Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Jumpstart: on film” showcases cast talent and explores dance art
By Adrienne Warber
Grand Rapids Ballet offers unique opportunities to explore dance art for the West Michigan community through their annual “Jumpstart” experimental dance series, which features a selection of company dancers’ original works. The dance series is always a delight and this year’s superb version, “Jumpstart: on film,” features nine world premieres in a film format. The company presented “Jumpstart: on film,” last weekend on video stream. Tickets are still available now for streaming “Jumpstart: on Film” through May 9.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s Annual ‘Jumpstart’ Dance Series
Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director James Sofranko began the annual “Jumpstart” program to give company dancers a chance to explore choreography and create original works. They get to work on all aspects of putting together a piece from choreographing on their fellow dancers and artistic direction to costume design. It is a great opportunity for dancers to grow their artistic abilities and for the West Michigan dance community to see the multifaceted talents of their local dance company. This year’s film version also required the choreographers to be filmmakers, directors, producers and cinematographers with the guidance of SALT Creative Studios.
“Jumpstart: on film” Choreographers and World Premieres
This year, “Jumpstart: on film” features nine world premieres choreographed by company dancers and faculty Nicole Reehorst, Nathan Young, Nigel Tau, Isaac Aoki, Madison Massara, James Cunningham, Gretchen Steimle, Matthew Wenckowski, Adriana Wagenveld, and Yuka Oba-Muschiana. These talented choreographers crafted lovely works that were well-suited to their cast of dancers, skillfully filmed and directed, and expressed great artistry. The works feature both classical ballet and contemporary movement.
Grand Rapids Ballet company dancer Nathan Young and Grand Rapids Ballet School faculty member Nicole Reehorst choreographed “Vivace” together. The classical ballet piece is a tribute to the 19th century Romantic ballet era. The choreographers were inspired by a famous lithograph by Alfred Edward Chalon from Jules Perrot’s 1845 ballet “Pas de Quatre” that featured the four most famous ballerinas of that time period – Carlotta Grisi, Marie Taglioni, Lucile Grahn and Fanny Cerito. “Pas de Quatre” celebrated the beauty and strength of each of the four prima ballerinas. Reehorst and Young also wanted to showcase the talents and strengths of the four dancers in their piece – Steven Houser, Sarah Marley, Julia Turner and Adriana Wagenveld. They danced beautifully in the number.
The piece opens in a tableau pose similar to the famous illustration, where the dancers are close together and framing each other, and include other soft movements and tableau moments that reference the “Pas de Quatre.” Reehorst and Young’s “Vivace” includes solos, duets and the full quartet all danced by the dancers with beautiful, expert technique. The beautiful piece resembles an Edgar Degas painting with the soft blue flowing skirts, elegant classical technique, and the wonder of the Romantic ballet era.
Nigel Tau explores the contrast and conflict between the left brain and right brain, or the rational and creative, and how they complement each other, in his piece “Dexterous, Sinistral.” Tau’s choreography features contemporary movement with dramatic hand gestures, and deep, full body movements to convey the emotional, internal struggle. Tau wanted to incorporate the unique strengths of each dancer into the choreography. Emily Reed, Celeste Lopez-Keranen, Josue Justiz, and Matthew Wenckowski all did an excellent job dancing in the piece. Tau’s well-crafted piece is enjoyable to watch.
Isaac Aoki was inspired by some of his intense dreams during the pandemic. He included some of those ideas in his work, “At First Sight,” and interpreted them in inventive contemporary movement. Aoki’s “At First Sight” featured 13 dancers – Yuka Oba-Muschiana, Gretchen Steimle, Nigel Tau, Adriana Wagenveld, Ingrid Lewis, Celese Lopez-Keranen, Claudia Rhett, Logan Velasquez, Katie Aaberg, Haley Baker, Avery Held, Todd Lani and Maeve Sentner. The large cast did an amazing job. The piece opens with a group number where the dancers move together to create sculptures of movement. Oba-Muschiana and Steimle complement each other well in their technique and fluid movements during their duet. The work ends with a quartet of dancers performing outdoors at Silver Lake Sand Dunes, where they each improv with emotion that captures the isolation of the pandemic and their joy at dancing in the sunshine. The scene was beautifully filmed by both Aoki and his father, Bruce Aoki, who filmed a portion by drone.
James Cunningham’s piece “Evanescent Impressions” deals with the idea that everyone is going through things that they don’t always share with the world. Cunningham gave each dancer a story to channel certain emotions. Cunningham’s creative choreography included both classical ballet and contemporary movement. Contemporary movements like rubbing arms together as if playing an instrument are paired with pointe work. The dancers move together to create the shape of an analog clock. Ednis Gomez, Yuka Oba-Muschiana, Branden Reiners, and Gretchen Steimle all danced with emotion and strong technique in the piece. Cunningham’s cinematography was impressive with layering images of dancers at key moments.
Gretchen Steimle’s “Created by Circumstance” is a tribute to the plight of the homeless and their journey to overcome their circumstances. The work is a collaboration between Grand Rapids Ballet, Dégagé Ministries and Grand Rapids United First Methodist Church. The dancing was accompanied by local musicians and quotes from Dégagé Ministries patrons on the things that gave them hope to persevere. Isaac Aoki, Ednis Gomez, Madison Massara and Branden Reiners danced in the piece and all danced with expert technique and emotion. The piece portrays the experience of patrons beginning their journey at Dégagé Ministries. Some scenes are filmed outside around Grand Rapids, at Rosa Parks Circle, and at Grand Rapids Ballet. Steimle’s choreography conveys the emotions in each step of the journey and a sense of community. Dancers link together to form images like a sculpture during intense moments. “Created by Circumstance” is a memorable and thought-provoking work.
Matthew Wenckowski’s “Until Then” is about the end of a romantic relationship. It is beautifully filmed, and the choreography captures the emotions of different stages of the relationship. There are many moments where the dancers move simultaneously, foreheads together, and meaningful hand gestures to portray the state of the relationship. The dancers Emily Reed and Nigel Tau gave a strong and emotional performance and were well-paired.
Madison Massara and Isaac Aoki choreographed and danced in “Two Swans.” They worked on the duet last summer and decided to perform it for “Jumpstart: on film.” They were inspired by the portrayal of swans in classical ballet, the ways of expressing emotion, and the real movements of swans. The piece is set to “The Dying Swan” from “Carnival of Animals.” Massara and Aoki dance beautifully together, matching movements, forming pretty images, and showing emotions seamlessly. The cinematography is lovely by the water, especially at sunset.
Adriana Wagenveld created “Passing Through” to reflect on the concept of expectations and how fulfilled and lost expectations affect people. Wagenveld’s choreography had lovely classical and contemporary movements. Sarah Marley and Nathan Young danced in the piece. Young and Marley were well-partnered and performed with great artistry.
Yuka Oba-Muschiana’s “Sol and Luna” is the story of a writer who is having trouble writing until one day something unexpected happens. The piece was inspired by Oba-Muschiana’s own creative process struggles and the path to creating something good. It is a lovely piece filmed at the historic Voigt House with elegant classical ballet choreography. Yuko Horisawa plays the part of the writer and James Cunningham is her muse, a fairy godfather to magically help her creative process. Horisawa and Cunningham gave an excellent performance.
Ticket Information for “Jumpstart: on film”
Tickets are still available for $15 to see “Jumpstart: on film” now through May 9. This is a virtual program that is available to stream online from your device of choice or smart TV after purchasing a ticket. The program can be viewed as many times as desired after purchase until 11:59 pm on May 9. Visit Grand Rapids Ballet’s website to purchase tickets online.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s 50th Anniversary and the 2021-22 Season
Grand Rapids Ballet’s current cast of talented dancers are a West Michigan treasure. It will be exciting to see what Grand Rapids Ballet does next. As the pandemic gets better and the state opens up, the company looks forward to returning to live shows for the next dance season. The 2021-22 Season will be special because the company will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The company will announce details about the upcoming season soon. Follow Grand Rapids Ballet on Facebook to hear current news.