Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Diversity II’ is a stunning and emotional masterpiece
By Adrienne Warber
From the first dance step to the last, Grand Rapids Ballet gave a moving, memorable and masterful performance of “Movemedia: Diversity II” last weekend. The contemporary dance production showed the infinite possibilities of how the body can make art through movement and create moments of beauty and deep emotional connection. The second installment of the thought-provoking contemporary dance series featured three pieces that addressed the serious issues of autism, racism and suicide by choreographers Danielle Rowe, Uri Sands and Olivier Wevers. Grand Rapids Ballet’s talented cast of dancers honored the importance of these issues by delivering an exquisite performance that is worthy of international critical acclaim. The company performed three shows on March 23-25 at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre, ending their 2018 “Movemedia” two-part series. “Movemedia: Diversity” may be the masterwork in the history of all seven seasons of the contemporary dance series.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Movemedia: Diversity”
Grand Rapids Ballet’s annual contemporary dance series “Movemedia” gives new and emerging choreographers a chance to try out their pieces on company dancers. This year’s “Movemedia” focused on diversity and the beauty of differences. The February performance of “Diversity I” featured the works of choreographers Norbert De La Cruz III, Jennifer Archibald and Loughlan Prior, and many shows were sold-out. “Diversity II” showcases the works of choreographers Danielle Rowe, Uri Sands and Olivier Wevers. The March performance of “Diversity II” was also very popular and has received high critical acclaim.
The audience was drawn into the performance from the moment the curtain opened to the first piece and closed at the end of the “Movemedia: Diversity II.” Grand Rapids Ballet’s staging, lighting, music and costumes all worked perfectly together to showcase the dancing. The short video at the beginning of each piece was a nice way to show the audience the choreographer’s vision and provide a peek into the creation of the work.
Danielle Rowe’s ‘Adam’s Key’
Danielle Rowe, originally from Australia, is an emerging choreographer who has created works for companies such as Nederlands Dans Theater, San Francisco Ballet and Berkley Ballet Theater. Rowe trained at the Australian Ballet School and was a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet for 10 years. She has worked with a number of famous choreographers such as Jiri Kylian and Mats Ek.
Rowe’s “Adam’s Key” depicted the complex world of a family dealing with autism. Rowe’s clever choreography captured the experience of parents caring for a child with autism as well as the child’s unique way of seeing the world. The story unfolded on a darkened stage with lighting revealing different scenes where parents and child seem to sometimes inhabit different worlds. The parents struggled to interact with their child at times. Rowe’s choreography beautifully captured the emotional experiences of the parents and child. Her choreography made a tender dance of some common characteristics of autism like hand flapping, body rocking and lack of eye contact. There were powerful moments when the parents connected with their child, joining their child’s unique dance by sharing the movements and showing the beauty in it. “Adam’s Key” was in many ways tribute to life with autism. Grand Rapids Ballet dancers performed the piece with great artistry and strong acting skills. The audience could feel the emotion.
Uri Sands’ ‘One’
Uri Sands is nationally-recognized American choreographer and co-founder of the contemporary dance company TU Dance in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Sands has won many awards, including the Princess Grace Award in choreography. He studied dance at the New World School of the Arts and served as a principal dancer for companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and North Carolina Dance Theatre.
Sands’ “One” was a tribute to Henrietta Lacks, the African American woman whose cancer cells helped advance cancer research, and the injustice dealt to her by a racist medical community. Sands originally created “One” for Dance St. Louis. The piece captured the fear, sadness and frustration experienced by Henrietta and her family. Sands’ choreography included a lot of floorwork, hand gestures and full-body expression. There were powerful moments in the piece: Dancers held their hands out in supplication like Henrietta fighting her cancer. The sky rains with treasures and dancers hold out buckets to catch the treasures, but most of it fell to the ground untouched, much like Henrietta and her family failing to receive any compensation for her contribution to medical science. Sands’ choreography and the dancers created a lovely, moving tribute to Henrietta Lacks.
Olivier Wevers’ ‘Swing’
Olivier Wevers, originally from Belgium, is an internationally renowned choreographer and the founder and artistic director of the contemporary dance company Whim W’Him in Seattle, Washington. Wevers danced as a principal at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and at Pacific Northwest Ballet. He is an award-winning choreographer, who has created works for dance companies all over the world.
Wevers’ “Swing” dealt with the issue of suicide and the struggle to survive. Wevers’ choreography included chairs that dancers incorporated into their movement throughout most of the piece. The chairs symbolized life filled with individual burdens. Dancers fought to keep their chairs, while a dancer portraying death kept trying to take the chairs away. Wevers’ choreography included many artistic group numbers where the dancers seamlessly incorporated their chairs into the dance. The heavy use of a large prop also required a high degree of athleticism in the piece. The strong cast of dancers and Wevers’ inventive choreography created an engaging work of art. The emotional pas de deux between two male dancers as one succumbs to death is hauntingly beautiful, sad and moving. Many scenes were almost like miniature sculptures in their artistry.
‘Movemedia: Diversity’ shows promising future for Grand Rapids Ballet
All three dance numbers featured in “Diversity II” received a standing ovation from the audience after each performance. The inventive choreography, strong dance technique and great acting skill made each piece stand out as an individual work of art. The production showed all the endless artistic possibilities of dance. The three choreographers and the dancers created a show that the West Michigan audience will remember for a long time. The success of “Movemedia: Diversity” reveal a promising future for Grand Rapids Ballet, which continues to draw a larger audience each season and critical acclaim from the international dance world.