Grand Rapids Ballet delivers a stirring show full of artistry and beauty in ‘Extremely Close’
By Adrienne Warber
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Extremely Close” is both a feast of the senses and a display of high dance art. Artistic Director James Sofranko, his talented cast of dancers and guest choreographers Val Caniparoli and Alejandro Cerrudo truly showed the many facets of ballet and dance expression in their production of “Extremely Close,” last weekend April 12-14. The production featured Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House,” James Sofranko’s world premiere of “The Sweet By and By,” and Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close.” The three numbers complemented each other to create one visually lush and artistic show.
Val Caniparoli’s ‘Ibsen’s House’
The show opened with Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House,” which was set to music by Antonin Dvoràk. The live music, featuring a piano and string quartet, added to the emotion and elegance of the number. Caniparoli was inspired by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s portrayal of strong women in his plays to create the ballet number. One of the field’s most sought after choreographers, Caniparoli is known for his versatile and creative choreography. Caniparoli’s beautiful choreography captured the unique sense of each Ibsen character, and the talented 10 dancers who portrayed them brought each to life vividly. His blend of classical ballet featured lovely pointe work with some contemporary movement that added emotion and texture to the piece. The cast of 10 dancers – five women and five men – told each woman’s story and how she stood up for herself in her dealings with the men in her life. Cassidy Isaacson portrayed Hedda Gabler and Steven Houser was George Tesman. Yuka Oba danced the role of Nora Helmer and Nathan Young played Torvald Helmer. Alexandra Meister-Upleger was Mrs. Alving and Isaac Aoki portrayed Captain Alving and Oswald Alving. Connie Flachs played Ellina Wangel and Matt Wenckowski portrayed the stranger. Madison Massara played the role of Rebecca West and Josue Justiz played John Rosmer. Each character had a distinct set of movements that communicated her personality and life experiences. All of the dancers in this piece created their characters with strong acting skills and emotions that communicated with the audience through every fiber of their beings. The beautiful dancing and enjoyable live music worked well with the pretty costumes and set featuring a curtained window backdrop to set the mood of the piece in the era of Ibsen.
James Sofranko’s ‘The Sweet By and By’
Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director James Sofranko presented the world premiere of his work, “The Sweet By and By,” in the production. This is Sofranko’s second world premiere work since joining Grand Rapids Ballet as the artistic director this season, firmly establishing his commitment to choreograph new works for the West Michigan dance community. “The Sweet By and By” was a delightful, upbeat number featuring movement that included jazz, ballet and contemporary moves as well as some of the social dancing reminiscent of the 1940s era. The piece was set to gospel music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Some parts had elements of classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger movies and 1940s musicals. The cast of 12 dancers all did a great job of capturing the joy and emotion of Sofranko’s clever choreography. Audience members were tapping their feet in enjoyment to the music and dancing. Alexandra Meister-Upleger gave a particularly emotional and strong performance in “Precious Lord,” where she communicated her character’s inner struggle in every movement. Adriana Wagenveld also gave a strong performance in “Down by the Riverside,” where she danced the night away with her partners with a Ginger Rogers flare. Steven Houser did an excellent job in “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Amen.” Houser’s dancing in “Amen” was reminiscent of ministers dancing at the pulpit during passionate sermons or people overcome with the holy spirit at prayer revivals. Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By” was both entertaining and a great example the many facets of dance expression.
Alejandro Cerrudo’s ‘Extremely Close’
The evening closed on Alejandro Cerrudo’s artistic masterpiece, “Extremely Close,” the title piece of the production. Cerrudo, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Resident Choreographer from 2008-18, is an award-winning choreographer and is known for his inventive contemporary choreography. The stage was dark as white feathers snowed from the ceiling to cover the stage floor. Dancers in socks entered, moving around three white panels as they danced. The white feathers, panels and lighting all showcased the amazing dancing of the cast of 8 dancers. There were moments that seemed like a frame of a painting.
The pas de deux between Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski was the emotional highlight of the piece. They danced with great artistry and athleticism as they twisted their bodies into the shapes and movements of Cerrudo’s inventive choreography. Their performance was moving and memorable.
Grand Rapids Ballet delivered an entertaining and inspiring performance in “Extremely Close.” It was clear by the standing ovation and happy faces that many people in the audience will return for future Grand Rapids Ballet productions.