Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Jumpstart 2022’ showcases the company’s exceptional talent
By Adrienne Warber
Grand Rapids Ballet’s shows are known as both a celebration of dance art and an enjoyable experience. The company’s recent performance of “Jumpstart 2022” is another example of the company’s great talent. The annual show provides a platform for their company dancers and other emerging choreographers to explore new artistic ideas in choreography. This year Grand Rapids Ballet partnered with six community organizations to create performances that had special meaning to the West Michigan community and dance art. The show includes choreographies by eight company dancers as well as award-winning choreographers Penny Saunders and Jennifer Archibald. “Jumpstart 2022” proves once again that Grand Rapids Ballet is one of the nation’s leading dance art centers.
‘Jumpstart 2022’ Community Partnerships
Building community partnerships is an important aspect of Grand Rapid’s commitment to West Michigan. Eight Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers partnered with Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, Grand Valley State University, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, and Opera Grand Rapids on works featured in “Jumpstart 2022.” Grand Rapids company dancer choreographers include Isaac Aoki, James Cunningham, Zach Manske, Alexandra Meister-Upleger, Yuka Oba-Muschiana, Emily Reed, Nigel Tau, and Adriana Wagenveld. The show provides a unique opportunity for company dancers to choreograph original works on their fellow dancers. The current cast of 19 company dancers are very talented. These collaborations called attention to current issues. through original dance art. It showed the power of dance to express ideas. These partnerships bring the community into the Grand Rapids Ballet’s artistic creations, which are performed by company dancers who are also a part of the West Michigan community. This year’s clever and artistic “Jumpstart” is a fitting tribute to the company’s 50th anniversary and showcases the current cast talent.
The community partners worked with Grand Rapids Ballet to assistance in costuming, visual arts and production. Eighteen Grand Valley State University students worked on animation and movement exercises for Emily Reed’s piece, “No Longer Left Outside.”
“Jumpstart 2022” provided a platform for both exploring and learning artistic endeavors for both dancers and community partners. Each piece mixes various medias with dance to create art in a meaningful way. The multimedia elements of the show provide a sumptuous experience for the audience whether live or virtual.
“We are an organization dedicated to our community, and I am especially excited this year, in honor of our 50th anniversary, to be able to incorporate collaborations with multiple organizations from around the city, adding yet another layer of creativity and shining a light on how Grand Rapids can come together to create art,” said James Sofranko, artistic director at Grand Rapids Ballet.
Ballet Forever reviewed the virtual production of “Jumpstart 2022,” which features the opening night performance from March 25. Virtual productions allow the viewer to see performance expression and technique up close. “Jumptart 2022” is an enjoyable virtual experience.
‘Brothers’ by Jennifer Archibald
“Jumpstart 2022” also includes “Brothers,” a work by nationally sought-after choreographer Jennifer Archibald, founder and artistic director of the Arch Dance Company. The work premiered at Grand Rapids Ballet in 2021 Summer Series. The contemporary movement piece focuses on two dancers, Ednis Gomez and Matthew Wenckowski, who give an exceptional performance. Archibald’s signature contemporary choreography is clever and creates a truly artistic work.
‘Chansons De Bilitis’ by Yuka Oba-Muschiana
Yuka Oba-Muschiana teams with Opera Grand Rapids’ mezzo-soprano Christine Amon on her work that tells the story through music and dance based on a poem about a woman dealing with complex relationships. Three couples dance in the piece – Julia Turner and Steven Houser, Alexandra Meister-Upleger and James Cunningham, and Sarah Marley and Josué Justiz. The combination of Amon’s beautiful singing to piano accompaniment, Oba-Muschiana’s elegant choreography, and the artful dancing of the six dancers is beautiful.
‘What Remains’ by Nigel Tau
Nigel Tau work, “What Remains,” is inspired by Hwa-Jeen Na’s photography collection at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The four dancers Isaac Aoki, Ednis Gomez, Haley Baker and Fiona Dorr perform with excellent technique. The work is lovely and brings the photographs alive in dance. Tau’s inventive, emotional piece shows people going through their lives each day and self-reflection.
‘Shakespeare In Love’ by Zach Manske
Zach Manske worked with two dancers and two Grand Rapids Civic Theatre actors from their production of “Shakespeare In Love.” Two dancers, Emily Reed and Nathan Young, and two Grand Rapids Civic Theatre actors, Seraphina Zorn and Nate Reynolds, perform in the work. Manske creates a romantic piece. The dancers and actors perform together beautifully to Manske’s moving choreography.
‘Soirée’ by Isaac Aoki
Isaac Aoki’s piece “Soirée” is inspired by his experiences visiting the Grand Rapids Art Museum as well as the museum’s unique architecture. The piece depicts artists at a Grand Rapids Art Museum reception in both film and on stage. 28 dancers from Grand Rapids Ballet company, apprentices and trainees perform in the work. Nine company dancers are featured in the piece – Matthew Wenckowski, Adriana Wagenveld, Zach Manske, Madison Massara-Leister, Josué Justiz, Branden Reiners, Emily Reed, Yuko Horisawa and Ednis Gomez. The dancers perform with excellent technique to Aoki’s clever choreography and take the audience with them as they dance throughout the lovely scenery of the museum and on stage.
‘Amiss’ by Penny Saunders
Grand Rapids Resident Choreographer Penny Saunders is known for her inventive choreography and seamless blend of classical ballet and contemporary movement. “Jumpstart 2022” features a reworking of her film “Amiss” on stage to reflect on dance during the height of pandemic and now as live performance returns. The critically acclaimed piece first premiered in at Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Virtual Program II: An Evening with Penny Saunders” in during the 2019-2020 Season. The original film plays in the background while Nigel Tau and Matthew Wenckowski dance with masterful technique on stage. This version is every bit as well-done as the original with high quality dancing and creative choreography.
‘Das Ist Mein Sohn’ by Alexandra Meister-Upleger
Alexandra Meister-Upleger’s piece “Das Ist mein Sohn” is inspired by two poems from “The Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters where the dead reflect on the lives they led. The work incorporated two actors from Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Kristin Tomlin and Nate Reynolds, and the four dancers Isaac Aoki, Sarah Marley, Madison Massara-Leister and Steven Houser. Meister-Upleger’s elegant classical ballet choreography and four dancers’ excellent dancing made this a memorable piece.
‘Peri Physeōs’ by Adriana Wagenveld
Adriana Wagenveld’s “Peri Physeōs,” is based on Parmenides’ poem and explores the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. “Peri Physeōs” means On Nature. Students from the Fashion Studies program at Kendal Collage of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s Pamella Roland DeVos School of Fashion designed the pretty costumes. Wagenveld created a lovely piece. Four dancers depicted the four elements – Yuka Oba-Muschiana (water), Steven Houser (earth), Julia Turner (air) and Branden Reiners (fire). The four dancers gave a strong performance.
‘No Longer Left Outside’ by Emily Reed
Emily Reed’s piece, “No Longer Left Outside” is inspired by Alan Watts’ lecture “A Conversation with Myself.” Reed’s work focuses on two pieces of music and includes excerpts of Watts’ lecture. During the winter semester, Grand Valley State University students worked with Reed for a hands-on learning experience in animation and visual arts. Reed’s piece features a backdrop with projections of nature scenes and birds and shows representations of the dancers through corresponding colors. The four dancers Nigel Tau, Sarah Marley, Yuko Horisawa and Ednis Gomez perform with strong technique. Reed’s choreography creates an artful representation of Watts’ words.
‘Zazous Du Jour’ by James Cunningham
James Cunningham worked with Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra on his work, “Zazous Du Jour.” Cunningham’s piece centers on the zazous movement in Paris and the big band Jazz music of the 1940s. Five Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra musicians perform in the piece – Garry McCourry, James Sawyer, Lisa Sung, Tom Lockwood and Eddie Eicher. Seven dancers dance in the work – Yuka Oba-Muschiana, Zach Manske, Branden Reiners, Haley Baker, Talia Lebowitz, Claudia Rhett and Spencer Waldeck. The dancers gave an enjoyable performance to Cunningham’s creative choreography in this lively and clever work.
Celebrate Grand Rapids Ballet’s 50th Anniversary
The 2021-2022 Season marks Grand Rapids Ballet’s 50th anniversary and each performance has been a tribute to the company’s legacy of high-quality dance art. Be sure to see the company’s next show, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Enjoy the classic Shakespearean tale with choreography by Associate Director of the National Ballet of Canada Christopher Stowell and music by Felix Mendelssohn. Both live in-person performance and virtual tickets are available for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will be held on the weekends of April 22-24 and April 29-May 1.
Grand Rapids Ballet will also hold a special alumni weekend celebration, April 29-May 1 for former students, company dancers, long-time patrons, or anyone who wants to participate. Alumni weekend events include watching company technique classes, taking dance classes, a trolley tour of Grand Rapids, happy hours, and seeing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Tickets can be purchased for individual days or the entire weekend. Alumni weekend details and tickets are available at Grand Rapids Ballet’s website. Ticket reservations are available until April 20.