofranko co-founded DanceFAR (Dance For A Reason), an annual benefit performance and after-party that brings the Bay Area dance community together to support the work of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC). In 2014, he received the Inspiration Award from CPIC. To date, DanceFAR has raised over $450,000 in support of their programs and initiatives to prevent cancer.
In 2014, Sofranko formed a new contemporary repertory company in San Francisco, SFDanceworks. The first two seasons have played to sold out houses and the company has presented works by Alejandro Cerrudo, Lar Lubovitch, José Limón, and world premieres by Penny Saunders, James Graham, Danielle Rowe, Dana Genshaft, and James Sofranko.
Sofranko has also created many original choreographic works, including two for the San Francisco Ballet School Trainee program, SFDanceworks, Long Beach Ballet, and Marin Dance Theater. James also works as a repetiteur for Yuri Possokhov, resident choreographer for San Francisco Ballet, and has staged his ballets on Cincinnati Ballet, Colorado Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.
Along with his duties to Grand Rapids Ballet, Sofranko will continue to develop SFDanceworks, currently presenting a San Francisco season every summer. (Season Three is June 8-10, 2018 at the Cowell Theater). Dance For A Reason (DanceFAR) is an event and a cause (cancer prevention) that Sofranko strongly believes in and hopes will continue. Discussions are ongoing regarding the future of DanceFAR.
It was announced today that the board of directors of Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB)—Michigan’s only professional ballet company—is in the beginning phase of forming a search committee to field leads, identify qualified
candidates, and interview and select a new artistic director. This is in response to the news that Patricia Barker, the company’s artistic director since 2010, has accepted the position of artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet.
“We are thrilled for Patricia,” said GRB board of directors’ president Michael P. Kling. “The indelible mark she has left on GRB and the arts in general in West Michigan is beyond compare and her new position is a testament to her skills as an artistic director. Our top priority right now is ensuring the sustained success of GRB.”
In order to ensure a seamless transition, Patricia and the Board have expanded Attila Mosolygo’s role to director of Grand Rapids Ballet School (GRBS), a role formerly filled by Patricia. Mosolygo, who retired from dancing at GRB in 2013 after 16 years, will oversee the administration, curriculum, and creative vision of GRBS which currently enrolls over 250 ballet students. Mosolygo will also continue as director of GRBS’s Junior Company and as a GRB ballet master.
“There’s no greater joy than helping a student with a passion for dance reach his or her full potential, so it’s an incredible honor to know that the board of directors has the confidence in me to fill the big pointe shoes left behind by Patricia,” said Mosolygo. “My 21-year history with GRB will serve me well as we move into this exciting new chapter and I’m eager to continue to bring the level of excellence to the school that the students and their parents deserve and have come to expect.”
Barker will split her time during the 2017-18 season between GRB and her new role as artistic director for Royal New Zealand Ballet. Accordingly, other organizational changes are being implemented for the upcoming 2017-18 season. Dawnell Dryja, a GRB company dancer since 2002, is being named artistic coordinator, and Nicholas Schultz, Laura McQueen-Schultz, and Steven Houser are being elevated to the position of interim ballet masters in addition to company dancers.
“I’ll never forget my years at GRB—they were very special to me and I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished,” said Barker. “I have the utmost confidence in the team to keep the company headed in the right direction and these staff changes will make sure everything goes smoothly as GRB starts a new chapter.”
After seven years with the Grand Rapids Ballet, Barker is taking on a new adventure on the other side of the globe.
Patricia Barker (front) with her Grand Rapids Ballet dance troupe. Image courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet.
Former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and current artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB), Patricia Barker, will become the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB)’stwelfth artistic director and only the second female director in its 64-year history. She takes over from current RNZB artistic director Francesco Ventriglia on June 19, 2017. Ventriglia will stay on as a choreographer for the company.
Barker says the application process involved her submitting a strategic overview with a sample production plan. She met with RNZB’s search committee via video conference calls and spent three days at the company’s home in Wellington where, in addition to meeting and talking with the organization’s board and staff ─ including fellow American executive director Frances Turner ─ she had a question and answer session with RNZB’s dancers.
“It’s exciting: they have an excellent reputation, wonderful reviews, and a great spirit and energy in the studio,” says Barker.
According to Barker, RNZB was looking for a unique identity for their 36-member company and she feels she can create that for them.
“All the works I did at Grand Rapids Ballet definitely gave us a unique identity. I look at each transition as an exciting change, building on an organization’s successes that came before while looking toward the future,” says Barker. “We did that in Grand Rapids and I think I can do that here.”
With a 13 million dollar budget and a history of international touring, Barker says she is ready to apply what she has learned in her career at Pacific Northwest Ballet, as a dancewear entrepreneur, and at Grand Rapids Ballet to moving RNZB forward.
Patricia Barker has been at the Grand Rapids ballet for seven years. Image courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet.
With their 2018 season already set, Barker says she will be initially working on programming for 2019 as well as getting to know the dancers and the organization. With that advanced planning in place along with seasonal differences in when RNZB performs, it will allow Barker to also stay on as artistic director at Grand Rapids Ballet during the coming 2017–18 season.
“It’s nice because their [New Zealand’s] summer is our winter and there will be opposite weeks of work,” says Barker. “I can do a lot remotely and be in Grand Rapids for the opening of productions.” She also says she still plans on staging a few ballets on the company.
GRB’s 2017–18 season, which includes “From Russia With Love,” which is a program of highlights from “Sleeping Beauty,” “Swan Lake,” “Giselle,” “Esmeralda,” and “Don Quixote;” their annual “The Nutcracker” production re-imagined by “Polar Express” author Chris Van Allsburg; two repertory programs celebrating diversity with world-premiere works by some of today’s most influential choreographers; and the world-premiere of choreographer Penny Saunders’ Oscar Wilde inspired ballet “The Happy Prince and other Wilde Tales,” will now act as a farewell celebration of Barker’s seven years with the GRB, taking it from a relatively unknown regional troupe to one with a national presence.
“I am an adventurous individual with one more adventure in me,” says 54-year-old Barker on moving to the other side of the world. “I am so proud of what we created at Grand Rapids Ballet, the platform for choreographers, especially women choreographers. And the prolific amount of works we have done has been incredible. Also, the development of talent, including local talent, has been wonderful to be a part of. The fun thing about going somewhere else is bringing all that I have learned and experienced here and applying it there.”