Diversity is a hot topic right now—and for very good reasons. As the world becomes more inclusive, it’s important that these changes are reflected and celebrated by the arts and culture around us.
That’s why the next two installments of our contemporary dance series, MOVEMEDIA, will focus on the topic of diversity in its many different forms and interpretations.
The brainchild of creative director, Michael Auer, MOVEMEDIA: Diversity brings together choreographers from all over the globe and from every facet of society to create very personal world-premiere works on the issues of diversity which speak to them most. Hear more from Michael below, along with company dancers Yuka Oba and Ednis Gomez, on why the time was right to tackle this topic through the beauty of dance. Thank you, Feel Like You Belong, for the video.
“We felt that the time was right to address the issue of diversity. We wanted to provide a platform for choreographers to express their view of what diversity means to them.” —Michael Auer, Grand Rapids Ballet Creative Director
The first installment of MOVEMEDIA: Diversity will take place February 9-11 and Peter Martin Wege Theatre. This show will include three individual pieces in one spectacular performance. Let’s meet the choreographers and learn a little more about their works.
Jennifer is the founder and Artistic Director of the Arch Dance Company and Program Director of ArchCore40 Dance Intensives. She is a graduate of The Alvin Ailey School and the Maggie Flanigan Acting Conservatory where she studied the Meisner Technique. Archibald has choreographed for the Atlanta Ballet, Ailey II, Cincinnati Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Kansas City Ballet, Tulsa Ballet II, Ballet Nashville; and worked commercially for Tommy Hilfiger, NIKE and MAC Cosmetics as well as chart-listed singers and actors. She was recently appointed as the first female Resident Choreographer in Cincinnati Ballet’s 40-year history. In 2018, she will be creating new works for Cincinnati Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, Ballet Nashville and Stockholm’s Balletakademien next season.
Archibald’s works have been performed at venues including New York’s City Center, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Aaron Davis Hall, Jacob’s Pillow Inside|Out Stage and Central Park’s Summerstage Mainstage. Jennifer was awarded a Choreographic Fellow for Ailey’s New Directions Choreography Labunder the direction of Robert Battle. She is 2015′s Choreographic Winnings recipient by the Joffrey Ballet. She also choreographed “Seven”, a biographical work about Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, commissioned by St. Louis based MADCODance Company. Her new work “Delilah” is currently touring Scandinavia. Arch Dance Company’s “Chasing Shadows” will be remounted for Dallas Black Dance Theater for their 2018/19 season. Jennifer is currently an Acting Lecturer at the Yale School of Drama.
In 2015, she was appointed as Guest Faculty Lecturer to develop the Hip Hop dance curriculum at Columbia/Barnard College. Jennifer is also a guest artist at several universities including Fordham/Ailey, Purchase College, Princeton, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of South Florida, Goucher College, Columbia College Chicago, and Bates College. In 2017, she premiered new works for Miami New World School of the Arts, South Carolina’s Governor’s School of the Arts, Ailey Fordham, Boston Conservatory, and Point Park. Internationally, she has taught master classes in Brazil, Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, France, Russia, Mexico, China, and Ecuador.
Her piece is entitled Vapor and in her own words:
Each of us interprets and negotiates the world around us through the lens of our own identity, culture, and experience. Today’s diversity should speak to individuality, for it is the individual that makes up the grassroots foundation of a society. People should be encouraged to recognize, explore, and cultivate their individual qualities. This work is designed to process a greater sense of self-awareness needed to succeed in our diverse and complex society; cultivating movement that explores on-going physical negotiation amongst the dancers. We must train ourselves in acceptance every day. Through acceptance the dancers will open up an infinite inner space. I like to enter the rehearsal space guided by the words of Nelson Mandela: ‘It is for us to adapt our understanding of a common humanity; to learn of the richness of how human life is diverse; to recognize the presence of disability in our human midst as an enrichment of our diversity.’
Jennifer working in the studio with dancers (from left to right) Isaac Aoki, Mari Beer, Ednis Gomez, and Claire Ashcraft.
NORBERT DE LA CRUZ III
Born in the Philippines, Norbert is a NYC and LA-based freelance contemporary dance choreographer and educator. Since receiving his BFA from the Juilliard School in 2010, he has been commissioned by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Tulsa Ballet II, Barak Ballet, Hubbard Street II, James Sewell Ballet, Attack Theatre, Ballet X, and Grand Rapids Ballet. De La Cruz has been awarded fellowships from the Jerome Robbins NEW foundation, the Princess Grace Awards – USA, The Jerome Foundation, The Wolf Trap Foundation, and the Commissioning Choreographers Campaign.
He has been selected for professional development programs such as the NY Choreographic institute (an affiliate of the NYCB), the National Choreographers Initiative (Irvine, CA), Hubbard Street’s National Choreographic Competition (Chicago), Joffrey Academy of Dance Winning Works (Chicago), Alvin Ailey New Directions Choreography Lab (NY).
His work has been presented by the Joyce Theatre (NY), Wolf Trap (VA), Ailey CitiGroup Theatre (NY), Martha Knoebel Dance Theatre (CA), Peter Jay Sharp Theatre (NY), Blanch Touhill Performing Arts Center (MO), Aspen District Theatre (CO), Lensic Performing Arts Center (NM), Wallis Annenberg (CA), Kelly Strayhorn Theatre (PA), the Broadway Playhouse (IL), Irvine Barclay Theatre (CA), and McCallum Theatre (CA). In teaching and choreography, his credentials include The Juilliard School Summer, Ailey/Fordham University, Princeton University Ballet, University of Hartford Dance Division, The University of Richmond Department of Theatre and Dance, SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance, Marymount Manhattan College, NJ Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Ramon C. Cortines Visual and Performing Arts High School, Windward School for the Arts, Westside Dance Project, Hawkins School for the Arts, Charles Maple Youth Conservatory, and No.OneArthouse. He conducts seasonal workshops and projects in both New York City and Los Angeles.
Additional honorable mentions include the Asian Arts Alliance Jadin Wong Award, McCallum Theatre Choreography Festival, and Dance Magazines Top 25 to watch in 2016. Working as a freelancer, Norbert is currently pursuing his MFA in dance at Hollins University Graduate Program.
Norbert’s work is entitled The Return of Balance:
In this piece, I want to explore diversity by destabilizing the relational aspects of heteronormative pairings. Set to a cinematic, ambient, and emotionally charged score, the energy and content of the dance is a result of a collective creative studio process. I hope to interrogate the arising tensions of our relationships, its proximity effects, and the balance and/or symmetry that is desired and physicalized between those bodies. The 14-minute contemporary work hopes to reflect on heteronormative codes.
Norbert has videos of his piece on Instagram you can check out here.
Loughlan is an Aussie/Kiwi choreographer and performer based in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. He is the choreographer in residence at the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and the creative director of Prior Visual, a project based film collective.
A graduate of the New Zealand School of Dance, his choreographic work began as early as his first school years where he received the Warrandyte Youth Arts Award. He joined the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2010, and in 2015 was awarded the prestigious Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award by the Ballet Foundation of New Zealand.
In 2016 Loughlan received the Tup Lang Choreographic Award from Creative New Zealand for his work as a unique artistic voice and was made choreographer in residence in 2018, under the directorship of Patricia Barker. He is invested in producing theatre, film and multi-media projects with his work currently receiving premieres in New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong and the United States.
His ballets have been described by the New Zealand Herald as ‘dance that uses extreme geometries, innovative partnering, elegance and refinement’. His works for the Royal New Zealand Ballet include Diminished Illusions, EVE, The Long and the Short of it, LARK, Ideale and Between-Us. In 2018 he created a short film for the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Te Papa (New Zealand’s National Museum) to launch the new National Gallery Toi Art Collection.
Prior maintains a strong bond with the New Zealand School of Dance where he has been invited to create three works for student casts – Verse, FirstLight and Curious Alchemy. FirstLight made it’s premiere in 2014 at the closing gala of the Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong, while Curious Alchemy premiered in 2017 at Toronto’s Assemblée Internationale, and later at the School’s 50th Anniversary Celebration programme.
Loughlan’s piece is entitled They/Them and explores the topic of gender neutrality:
Gender expression and the debate to use gender neutral language is an ongoing and multilayered issue. Our social landscape, as it has developed over thousands of years, is fixated on binary paradigms and exists under an outdated ideology. Tradition dictates the portrayal of gender and gender identity in ballet dancers as almost always exclusive to male and female partnerships and strict gender-specific roles. This work aims to present gender identity as a fluid construct highlighting the importance of the individual as a neutral entity undefined by gender or physical form. Are traditional gender constructs holding us back, and would adopting a gender fluid, non-binary ideology help to decrease trans issues and gender inequality? Are we more than the sum of our parts?
Gender neutral costumes for They/Them by William Fitzgerald. From left to right: Cassidy Isaacson, Mari Beer, Sidney Scully, Matt Wenckowski, Nigel Tau, Isaac Aoki, Yuka Oba, and Ednis Gomez.
“I want them to walk away with something. A thought, an emotion, a topic–and I want to have choreographers rethink what it is that they’re creating. I want the audience to be touched somehow.” —Michael Auer, Grand Rapids Ballet Creative Director
This will be a thought-provoking show that will have you talking for days. Be a part of the discussion and get your tickets today! Call 616.454.4771 x17 and speak to Kelly our box office manager or visit grballet.com/diversity.
MOVEMEDIA is Contemporary Dance at Grand Rapids Ballet
Written by Grand Rapids Ballet Company Dancer Connie Flachs
Photography by Eric Bouwens
As a dancer with Grand Rapids Ballet, I have felt firsthand the lack of publicity when the arts section of the Grand Rapids Press dissolved. The excitement of opening night’s review was lost. A platform for critical discussion evaporated. The work being done at Grand Rapids Ballet is too important to exist only within the walls of the Peter Martin Wege Theater. Art needs to be reviewed, critiqued, and discussed not only by those of us who create it but by those who view it. I hope this extremely biased review helps spark interest and discussion within the community. The views expressed here are only my own and do not reflect the opinions of Grand Rapids Ballet.
This is the sixth year Grand Rapids Ballet has produced MOVEMEDIA, a show that seeks to push the boundaries and preconceptions of dance beyond what most people visualize when they think “ballet”. MOVEMEDIA has introduced Grand Rapids’ audiences to ballets danced sofas, performed barefoot, or featuring politics. The program also provides a platform for emerging choreographers to create on talented, professional dancers in an experimental environment. This year’s program continues on this path, creating work that utilizes modern technology, the latest dance trends, and the unique talents of Grand Rapids Ballet.
The program opens with “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness” choreographed by Robert Dekkers, the artistic director of Post:Ballet in San Francisco. Ambient music and a barren stage with a greenish glow initiate the experience. A single man walks on draped in a warrior-like sweater and scaly tights settling, stagnant on the stage. Others fill the empty space, barely acknowledging each other’s existence. The single man, Levi Teachout, begins to dance in an intense, angular way. A series of solos follow. Just as the piece risks becoming generic movement study the mood breaks and dancers exit, replaced by small trios and solos. This piece clearly exists in a world of its own, as though the audience is peering through a microscope to see what occurs beyond the naked eye. Is this world only at the microscopic level? Is it in the past? Is it a future society? Dekker’s work is particularly unusual for Grand Rapids Ballet. The choreography was created with
large input from the individual dancers. The avant garde costumes, designed by Christian Squires, are shiny and structured in a futuristic manner, accessorized by glittering facial tattoos. The intensity of the performers’ stares raises questions: What are they looking at? What are they searching for? How are they related?
Particularly memorable is an intense shaking section that resolves as a line of dancers washes across the stage. A solo danced by Grace Haskins is especially striking due to her sharp and quirky movements. The eye is also drawn to the strong movements of Caroline Wiley, Cassidy Isaacson, and Adriana Wagenveld as they forcefully descend upon the stage. A pas de deux between Jack Lennon and Yuka Oba is the apex of the piece. Lennon’s powerful stance supports Oba’s fluidity and together they build suspense along with the music’s crescendos. As the ballet draws to a close, Oba is enveloped into the wings by her fellow performers, leaving only Ednis Mallol Gomez and Matthew Wenckowski on stage, struggling with some sort of force. Their superhuman movement, from whizzing revolutions to one armed pushups, fit right into the strange, fantastical world Dekkers has created.
The mood of Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Glean” is a deep contrast to Dekkers’ work. Adriana Wagenveld and Nicholas Schultz emerge into a path of light, dancing a pas de deux filled with manipulation; Wagenveld’s head follows Schultz’s hand; her step forces his knee forward. The movement is simple and honest, as though they’re in the beginning stages of a relationship. The movement isn’t memorable, but Wagenveld’s deep gaze into Schultz’s eyes is hard to forget.
The first pas de deux dissolves into a second duet between Cassidy Isaacson and Matthew Wenckowski. Dressed in costumes identical to the first couple, I found myself imaging their dancing as a later phase of the same relationship, one where the couple is less ensconced with each other and more selfconscious. Isaacson and Wenckowski partner intricately but rarely make eye contact, often staring out at the audience as though wondering what others think of them. The fuzzy, grainy music adds to the feeling that there are spectators just outside of view, whispering, judging, and commenting to each other. Wenckowski is left on stage alone. The combination of the dark lighting and his black pants draw attention to his bare torso, emphasizing each muscle. His arms reach further than imaginable, emanating from some sort of angst. His gorgeous movement ends in slow walking, mirrored by Isaac Aoki. Wenckowski leaves Aoki works himself into awkwardly beautiful positions. Yuka Oba meets him on stage and they begin dancing, perhaps representing the final, mature stage of the relationship. Their steps are the most complicated and intricate, suddenly resolving into identical poses the way a long-term couple can finish each other’s sentences.
Oba is left on stage alone as Aoki fades into darkness, moving with distress showing openly on her face. She stops, facing the public, as though she can no longer go on without her partner. But she begins again, continuing on as the lights black out. Williams’ piece is pretty, choreographed with a vocabulary of steps that veteran MOVEMEDIA audience members will be familiar with. The simplicity of lighting and costumes allows the viewer to assign their own meaning to each relationship.
Penny Saunders shares a similar background with Williams: both have danced with Hubbard Street, a mainstay of Chicago’s contemporary dance scene and began their choreography while working for that company. Both have choreographed on Grand Rapids Ballet previously and tend to use space holding, manipulation, and a certain fluidity in the movement they create. Saunders’ work, “In Frame”, danced to Max Richter’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s esteemed The Four Seasons, is a more cohesive vision than “Glean” and exhibits complexity that outdoes Saunders’ own preceding works. The choreography itself features well-rehearsed unison movements but breaks off into variations and intriguing patterns before the synchronicity grows tiring. The movement of the dancers bodies creates shapes that expand beyond the dancers themselves, building architecture that spans the breadth of the stage. Together the dancers operate like cogs in a machine, passing an invisible fireball between them, holding the intensity in their deep lunges and engaged arms.
The piece opens and closes with the image of a single dancer sitting on a bench, contemplating artwork by Alice Klock that’s projected onto a hanging picture frame. Others enter in the darkness, as though they are the ideas she thinks of while examining the work. As the lights come up, this dancer is absorbed into a diagonal, interacting with the fragments of her imagination. They all become part of the imaginary world inspired by the artwork, participating in the journey of creativity art can inspire. Saunders’ work gathers power from the strength of the group work that swirls over the stage through the Spring, Summer and Fall movements, making Caroline Wiley’s solo to Winter stand out in its simplicity and quietness. There’s very little technical movement in this dance: Wiley spends most of her solo on the floor in the center of a projection of a Klock painting. Despite the absence of pirouettes, jumps, or extensions, this solo is absolutely breathtaking. Wiley gives each detail immense importance, forcing the viewer to also immerse themselves in the minute movements of her body. Perhaps this is the true portrait of an artist, alone, experimenting, unassuming and free of self-consciousness despite the onlookers on the outskirts.
My biased review is only one take on this diverse MOVEMEDIA program. I encourage you to experience and interpret it for yourself and continue the discussion.