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.
When it comes to their kids, parents want them to have the best. Exposure to things like sports and the arts help them to become more well rounded young men and women. Have you thought about ballet? Kids are into all sorts of after-school sports and other activities like piano and violin lessons. Dancing is a great medium for both girls and boys. And, they can start young. Classical ballet may have been pushed aside in favor of tap dancing, hip-hop, jazz and other forms. But, did you know that beginning with ballet will help with these other types of dancing? That is just one little secret we’re letting you in on. Ballet dancers make it look effortless as they move across the stage. From the lifts to the toe points, many wonder how they can do it. Your kids can also be a part of this through the practice of classical ballet. Ballet classes can start for young kids around ages four and five. For them, being in front of all those mirrors and the bar is something new and exciting. Some of the benefits of ballet for young kids are:
They learn to follow instructions
They gain a sense of discipline through learning new positions
They learn co-ordination, balance and how to control their bodies in motion
They are active and getting daily exercise
They become comfortable performing before groups
When a child is young, learning new things is easier for them. They can adapt and learn more quickly than when they are older. So, once a child begins in ballet at an early age, they are not only learning a valued art form but also getting trained for the life that is ahead of them. This is just the beginning, though. As a child continues to pursue ballet, youíll see more benefits emerging – especially when they become adolescents and into the teenage years.
They develop long and strong muscles from the practice of ballet
They gain a sense of self-confidence and pride in their bodies and what they can accomplish
They learn how to work to get what they want out of their performance
The skills learned in ballet are useful for other forms of dancing like tap or jazz if they want to take that up later
They learn about proper nutrition to keep their bodies in shape so they can dance
Maybe you’ve never considered ballet as an after-school activity before. Now that you are aware of some of the wonderful benefits of this form of dance you have another option for your children. Who knows, one day they could be dancing across stages all over the country and beyond.
Dawnell Dryja—long-time company member and audience favorite—announced her retirement from the stage will occur during the Grand Rapids Ballet’s 16th season. She will dance in the first show of the 2017-18 season only (From Russia with Love) and continue to be involved at GRB in her new role as artistic coordinator.
“Dawnell will be missed from our stage, but not from our hearts or the joyful memories we have of her wonderful performances,” said GRB Artistic Director Patricia Barker.
“The time that I have spent at GRB have been some of the most rewarding of my life—both personally and professionally,” said Dryja. “I will always remember my time dancing here with great fondness. The timing of my retirement aligns perfectly my new role as artistic coordinator working with Patricia Barker on the 2017-18 season and with the new artistic director on upcoming seasons.”
Her repertoire includes many leading roles from the classics to contemporary masterpieces, including Swan Lake, Giselle, Coppelia, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Where The Wild Things Are, Dracula, Red Angels, Rapture, Celts, Fingerprints, Jewels, Serenade, Who Cares?, Allegro Brilliante, Concerto Barocco, Slaughter On Tenth Avenue, Con Amore, and Il Distratto. She has worked with esteemed choreographers such as Nils Christe, Frederick Franklin, Kirk Peterson, Val Caniparoli, Suzanne Ferrell, Mario Radacovsky, Gordon Peirce Schmidt, Bruce Wells, Stanton Welch and Raymond Lukens.
“Dawnell came into my life as a bright light when she danced in the opening night of my production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for Detroit Ballet,” said choreographer Bruce Wells. “We would reunite again at GRB when she danced the role of Fairy Godmother in the world premiere of my production of ‘Cinderella.’ From the first rehearsals to the last, Dawnell and I had a sincere, unique connection and immediate respect for one another. She’s a consummate professional with an amazing career.”
Her final performances as a GRB company member will take place over the run of the first show of the 2017-18 season, From Russia with Love. Performance dates are:
Friday, October 6 at 7:30pm
Saturday, October 7 at 7:30pm
Sunday, October 8 at 2pm
Friday, October 13 at 7:30pm
There will also be a special performance for friends and family on Saturday, October 14 entitled From Dawnell with Love. This production will feature highlights from some of her favorite works, including a dance with retired GRB dancer (and current Grand Rapids Ballet School Director and Junior Company Artistic Director), Attila Mosolygo. At this time, tickets to the 10/14/17
performance are not available to the general public.
She is also the owner and artistic director of Academy of Dance Arts. She is married to Bryce Black and the couple have one daughter, Tevyn, who has inherited her mother’s love of dance and performing.
A partnership with the Arts Council through the years with the the school’s performance of the Nutcracker Ballet and the “tea party with Clara” event every December prompted the expansion. Their was just a great interest in the December event that the school decided to bring their faculty to Holland. The classes will give kids ages 3-9 years old a chance to learn ballet. The school will also hold classes for those with Down Syndrome and Parkinson’s disease as well.
Attila Mosolygo is the Director and Principal of Grand Rapids School of Ballet (GRBS) and says he believes strongly that dance plays an important role in the healthy development of your child’s focus, coordination, discipline, and etiquette. Mosolygo starting training in Hungary and by the time he was 12-year-old knew he would be dancing. After moving to America he studied at the Joffrey Ballet and an audition with the Grand Rapids Ballet led him to Michigan.
Mosolygo says the classes for Down Syndrome students first started in Grand Rapids and the results were fantastic.
“To be able to offer a dance class to every child you know regardless of their ability, age or body type is fantastic and to be able to enrich lives of young kids.The first thing I thought was if we’re going to try to bring this program out to the Holland community, I want to make sure people are aware of it. We connected with the director of The Commons of Evergreen. It’s been long proven that dance is one of the best things you can do when you have Parkinson’s. The class is very physical and active. but we can adapt the class to everyone’s need.”
In an effort to make sure they can fill the classes, you are asked to register as soon as possible so that the school has an idea of how nany students they will be training.
Classes start on Monday September 11 and will run until Monday, May 7, 2018. Ballet classes are available for children 3-4 and 7-9 and children with Down syndrome age 5 and up, and do not require prior dance or ballet experience.
Day/time: Monday 4:15-5pm
Cost: $380 per school year, $205 per semester ($410 total), $49 per month ($441 total)
Dress code Girls: soft pink leotard, soft pink tights, and pink ballet shoes. Boys: black ballet tights or black leggings, black ballet shoes, plain white fitted t-shirt.
Day/time: Monday 5-6pm
Cost: $435 per school year, $235 per semester ($470 total), $58 per month ($504 total)
Dress code: Girls: lavender leotard, soft pink tights, and pink ballet shoes. Boys: black ballet tights or black leggings, black ballet shoes, plain white fitted t-shirt.
Explorer Dance for Down Syndrome
Ages: 5 and up
Day/time: Wednesday 5:30-6:15pm
Cost: $162 per school year, $90 per semester ($180 total), $22 per month ($198 total)
Moving with Parkinson’s
Ages: 50 and up and their care partners of any age
Day/time: Monday 11:15am-12pm
Cost: $3 for Evergreen Commons members / $5 for non-members.
Dress code: loose, comfortable clothing
Holland Area Arts Council is located at in downtown at 150 East 8th Street, Holland, Michigan 49423. Evergreen Commons is located at 480 State Street, Holland, Michigan 49423. For more information on all the GRBS classes offered in Holland, including schedules, costs, directions, enrollment, and financial aid, please visit grballet.com/holland, email email@example.com, or call 616.454.4771 x17.
The GRBS remains committed to lifting the human spirit through the art of dance under the leadership of Patricia Barker as artistic director, Glenn Del Vecchio as executive director, and Attila Mosolygo as school director. A proud recipient of the ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Cultural Organization, Michigan’s only professional ballet company has a rich history marked by steady growth, a commitment to excellence, and strong community support. In addition,
Grand Rapids Ballet School provides over 200 students with the highest quality dance instruction in a nurturing and encouraging environment and the opportunity to perform in productions by Grand Rapids Junior Company. Keep up with the ballet on Twitter,Facebook,Instagram, and YouTube.
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.”
Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company’s Mini-Tales & Bolero is fun for the whole family!
The Junior Company of Grand Rapids Ballet School (JRCO) is excited to present Mini-Tales & Bolero May 19-21 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
Mini-Tales & Bolero is a mixed bill that includes family fairy tale favorites Goldilocks & The Three Bears, Jack & The Beanstalk, and Thumbelina, as well as the JRCO premiere of Bolero—a ballet set to a one-movement orchestral piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). Originally composed as a ballet commissioned by Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, the piece, which premiered in 1928, is Ravel’s most famous musical composition.
“I’m very excited for this performance,” said JRCO Director, Attila Mosolygo. “The kids have worked so hard and their dedication to their craft is wonderful to see. Plus, it’s going to be a lot of fun, too!”
Attila Mosolygo is creating the sets himself for Mini-Tales & Bolero. Here is Thumbelina’s world coming to life!
Click here to watch Attila and the dancers on FOX 17.
All performances take place at Peter Martin Wege Theatre (341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, MI, 49503):
JRCO provides students of the Grand Rapids Ballet School, between the ages of 10 and 19, with greater performance opportunities. Members enjoy the thrill of performing in their own productions and alongside the professional dancers of Grand Rapids Ballet.
Tickets are available on Ticketmaster, grballet.com, 616.454.4771 x 10, or at our box office at 341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
Don’t be late—mark your calendar for this very important date!
First things first: Get in the spirit of the evening and wear your wackiest, most whimsical hat—something that would make the Mad Hatter green with envy! The best hat will receive a $500 gift certificate from A.K. Rikk’s.
The evening starts with a tea-party-themed dinner at The Knickerbocker fit for a queen (of hearts, of course):
5:30-6pm Mad Hatter’s “High” Tea with themed cocktails and small bites
6-7pm Mad Hatter Dinner Party FIRST COURSE
Charcuterie – tea-smoked hare rilettes, cheese puffs, marmalade, cornichons, mustard caviar,
smoked whitefish, smoked rainbow trout, baguette, pickled fruits and vegetables, fiddle-head pickles SECOND COURSE
Winter-Over Carrots & Kombu
Asparagus with Preserved Lemon THIRD COURSE
Au Pied de Cochon Glazed Quail with
Knave of Onion Tart with treacle and ramp
The Knickerbocker Restaurant
The Knickerbocker Restaurant
The Knickerbocker Restaurant
The Knickerbocker Restaurant
The Knickerbocker Restaurant
The Knickerbocker Restaurant
The Knickerbocker Restaurant
After dinner and drinks, you’ll head over to Peter Martin Wege Theatre where you’ll see Alice in Wonderland before anyone else in the entire world.
After the ballet, join us for the “Down the Rabbit Hole” after party in the lobby featuring music, dancing, dessert, and drinks:
• Milk chocolate bacon praline truffles
• Dark chocolate sea salt truffles
• Ginger snap milk-caramel truffels
• Poet Oatmeal Stout
• Mad Hatter Midwest IPA
Curiouser and curiouser? Tickets are only $150 and include everything you see above. Get yours today!
Do you or someone you love have Parkinsons? Are you a doctor, nurse, or other caretaker of a Parkinson’s patient?
In support of National Parkinson’s Awareness Month in April, we’re opening our doors in partnership with Parkinson’s Association of West Michigan for all of you to experience our “Dancing with Parkinson’s” class.
Dance is an effective therapeutic tool to help those with Parkinson’s stay fit both mentally and physically. It also increases confidence and provides an excellent form of social interaction.
The free open house will provide an excellent opportunity to network with professionals in the industry as well as other patients and community supporters. You’ll take our 45-minute “Dancing with Parkinson’s” class taught by Grand Rapids Ballet School principal, Attila Mosolygo, accompanied by live piano music. There will also be complimentary refreshments.
For more information, call 616.454.4771 or email Atilla today.
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.