Grand Rapids Ballet’s Enjoyable ‘Ballet + Broadway’
Creates Excitement for Upcoming Shows
By Adrienne Warber
Grand Rapids Ballet continues to amaze audiences with their talented cast of dancers and ever-growing repertoire of classical ballet and contemporary movement productions. The West Michigan ballet company’s memorable performance of enjoyable dancing in the delightful “Ballet + Broadway” brought Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2022-23 Season to a close in May. Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Ballet + Broadway” blended the elements of classical ballet and Broadway-style dance together in a beautiful performance that moved hearts and uplifted spirits. The show brought a caliber of dance performance that can shine on any national or international ballet stage. This outstanding production is an example of why West Michigan dance fans should be excited about Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2023-24 Season and upcoming “Summer Series.”
Blending Ballet with Broadway
Grand Rapids Ballet presented George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?,” Penny Saunders’ “Jump Cut,” and Andy Blankenbuehler’s “Remember Our Song” in the “Ballet + Broadway” production. These three works brought together classical ballet with the contemporary movement of Broadway dancing along with artistic elements and staging that are commonly a part of a Broadway show. Broadway-style dance requires different techniques, use of the stage, and acting than commonly emphasized in classical ballet. This was a challenge that Grand Rapids Ballet was more than ready for. For many of the company dancers, it was a first opportunity to perform Broadway style on stage, yet the dancers performed the combined dance styles with the expertise and artistry of seasoned professionals.
George Balanchine’s ‘Who Cares?’
George Balanchine created the work “Who Cares?” set to the music of George Gershwin, which was first performed by the New York City Ballet in 1970. It was the first production that combined classical ballet choreography and Broadway musical numbers in a unique and entertaining work. The piece was the perfect opening to Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Ballet + Broadway” production because of how Balanchine’s beautiful classical ballet choreography combines seamlessly with Gershwin’s popular songs.
The great thing about “Who Cares” is that Gershwin’s familiar music helps create the story for each number. The audience could anticipate the story and the dancing fit each piece so well. The cast danced beautifully with expert technique and fully developed expression.
Penny Saunders’ ‘Jump Cut’
The world premiere of Penny Saunders’ “Jump Cut” contained all of the signature elements of her unique brand of dance beauty. She blends classical ballet technique with contemporary movement to create dance masterpieces that speak to the heart. “Jump Cut” explored a story about classic Hollywood film-making and political moments in history. The piece mixed dance with audio from old Hollywood films and involved dancing that followed the rhythm of films of that era. There was physical humor in the story as well as serious moments in history. The cast did an excellent job of creating the feel of classic films in their movements. They danced with skillful technique and superior acting skills.
Andy Blankenbuehler’s ‘Remember Our Song’
“Hamilton” Tony award-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s “Remember Our Song” stood out as a lovely piece that perfectly blended ballet with Broadway-style dance. The story about a World War II submarine crew shows how war affected both the sailors and the family left behind. The story unfolded with poignant dancing and passion. The gorgeous, emotional dancing captured the bravery, fears, and heartbreak of war that everyone can identify with. It is impressive to realize that many of the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers were dancing Broadway-style for the first time because of how skillfully they performed the choreography.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Summer Series’ and Season 2023-24 Season
“Ballet + Broadway” was a triumphant end to the 2022-23 Season. Now Grand Rapids Ballet prepares for the 2023-24 Season. This summer is busy with the Grand Rapids Ballet School’s preparations for “Summer 2023 Ballet Intensive” for student dancers, and the Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers’ preparations for the 2023-24 Season. Grand Rapids Ballet’s new season begins in August with the “Summer Series,” and then fully launches in October with the performance of “Contemporary Visions.”
The first event of the 2023-24 Season, the “Summer Series” includes both a Frederik Meijer Gardens performance and the annual outdoor Summer Dance Festival, when the company partners with other local dance groups from various genres to celebrate the art of dance. The festival is a free two-day event held on August 25-26 from 5-9 p.m. outside the Peter Martin Wege Theatre, where patrons can enjoy food trucks, beer, and wine when they watch dance performances. After the dance festival, Grand Rapids Ballet’s next outdoor performance will be at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park Amphitheater on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. The Meijer Gardens show includes works from George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” featuring popular George Gershwin songs and Lar Lubovitch’s “Elemental Brubeck, with music by legendary jazz composer Dave Brubeck. Admission is free to Meijer Gardens members, or included with the price of admission for non-members. Tickets are available at the Meijer Gardens Welcome Center or Ampitheater Box Office starting at 5 p.m. on the day of the show.
This is a good time to become a season subscriber because of the exciting lineup of shows. Fans of classical ballet and contemporary movement will all find something to enjoy this season. Grand Rapids Ballet will perform “Contemporary Visions” in October, “The Nutcracker” in December, “Sleeping Beauty” in February, “Jumpstart 2024” in March, and Twyla Tharp’s “In The Upper Room,” in April and May. Both “The Nutcracker” and “Sleeping Beauty” will be performed at DeVos Performance Hall with live accompaniment by Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra. To learn more about Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2023-24 Season and current activities, visit their Facebook page.