We continue our series of introductions to the famously strong female characters of playwright Henrik Ibsen that appear in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House in Extremely Close April 12-14 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
Next, we meet Helen Alving from the 1881 three-act play Ghosts which premiered in Chicago, Illinois.
Like many of Ibsen’s plays, Ghosts was the subject of great controversy, especially because of its inclusion of sensitive topics including religion, infidelity, incest, and sexually transmitted disease. While Nora in A Doll’s House deals with breaking the standing moral code, Ghosts illuminates the tragic consequences of conforming.
You’ve journeyed a long way out of town to call upon Mrs. Alving (played by company dancer Alexandra Meister-Upleger), and nothing about her home lends a sense of ease after your extended travels. There is a chill in the air and the cold rain soaks through your overcoat as you hurry down the path to the front door.
You’re welcomed in by Regina—the young maid and secret illegitimate half-sister of Mrs. Alving’s son, Oswald—and wait, shivering, until she enters. Helen appears wearier than your memory of her: The lines around her mouth are deeply creased and a droop interferes with the proud posture of her youth. She is the portrait of a woman who has spent years holding herself together.
She places a book in your hand (not the kind you would ever be caught reading).
“I admire your curiosity and thirst for information, Mrs. Alving, but really, I couldn’t possibly read a piece of literature that deals with—”
“Now, I know that Pastor Manders would never approve,” she interjects, “But I’ve found all sorts of information in this tome that I resonate with…”
She carries on talking about the radical novel, but you find yourself distracted by the smile dancing on her lips as she refers to Pastor Manders. It was rumored they were quite fond of each other and that she fled to him for refuge from her tumultuous marriage to the Captain, who is now deceased. But prior to his death, her son, Oswald (played by company dancer Isaac Aoki), was born and she and the Captain moved out here and the rumors were quelled.
“Oh! Oswald is doing beautifully!” She proclaims with a positivity that seems out of place in this dreary estate. “You should see the latest painting he’s been working on; it’s just wonder—”
She seems to have lost her voice, as well as her cheery air; Oswald is an artist who is suffering from syphilis inherited from his father.
“I have to tell you,” she whispers hoarsely. “Oswald is contaminated. He’s been so tired, listless, since he’s returned home from abroad. His doctor told him there is no chance of recovery. I tried so hard to save him, to keep him away from the influence of his degenerate father. I spent my life covering up my husbands’ infidelities and loose affairs. I had heard the talk of—was Nora her name?—the vile rumors about that woman who left her family. People would have spoken of me that way! I had to maintain order, uphold the law of my marriage, protect my son and our family’s reputation.”
“You chose nobility,” you offer, attempting to assuage her obvious distress.
“I chose cowardice,” Mrs. Alving refutes. “And now, now I must choose whether I can be brave and give my son his freedom.”
A silence falls between the two of you. You aren’t quite sure you understand her. You don’t know what to say.
“And now, I must ask you to take your leave. Regina will escort you back to town. Oswald, come say goodbye to our guest!”
Regina and Oswald appear at the staircase. For a moment, standing in the gloomy shadows of the hallway, their resemblance is striking. Regina steps out of the darkness with your jacket; she seems eager for you to leave.
“Goodbye Mrs. Alving, Oswald,” you nod to the mother and son who stand on the stoop, waving to you. You take one last look at the eerie estate, and when you turn back for a final wave the two have vanished.
For tickets to Extremely Close, call 616.454.4771 x10 or tap or click here.
Now that we’ve met the author, Henrik Ibsen, let’s meet his famously strong female characters that appear in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House in Extremely Close April 12-14 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
First up is Nora Helmer (played by company dancer Yuka Oba) from his 1879 three-act play, A Doll’s House, which premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 21.
The play is significant for the way it deals with the fate of a married woman, who at the time in Norway lacked reasonable opportunities for self-fulfillment in a male-dominated world. It aroused a great sensation at the time, and caused a “storm of outraged controversy” that went beyond the theater to the world newspapers and society.[Wikipedia]
Nora invites you into her immaculate sitting room, not too expensively furnished, but neat and orderly. She appears on first glance as the ideal nineteenth-century wife: dainty and saccharine-sweet like the macaroons she offers you. However, as you chat longer, you notice something is amiss. The doll-like existence she lives doesn’t fully suit her; her husband, Torvald (played by company dancer Nathan Young), treats her delicately, as though she is a child, without any agency. He draws attention repeatedly to her beauty and talks endlessly about their happiness. Stealing bites of macaroon as he looks away seems to be the only way she exercises her own power.
As her husband leaves the room, Nora leans in closely in confidence. Her previous smiles have vanished and a fire burns behind her eyes. She confesses she has recently taken out a secret loan to help pay for her husband’s medical treatment. At this point in history, women can’t partake in such financial endeavors so she cunningly forged a signature and she’s dealing with the fallout of it: blackmail.
“Something glorious is about to happen,” she whispers. Her husband is about to learn she has been performing “tricks” with other men in an attempt to pay off the debt ensued for his health. She believes he will sacrifice his reputation to protect her. You nod slowly, not wanting to mar her optimism, but leave with a queasy feeling about the matter.
No word comes from Nora over the next few weeks until a neighbor asks if you’ve heard of the Helmer’s scandal. “She just left,” your gossiping neighbor whisper-yells. “Walked out on him and the children. Can you even begin to fathom….?”
But you can. You have seen the fire in her eyes, you know of her defiance. Her husband failed her expectations, sacrificing his devotion and integrity to the woman he has married for the public theater of happiness and dignity. She was done playing the role of the doll. As the scene ends with the slam of a door, you wonder if you will see her again, free in the wild world outside the doll’s house.
For tickets to Extremely Close, call 616.454.4771 x10 or tap or click here.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s next production, Extremely Close, includes Ibsen’s House, a ballet by Val Caniparoli (the choreographer of our production of The Nutcracker). This piece features a collection of literature’s most dramatic, complex, and emotive female characters including Nora from A Doll’s House, Hedda from Hedda Gabler, Rebecca West from Rosmersholm, Ellida from Lady from the Sea, and Mrs. Alving from Ghosts. But, before we meet these powerful women, we must meet the equally powerful playwright, Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), himself.
Depending on what year you choose, you could encounter Henrik in Norway, Italy, or Germany. Born Norwegian, Ibsen’s controversial plays led him to self-exile in Italy and Germany from 1862-1891. However, he was welcomed in his home country as a literary hero upon his return.
Ibsen’s plays observe the human condition. Known as the “father of realism,” he wrote pieces of theater that pick apart societal norms and peer inside the perfect Victorian facades to reveal the human struggles, angst, and complication within the living rooms.
If you met him at a party you may try to engage with him on the topic of women’s rights. After all, he was the first male playwright to incorporate female characters that existed on their own merit, rather than as a foil for the male role. Ibsen’s women pursue their own desires and fight for self-realization. However, Ibsen would cringe if you called him a feminist.
“That is not my agenda,” he may respond. “I write with no agenda. I am no feminist, but believe in the individual and their right to live with their personal beliefs and truth. Call me an observer. A realist, if you must.”
Ibsen certainly did pinpoint the uncomfortable, hidden effects of accepted social practices and taboos of the time. He had no problem with controversy. In fact, if you met him on his death bed, you would hear his final words: “Tvertimod (To the contrary)!”
Extremely Close runs April 12-14 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Tickets are available at online or by calling 616.454.4771 x10.
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!