The Nutcracker is simultaneously the most enjoyable and exhausting part of any professional dancer’s season. Growing up at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, I performed in The Nutcracker for a decade straight. Over those 10 years, I danced in two separate productions: those choreographed by Stowell & Sendak and George Balanchine. I remember performing in my first show and watching the more advanced students dance while I was in the prologue sharing a part with Cassidy Isaacson (now a company dancer at Grand Rapids Ballet). They danced to immensely powerful and joyous music; they got to dance in the Snow Scene! But Waltz of the Snowflakes was my favorite; just hearing the orchestra and the beautiful music was enough to set my eyes on ballet as a career. The violins being plucked, paper snowflakes gently falling, opera singers singing the sweet melody, and ballerinas twirling in frosty blue and white tutus never fail to raise goosebumps on my arms.
After my first experience with The Nutcracker, I set a goal for myself: I would dance the Waltz of the Snowflakes one day. Eight years of hard work later, I finally reached my goal during my second to final year at PNB School as part of the Professional Division program. I twirled in a frosty blue and white tutu and felt the snowflakes fall upon my crown-laden head while listening to the orchestra grow and swell to the sound of the iconic waltz. With stage lights illuminating the expensive stage and the audience still, holding their breath as the even beat of the waltz grew stronger and stronger. Let me tell you, it was awesome!
Waltz of the Snowflakes is hands down the most challenging part in The Nutcracker when it comes to pure stamina and mental strength. For instance, in Grand Rapids Ballet’s production choreographed by Val Caniparoli, I spend less than one minute offstage during the seven-minute run time of Waltz of the Snowflakes. Talk about your daily cardio: my Apple Watch tells me it is almost equivalent to a mile and a half run.
In 2008, when I performed in my first Nutcracker at PNB, I had only one part and performed in just over half of the 45 scheduled shows. As I matured in age and experience, I performed in most of the shows doing multiple parts. My most current tally over thirteen years? Over 500 shows, three different productions, 15 parts, and countless hours of rehearsal.
All of this sounds wonderful and joyous right? And it is. But putting The Nutcracker on stage also includes seven-day work weeks and long nights in the theater. December is the holiday season for most, but for dancers it also includes sewing countless pointe shoes, trying to catch your breath after running the Snow Scene for the third time that day, and eating dinner while icing your feet and nursing your sore muscles. But, the joy that is brought to young children and their families alike in the holiday season makes it all worth it.
The experience of dancing in The Nutcracker remains just as magical to me as it was as a young ballet student. And now, as one of the “big kids,” I strive to make every audience member’s experience as transformative as my own.
Val Caniparoli’s The Nutcracker would not be possible without YOUR support! Become a season subscriber or donate today to help us continue doing what we love. Until next year, happy holidays and thank you for supporting Grand Rapids Ballet!
“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.” —Oscar Wilde
The Happy Prince Oscar Wilde, already an established and beloved poet and playwright, works at his desk as the London streets bustle beneath him. He joins the action on the street, theatrically reading his playful children’s tales to the passing youth. His mother greets him and together they poke fun at Victorian society’s strict conventions, while keeping an eye out for a wife suited to his fashionable lifestyle. Encouraged by his parents, Oscar meets the beautiful, clever, and poised Constance Lloyd. A flirtatious courtship ensues, resulting in a happy and enthusiastic marriage. They are a popular couple, admired for their witty humor and audacious faison. All appears wonderful and satisfactory. Together they give birth to two sons and welcome them to the world with love.
The Selfish Giant After the birth of their second son, cracks emerge in the strength of their marriage and Oscar finds solace in his friend Robert Ross. Through Ross, Oscar is introduced to Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, who fills the needs Constance can no longer meet. Bosie, well aware of Oscar’s infatuation, leverages Oscar’s devotion to him to convince Oscar to cater to his every need. Bosie gets Oscar acquainted with London’s bawdy underground society. As Oscar sinks deeper into his treacherous relationship with Bosie he becomes further estranged from his family, absorbed in his new, alternate life. A beautiful linnet emerges: Can this hopeful bird help him to overcome his selfishness? Or perhaps it is the society that is selfish, determined to define devotion in a specific way rather than acknowledge the complexities of relationships and the sentiment that, ultimately, love is love.
The Nightingale & The Rose Constance and Oscar attend an extravagant ball. They are still the talk of the town but suspicions have arisen that all is not rosy between them. Indeed, as the party cedes to the privacy of the Wilde’s home, Constance can no long turn a blind eye to her husband’s infidelities. She withdraws with the children, determined to maintain her honor. Oscar is disgracing the family name. This Happy Prince has fallen from his pedestal. The public, who loved him so much, turns on him and Oscar is cast into exile. With his reputation, finances, and career in ruin, he is left to reflect on his life, career, and lovers. From this bleakness a nightingale emerges, singing a sweet and beautiful birdsong that lingers as all else fades.
The Happy Prince & Other Wilde Tales runs May 4-6 and 11-12 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre in downtown Grand Rapids. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 x10 or visit grballet.com/happyprince today.
written by Connie Flachs; costume and character illustrations by Sadie Rothenberg
Oscar Wilde – The Happy Prince
A talented playwright, poet, and author with a penchant for flowery language, gaudy fashion, and witty humor. At the height of his career he is a beloved figure in London society. He values beauty in art above utility or deeper meaning and strives to create “art for art’s sake.”
After the birth of his second son, Wilde loses his strong attraction to his wife and is tempted by newfound affections. He spends few nights at home, living in lavish hotels with his lover, Bosie, and sees his children rarely. His inflated ego convinces him to bring a court case of libel he has no chance of winning and this naive pride lands him in jail, his family broken and the name of Wilde disgraced.
“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” – Oscar Wilde
Constance Lloyd – Oscar’s Wife
A clever writer and artistic persona herself, Constance and Oscar are fully and authentically in love as newlyweds. She shares his love of unusual (for the Victorian era) dress and helps to design their London home in the most progressive fashion and together they have two children, Cyril and Vyvyan.
“The air is full of the music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours.” – Oscar Wilde to Constance
Robert Ross – faithful friend, literary executor
A precocious art critic and dealer, Ross is a pivotal figure in London’s art scene, as well as a fan of Oscar’s work. Ross is openly gay and makes no secret of his attraction to Wilde, introducing Oscar to love. They remain close while Oscar struggles between his Happy Prince and Selfish Giant sides, Ross offering financial and emotional support throughout. Ross is instrumental in the protection and distribution of Wilde’s work after his death.
“He was never quite sure himself where and when he was serious.” – Robert Ross, on Oscar
“Friendship is far more tragic than love. It lasts longer.” – Oscar Wilde
Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) – lover
Handsome, spoiled, and utterly reckless, Bosie is in his undergraduate studies when he first meets Oscar. They quickly become passionate, tumultuous lovers. Oscar does his best to satisfy any and all of Bosie’s materialistic and romantic desires. Bosie does little to repay him, dragging Wilde deeper into an illicit world, acting incredible rude towards Constance, and antagonizing those who disapprove of the two men’s relationship.
“[Oscar], when you are not on your pedestal, you are not interesting.” – Bosie to Oscar
“The basis of character is will power, and my will became utterly subject to yours.” – Oscar to Bosie
A hopeful bird who is a harbinger of good news, around to help the Selfish Giant locate his gratitude and reconnect with the youthful innocence of children.
“The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. “How happy we are here!” they cried to each other.”
Jane & William Wilde – mother and father
Jane Wilde is a writer herself, involved in many progressive political movements, advocating for better education and more rights for women. She passes this critical attitude towards established society onto her son and supports even his far-fetched endeavors. William Wilde is a remarkable eye and ear surgeon who earned his knighthood in Ireland.
“My mother and my father had bequeathed me a name they had made noble and honoured, not merely in literature, art, archaeology, and science, but in the public history of my own country, in its evolution as a nation.’ – Oscar Wilde
This brave, idealistic bird values love over all else. She will go as far as to give her own life to ensure that the beauty and hope of true love may have a chance to flourish.
“Be happy, be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart’s-blood. All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover.”
The Happy Prince & Other Wilde Tales runs May 4-6 and 11-12 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre in downtown Grand Rapids. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 x10 or visit grballet.com/happyprince today.
We hope you’re as excited as we are about our amazing new season! Without further ado, here we go…
WILD SWEET LOVE
Photo of company dancer Yuka Oba in Allegro Brillante by Isaac Aoki
Enjoy four passion-filled works in one spectacular performance featuring Allegro Brilliante by the father of American ballet, George Balanchine, and music by Tchaikovsky; Trey McIntyre’s fun-filled epic musing on romantic rituals, Wild Sweet Love featuring an eclectic mix of popular music from Queen, The Partridge Family, Roberta Flack, and more; and the hauntingly alluring Ghost Light by our choreographer-in-residence, Penny Saunders. The evening will also include the first piece created specifically for Grand Rapids Ballet by new Artistic Director James Sofranko. And you won’t want to miss the black-tie gala on Thursday, October 18, welcoming James to Grand Rapids!
Photo of Ghost Light by Dane Wayne courtesy OwenCox Dance Group
Photo of Wild Sweet Love by Peter Mueller courtesy Cincinnati Ballet
Illustration by Chris Van Allsburg
It isn’t the holidays in West Michigan without The Nutcracker. The world-famous design of Chris Van Allsburg, Broadway-quality sets by Tony Award winner Eugene Lee, festive choreography by Val Caniparoli, and the live music by your Grand Rapids Symphony all come together to create pure magic you and your family will remember for a lifetime! Clara’s Nutcracker Party will take place on Sunday, December 18 at 11am at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, too.
Photo by Tim Motley
Photo by Scott Rasmussen
Photo of company dancer Cassidy Isaacson by Scott Rasmussen
Created for you by Princess Grace Award winner and our choreographer-in-residence Penny Saunders, Joffrey Ballet’s Nicolas Blanc, and the talented dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet, our contemporary dance series returns with works from the heart and soul that show a completely different side of their unique talents. This is personal— and hands down one of the most poignant productions you’ll see from us all season.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg courtesy Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
See things from an unexpected angle with the mystical Extremely Close by Hubbard Street’s internationally renowned resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo; Val Caniparoli’s, Ibsen’s House—a portrayal of strong female characters from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s most well-known plays including A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, set to a live performance of Dvorak’s compelling Piano Quintet No. 2; and a second new piece by James Sofranko.
Photo of company dancer Connie Flachs in Ibsen’s House by Isaac Aoki
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Photo of company dancers Cassidy Isaacson and Levi Teachout by Eric Bouwens
Go down the rabbit hole for the triumphant return of the dizzyingly beautiful Alice in Wonderland from choreographer Brian Enos and visual artist Luis Grané. No collaborative effort more fully captures the surrealist and symbolic possibilities of this beloved tale with such exquisite beauty and extravagant imagination. Revue Magazine called it “A modern masterpiece!”
So there it is: A season filled with classics and new works that you won’t want to miss. Single ticket sales start Monday, June 18 so stay tuned for more details!
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.
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.”
We’re over-the-moon excited to have world-renowned visual artist, Luis Grané, helping us bring the wacky, wild world of Alice in Wonderland to magnificent life (starting with the super-cool logo above) for our world premiere ballet April 28-30 and May 5-7.
Artistic Director Patricia Barker in our costume shop reviewing the latest round of Luis Grané’s “Alice in Wonderland” character sketches.
Born in Argentina, Luis Grané studied medicine and worked in a human anatomy laboratory at Buenos Aires University before studying Fine Arts and Graphic Design. Following his true passion, Luis moved first to London where he worked in advertising for almost 4 years, and then to Mexico, where he worked in visual arts and advertising, and became strongly influenced by Mesoamerican Art.Luis then moved to Toronto, where he won the Dick Friesen/Zlatko Grigic Award for Excellence in Animation at Sheridan College in 1996, and was recruited by DreamWorks Animation SKG. This meant relocating to Los Angeles, where he has since worked as an animator, visual effects artist, and character designer for DreamWorks, Pixar, Disney, Laika, Sony Pictures, Aardman, and Warner Brothers.His credits include films as diverse as The Prince of Egypt, Spirit,Spiderman 2 (Academy Award Winner for Best Visual Effects), The Matrix, The Aviator, Ratatouille (Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Feature), Hotel Transylvania, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Boxtrolls, and he collaborated with numerous renowned directors like Sam Raimi and Richard Linklater.
While pursuing his creative career in Hollywood, Luis also attended Peter Liashkov’s painting workshops for two years and studied painting with Bonita Helmer at the Otis College of Art.
Luis’ original work as an independent artist has been featured in group exhibits at the Pozzi Gallery in Buenos Aires, the Cartoon Museum in London, and the Enisen Gallery in Los Angeles, and worldwide as part of the Sketchtravel Book art project. His work was also selected as the cover of the Totoro Forest Project book, an artistic venture that gathered prominent artists from around the world to save a forest in Japan.
Luis Grané currently works in his studio in the Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles and recently published his first solo book entitled “Sad Stories” – in the United States.
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.