Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Celebrates the Magic of Dance
By Adrienne Warber
Two things come to mind when thinking of Grand Rapids Ballet – magic and joy. That is exactly what the company captured in their performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The show closed Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2021-22 Season last weekend and was a fitting celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary. The ballet company also performed “Serenade” with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the production. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Serenade” showcased the company’s exceptional talent and the beauty of dance. The company held 8 performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream from April 22-24 and April 29-May 1.
‘Serenade’ Ushers in the Romance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
Grand Rapids Ballet presented both George Balanchine’s “Serenade” and Christopher Stowell’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the 2021-22 Season closing show. The choice of Balanchine’s “Serenade” set the magical tone for both pieces. Balanchine originally created the beloved piece of ballet history as a teaching tool for his dancers to work on classical ballet technique. It features some moves that are technically difficult and create beautiful variations. Ballet companies have since performed the iconic choreography as both a tribute to Balanchine’s genius and a way of polishing their technique.
When asked about Grand Rapids Ballet’s decision to perform “Serenade” this season, Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director James Sofranko commented on the special qualities of Balanchine’s famous work. “Serenade is a gift to the world that Balanchine made. It has so much beauty in it, and it flows so spontaneously and naturally…He (Balanchine) created it for his students to help them work on their technique, positions, and steps. There is a lot of hard classical ballet steps in there, but there is also a lot of new genius. The timeless quality has a connection to the old world traditions of ballet and also a freshness of spirit…It runs the full gambit of emotions to a poignant ending. Yet it is an abstract ballet. There is no story…But you can’t help but feel emotional with the Tchaikovsky music as they pull you into their world…It is a classic that I want to keep alive, not just for future generations to watch, but for dancers to perform as well,” said Sofranko.
It was a special treat to experience Grand Rapids Ballet’s performance of “Serenade” on opening night, April 22. The 26 dancers captured the grace and athleticism of Balanchine technique. The piece highlighted ballet movements in a way that showed the precision of the technique and how well-executed movement creates works of art. The dancers all did an excellent job in the work, showing high artistry in their technique. It was quite beautiful to watch, and many people in the audience could be heard commenting on the beauty of their work after the performance. The audience gave the “Serenade” cast a standing ovation. It set the tone for the evening. The pairing of “Serenade” with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” created an exquisite production of some of the finest classical ballet around.
Christopher Stowell’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Choreography
Grand Rapids Ballet performed the version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that was choreographed by Christopher Stowell when he was artistic director of Oregon Ballet Theatre. In 2011, Oregon Ballet Theatre presented the world premiere of Stowell’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Grand Rapids Ballet is the second company to perform Stowell’s version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Stowell’s clever choreography has some lovely neoclassical movements that capture the romance and humor of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and the allow the dancers tell the story in high art form. His choreography portrayed the emotions and magic of the Shakespearean story.
Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director James Sofranko talks about Stowell’s choreography, “I love the way he (Christopher Stowell) uses the Mendelssohn music and gives the principals and the corps a lot of great dancing. It is a neoclassical style ballet technique but with a quickness and a lightness for the fairies. His particular style really matched the characters of this ballet.”
The dance numbers of the fairies portrayed by company dancers and the butterflies portrayed by student dancers all created the magic of fairy tales and nature. Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers and Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company dancers gave an exceptional performance and worked well together.
Yuka Oba-Muschiana was a radiant Titania and was well-partnered by Josué Justiz, who played a dashing Oberon. Oba-Muschiana and Justiz danced with beautiful artistry and emotion. Their pas de deux was one of the most memorable moments in the ballet. Their performances with each other and with the fairies and butterflies had a spell-like quality in creating the fairy world.
Matthew Wenckowski played a delightful Puck and performed some entertaining scenes with Steven Houser’s hilarious portrayal of Bottom, Julia Turner’s playful Peaseblossom, and Tevyn Black’s mischievous Cupid. Wenckkwski, Houser, Turner and Black all did a great job. Cameron Mosolygo also did a good job as the Changeling and danced well with Oba-Muschiana.
The two pairs of lovers played by Emily Reed (Hermia), Nathan Young (Lysander), Alexandra Meister-Upleger (Helena), and James Cunningham (Demetrius) told the classic story with feeling and lovely dancing. Reed, Young, Meister-Upleger and Cunningham all danced with expert technique.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” marked the farewell performances of two beloved Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers, Steven Houser and Ednis Gomez. Houser is
retiring after 18 years of professional dancing, 11 of those years with Grand Rapids Ballet. Gomez is leaving Grand Rapids Ballet after 8 years with the company. Houser played Bottom and Gomez portrayed a rustic at the opening night performance. Houser was also involved in restaging the show on the dancers since he was familiar with Stowell’s choreography from dancing in the original production when it premiered at the Oregon Ballet Theatre. Both Houser and Gomez gave an excellent and enjoyable performance.
A Joyful Season Ending
The audience gave a standing ovation at the end of “A Midsummer Night’ Dream.” It was a truly enjoyable evening that celebrated the magic of ballet and the joy of dance. The production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Serenade” was a fitting end to Grand Rapids Ballet’s highly successful 2021-2022 Season and the company’s 50th anniversary. The company marked the season end and the last weekend of the show with their 50th Anniversary 50-Hour Alumni Weekend. The event brought together company and school alumni as well as patrons to honor the company’s dedication to West Michigan and dance. As the 2021-22 Season ends, Grand Rapids Ballet continues to grow in artistry. The company has a bright future as a dance arts leader for many years to come.