Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘From Russia with Love’ is enchanting
By Adrienne Warber
When dancers perform on stage, they are sharing a part of themselves with the audience that is very personal and real. A great performance creates an emotional connection between performer and audience. Grand Rapids Ballet dancer Dawnell Dryja’s farewell performance in “From Russia with Love” on Friday, October 6, was all of that and more. Grand Rapids Ballet opened the 2017-18 Season on Friday with an outstanding classical ballet performance of “From Russia with Love,” led by Dryja’s exquisite dancing and supported by a strong cast of dancers. The company performed three shows over the weekend and will run one more “From Russia with Love” on Friday, October 13, at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre in downtown Grand Rapids.
A Celebration of Classical Ballet
Grand Rapids Ballet pays homage to classical ballet with their 2017-18 Season opening performance of “From Russia with Love,” featuring five selections from famous ballets with Russian origins. The show is a nod to the gold standard of classical ballet in music and choreography, such as composers Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Alexander Glazunov, and choreographers George Balanchine and Marius Petipa. The audience will recognize many beloved scenes from ballets like “Sleeping Beauty,” “Giselle,” and “Raymonda.” Dance numbers include many of the things that appeal to fans of classical ballet – lovely pointe work, athletic leaps across stage, romantic pas de deux sequences and classic costumes. The elegantly simple set with a bare stage and the use of projections and lighting highlight the beauty of the dancing.
“From Russia with Love” consists of five numbers:
- “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux”
- “Sleeping Beauty – Garland Dance”
- “Flames of Paris Pas de Deux”
- “Raymonda Pas de Dix”
- “Giselle Act II”
These selections of popular moments in dance are probably familiar to both ballet fans and dance students. Scenes from classic ballets like these are often taught in dance classes, and throughout the years dancers perform and perfect them on stage. The selection will connect with ballet fans because they are among some of the most loved scenes in classical ballet.
The opening night performance of “From Russia with Love” performance on Friday, October 6 showcased the strength of the company’s current cast of talented dancers, and reminded the audience about the special magic of classical ballet. Selections included strong and memorable solos and partnering numbers by featured dancers like Dawnell Dryja, Nicholas Schultz, Yuka Oba, Isaac Aoki, Laura McQueen-Schultz and Steven Houser. Dryja and Schultz gave stirring performances in “Giselle” that truly connected with the audience. Oba gave a lovely and memorable performance as Myrta in “Giselle.” Scenes from “Giselle” and “Raymonda” showcased the great talent of the corps de ballet. Grand Rapids Ballet School’s Junior Company also did a fine job in the “Garland Dance.”
Great Moments in Partnering
“From Russia with Love” featured many partnering numbers in the form of pas de deux and pas de dix sequences. Great partnering is a mix of well-matched technique, support and emotional connection. Dawnell Dryja and Nicholas Schultz gave stunning performances in both the “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” and “Giselle” numbers. They matched each other in excellent technique and emotional performance. Their moving performance in “Giselle” was truly beautiful to watch. Yuka Oba and Isaac Aoki also gave superb performances in the “Flames of Paris Pas de Deux.” Oba and Aoki showed great athleticism and grace in their technique. The five couples in the “Raymonda Pas de Dix” gave a great energy on the stage. Dance partners were well-matched, showcased each other’s talents, and captured the spirit of the “Raymonda” number.
The Strength of Corps de Ballet
The corps de ballet performed some of the most memorable moments on the opening night of “From Russia with Love.” The talent of Grand Rapids Ballet’s corps de ballet really shown in “Giselle Act II,” where the dancers portraying the wilis brought the ethereal beauty of Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot’s choreography to life. The dancers showed excellent classical ballet technique and transported the audience into the enchanted forest. There were moments when the dancing looked like frames of a lovely painting. Act II of “Giselle” is one the most iconic moments in classical ballet, and the corps de ballet along with Yuka Oba’s Myrta, Nicholas Schutz’ Count Albrecht and Dawnell Dryja’s Giselle, recreated the magic of this beloved ballet.
A Memorable Farewell
This production of “From Russia with Love” is Grand Rapids Ballet dancer Dawnell Dryja’s final performance on stage before she retires as a full-time company dancer. Dryja danced with her heart at the October 6 show, and her performance was like a love song to the audience, her fellow dancers and her craft. She danced with the cleverness and deft skill in her ballet technique developed over a 16-year career. She showed grace and athleticism in her numbers. When Dryja appeared on stage as Giselle, she danced with beauty and passion. It was not only Giselle’s moving farewell to her love Count Albrecht, it was also Dryja’s farewell to her beloved audience and fellow dancers. Her performance and all that she has given to dance will always be remembered.
See ‘From Russia with Love’
Anyone who loves classical ballet should enjoy “From Russian with Love,” and there is still a chance to see it. A few tickets are still available for the final Friday performance. Grand Rapids Ballet will perform “From Russia with Love” this Friday, October 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre on 341 Ellsworth SW. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.
The company is also holding a special event, “From Dawnell with Love,” on Saturday, October 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Dryja will dance some of her favorite numbers, including some of the scenes from “From Russia with Love”:
- “Esmeralda Pas de Deux”
- “Sleeping Beauty Garland Dance” (choreographed by Attila Mosolygo)
- “Raymonda Pas de Dix”
- “Dawn” (choreographed by former Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director Gordon Peirce Schmidt)
- “Giselle Act II”
Directly following the performance, a celebration to honor her career will be held in the theatre lobby, which will be catered by Amore Trattoria Italiana. Call the Grand Rapids Ballet Box Office at (616) 454-4771, ext. 10 for tickets.