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!
As our 2018-2019 season draws closer, we’d like to introduce you to the newest additions to this growing company. We are so excited to expand our ranks, and continue to bring excellent dance to West Michigan as the stat’es only professional ballet company.
First up we have company member, Alexandra Meister-Upleger from Aurora, Ohio.Most recently she was a company member with Nashville Ballet. A native of Ohio, Alexandra began training at Sharron’s School of Dance. She continued her ballet training under Ana Lobe and various teachers throughout northeast Ohio as well as summer programs at Nutmeg and Houston Ballet. In 2008, she was invited to join Nashville Ballet’s second company, NB2. In September of 2010 she was offered an apprentice contract, and in the same season was promoted to company member. In the summer of 2016, Mrs. Meister-Upleger represented the USA at the 27th International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria Alexandra. She enjoys traveling and golfing with her husband and family. She loves working with young artists and sharing her passion for art. Fun fact: She owned a small business weeding gardens in Nashville called the Wacky Weeders.
Next up we have company member Emily Reed from Monee, Illinois joining us. Emily began dancing when she was three at Faubourg School of Ballet followed by the Ruth Page Center of the Arts, where she trained under beloved ballet master Larry Long. Emily attended various summer intensives across the country on scholarship and was one of the first trainees for Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. Emily spent 2010-12 in the Milwaukee Ballet II program where she performed a wide range of repertoire with MBII and in the main company productions. She spent six seasons with Minnesota Ballet and danced such roles as Lucy in Dracula, Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, in Salvatore Aiello’s Clowns and Others, and in George Balanchine’s Who Cares? and Tarantella. Emily has also performed in the Lake Arts Project in Milwaukee, WI, as well as guested for the St. Lucie Ballet in The Nutcracker as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Josue Justiz from Cuba is also joining us as a company member. He was born in Cuba where he started studying ballet at the age of nine in his hometown of Santiago de Cuba. When he was 14, he entered the National Ballet School of Cuba in Havana under the guidance of masters Fernando Alonso and Ramona de Saa. During his time there, he was a successful competitor in the International Ballet Competitions of Havana winning one silver and two gold medals. After graduation, he entered the National Ballet of Cuba under the direction of Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso. After only two years with the company, he earned the title of soloist. He came to the United States permanently soon after where he joined the Studio Company of the Washington Ballet. In 2014, he joined the former Ballet San Jose under the direction of ballet legend Jose Manuel Carreño. Jose is a founding member of Dimensions Dance Theatre where he collaborated with well-known choreographers such as Septime Webre, Tara Reid, Vicente Nebrada, and Yanis Pikieris.
Our 4th company member to join us this season is Nathan Young from Little Rock, Arkansas. Nathan began his training at the age of 13 at the Arkansas Academy of Dance under Mark Bush, Melinda Tobian, and Rebecca Miller-Stalcup. In 2013, Nathan graduated from the University of Oklahoma, where he received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Ballet Performance. After college, Nathan moved to Nashville, Tennessee, dancing for the Dance Theatre of Tennessee for one season and Nashville Ballet for four seasons.
Israel Garcia Chenge
Next to join us is apprentice Israel Garcia Chenge from Mexico. Israel began his ballet training when he was 17 years old at Fomento Artístico cordobés – PROVER with Adria Luz Velázquez and Martha Sahagún in Córdoba, Veracruz. In 2010 Israel joined the trainee program at Orlando Ballet School. Israel joined the Milwaukee Ballet II in 2012 where he performed soloist roles and did works by George Balanchine, Michael Pink, Tim O’Donnell, and Petr Zahradnicek. In 2013, Israel had the honor of being invited to perform as a guest artist at the Youth America Grand Prix Gala in Mexico. The following year, he joined the Joffrey Ballet studio company in Chicago, IL, performing a variety of classical roles and was featured in works by Jennifer Archibald, Stephanie Martinez, Christian Denice and Mariana Oliveira.
Nicholas Bradley Gray
Nicholas Gray is joining us this season as an apprentice. He is a recent graduate of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ballet and an Outside Field in Theatre and Drama. Nicholas grew up in Milwaukee, WI, studying at the First Stage Theatre Academy from 2006-2013 and beginning his classical ballet training at the Milwaukee Ballet School in 2010. Nicholas then moved to Torrington, CT in 2013 to continue his classical training with the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory. In his three years at IU Nicholas performed in works by world-renowned choreographers including Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, and Paul Taylor, and studied under ballet legends such as Violette Verdy, Kyra Nichols, Carla Korbes, and Michael Vernon. He had the privilege of performing in featured roles with the IU Opera Theatre and the IU Department of Theatre and Drama.
Finally, William Shearstone from Atlanta, Georgia will be joining Grand Rapids Ballet as a trainee. William began his dance training at 14 years old at the Cobb County Center for Excellence in Performing Arts at Pebblebrook High School where he trained in ballet, jazz, modern, music, acting, and musical theater. He joined Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education Academy’s pre-pro division his senior year. After graduating high school, he earned a Trainee position at BalletMet and spent two seasons dancing there.
Welcome, everyone! We’re all very excited to see how your talents continue to elevate the art of Grand Rapids Ballet. You can learn more about all of your favorite dancers here.
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!