‘Movemedia: World Premieres’ is about the great possibilities of dance art
By Adrienne Warber
Grand Rapids Ballet’s annual “Movemedia” production has a special magic that is obvious the moment you arrive at the theatre. There is an excitement among the audience and performers as they anticipate a show that explores new ideas in dance. The latest “Movemedia” production was filled with cutting edge ideas and artistic expression in dance. Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Movemedia: World Premieres,” which ran from March 10-12, celebrates the art of dance for both dance fans and dance artists. It was a show where every element of the production came together to showcase the beauty and artistry of the creative movement and choreography.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Movemedia’ Series
Grand Rapids Ballet created the “Movemedia” as a platform for collaborative creativity between the field’s most talented choreographers and their company dancers to explore the art of dance. Few dance companies provide a chance for choreographers to try out new exploratory works on such professional scale in full production with an audience. Award-winning choreographers, both established and new emerging talent, come from all over the world to participate in “Movemedia,” and choreograph their works on Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers. ‘Movemedia’ has had six seasons and over 30 commissioned works that have nurtured a unique environment for choreographers and dancers to create and perform some stunning works of dance art.
During the 2017-18 Season, Grand Rapids Ballet will present “Movemedia: Diversity,” which will deal with important current social and economic issues. Internationally renowned choreographer Olivier Wevers will present a piece about bullying and suicide. The show will also feature forum discussions for the audience to discuss the issues and works presented by the choreographers.
‘Movemedia: World Premieres’ Choreographers
This year’s “Movemedia: World Premieres” featured the works of choreographers Robert Dekkers and Vanessa Thiessen, Robyn Mineko Williams and Penny Saunders. These award-winning choreographers are each known for their unique voice and innovative choreographic style.
Recently named in “25 to Watch” by DANCE Magazine, Dekkers is a critically acclaimed choreographer in San Francisco, CA. Dekkers founded the modern ballet company Post: Ballet in 2010. He is also the choreographer-in-residence for Diablo Ballet. Vanessa Thiessen, who serves as Movement Director at Post:Ballet, collaborates with Dekkers on many critically acclaimed original works. Thiessen also works as a choreographic collaborator with many high profile San Francisco Bay Area artists. Dekkers and Thiessen create many versatile, thought-provoking and artistic works that encourage each dancer’s unique creative expression.
Robyn Mineko Williams is an award-winning choreographer from Chicago, IL. She danced and choreographed for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for 12 seasons. Williams’ pieces are lovely and emotional, bringing out the connections between the dancers on stage. She won the 2013 Princess Grace Foundation-USA Choreography Fellowship, the 2014 Princess Grace Foundation-USA Works in Progress Residency and the 2015 Princess Grace Foundation-USA Choreography Mentorship Co-Commission Award. She was also named “2016 Best of Chicago – Best Choreographer” by Chicago Magazine.
Penny Saunders is the Grand Rapids Ballet choreographer-in-residence. She danced for companies such as Ballet Arizona and MOMIX Dance Theater before joining Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. She started choreographing works while at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Since launching her choreographic career, Saunders has won a number of awards, including the 2016 Princess Grace Foundation-USA Choreography Fellowship.
Robert Dekkers and Vanessa Thiessen’s “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness”
“Movemedia: World Premieres” opens with the piece “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness,” by Robert Dekkers and Vanessa Thiessen. Dekkers and Thiessen describe the work as “a living, breathing letter of love that considers the direction of our common path and celebrates our innate curiosity, resilient compassion, and shared humanity.” The moment the audience entered the theatre at the March 10th show, they were transported into Dekkers and Thiessen’s world. There was a distinctive alternative world created by the lighting by Matthew Taylor on the bare stage, the music, Caroline Shaw’s “Partita for 8 Voices,” the futuristic costumes by Christian Squires, and the dancers’ vibrant movements.
Dekkers and Thiessen believe collaboration is important in the artistic process, and it showed in the high level of individual expression apparent in the performance. The piece showed a society of many different types of people, demonstrated by each dancer’s individual movements, who could seamlessly come together, which was seen when the dancers united to create beautiful images through their shared movements.
This piece was a strong corps de ballet number. 21 company dancers participated in this piece. Each dancer showed great personality in creating their individual character in the group. When they came together in sequences, the movements supported fellow dancers’ movements, and created great artistry. The choreography showcased the great talent of the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers.
Dekkers and Thiessen’s choreography for this piece was inventive and used the entire body as an instrument of expression. The movements clearly communicated mood. Dancers vibrated, lunged, crawled, used the floor, and twisted into interesting shapes.
Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Gleam”
Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Gleam” was full of lush, elegant movements. Williams describes “Gleam” as “a diorama-like peek into moments driven by chance, risk or time, and the significant imprints they leave behind.” The piece featured six dancers and was composed of pas de deux sequences. The intimacy of each sequence was enhanced by the light focusing on the dancers through a darkened stage, like looking through a camera lens. Williams’ choreography blended classical ballet technique and contemporary movement beautifully.
Dancers were well-paired and supportive of each other. Their movements flowed fluidly together. They showed strong technique, emotion and a reverence in their movements. The piece seemed to tell the story of different types of romantic relationships. Adriana Wagenveld and Nick Schultz are the first pas de deux, and their connected movements show the intensity of new love. When the second pas de deux begins between Cassidy Isaacson and Matt Wenckowski, they dance with a hidden tension that show a couple at a stage that starts to question things. They seem more aware of the audience, perhaps wondering if they have found true love or if the one is still out there. The final pas de deux between Yuka Oba and Isaac Aoki, in contrast to the first two duets, shows a happy, long-term relationship between a couple, perhaps soul mates, that can mirror each other’s intricate movements perfectly.
Penny Saunders’ “In Frame”
Penny Saunders’ “In Frame” may be her best work to date. Saunders describes “In Frame” as “ a recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons paired with the skills of visual artist Alice Klock, to create an environment that connects the universal realities of love, life and death to the beauty and vulnerability of the creative process.” The choreography, dancing, lighting, digital design elements, music and costumes all worked together seamlessly to tell the story.
The piece is a homage to art and the creative process. It opens with a single dancer, portraying the artist, sitting on a bench studying a projection of a framed Alice Klock painting. Soon the framed projection is blank. The impression of a canvas appears on the floor as dancers begin to create art with their movements, highlighted by lighted colors on the floor. As they create artistic movements on the floor canvas, the painting begins to fill in and take shape on the framed projection. The eight dancers work together with gathering energy that show the excitement of creative ideas taking shape. There is beauty in how their movements created artistic images.
The audience was visibly entranced by “Movemedia: World Premieres.” There were sharp intakes of breath, looks of rapt attention and smiles. It was clear that many in the audience had a good time and will return for future Grand Rapids Ballet productions. In fact, all dance fans may want to check out the world premiere of Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which runs April 28-30 and May 5-7. Opening weekend shows are already sold out, but tickets are still available for the May 5-7 performances.