Grand Rapids Ballet opens the Season with a fantastic performance of ‘Wild Sweet Love’
By Adrienne Warber
A full audience, standing ovations and excitement in the air are key signs of a successful performance. Grand Rapids Ballet’s stunning production of “Wild Sweet Love,” has opened their 2018-19 Season Grand Rapids Ballet with a bang. This is the first show under James Sofranko’s artistic direction and “Wild Sweet Love” beyond fulfilled the high expectations that West Michigan dance fans have come to expect from their ballet company. The performance enchanted the audience. The choreography and staging were engaging. The production showcased Sofranko’s creative artistic direction and Grand Rapids Ballet’s strong cast of dancers. If all of the shows are this good, dance fans better rush to buy season tickets now.
Why ‘Wild Sweet Love’ was the Perfect Season Opener
“Wild Sweet Love” was a wise selection to open Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2018-19 Season. The repertory show featured five different pieces that brought out the diversity of dance today. The overwhelming message is that ballet can be many things and Grand Rapids Ballet can deliver it to audiences in high quality style. Each piece was also a comment on love, whether love of dance, love of theater, or romantic love. George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante” is a celebration of classical ballet at the birth of the neoclassical movement and the athletic and complex choreography brought out the strength of Grand Rapids Ballet’s current cast. Trey McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love” pairs contemporary movement with popular music by Queen, the Partridge Family and Roberta Flack, in a creative and entertaining work. James Sofranko’s “Ballade” is lovely classical ballet piece. It is exciting to see a hands-on artistic director choreographing new works for his company. Grand Rapids Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence Penny Saunders’ “Ghost Light” uses classical ballet and contemporary expression along with lighting in a haunting performance. The pas de deux from “Le Corsaire,” is a popular work of classical ballet that brings out the beauty of traditional technique. This review covers the performance on Saturday, Oct.20, in which “Le Corsaire” was not performed due to a dancer injury.
‘Allegro Brillante’ by George Balanchine
Grand Rapids Ballet began the evening with the famous work “Allegro Brillante” by the father of classical ballet, George Ballanchine, set to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The talented cast of 10 dancers really brought out the beauty of Balanchine’s choreography. The number is comprised of five couples; a principal couple and a four-couple corps de ballet. Both the principal couple and the corps de ballet did an amazing job.
“Allegro Brillante” is known to be difficult and athletically demanding work. It is also energetic because both the corps de ballet and the principals dance throughout the entire number. The five couples rose to the occasion. Yuka Oba and Branden Reiners danced with flawless technique. The principal couple’s performance was lovely to watch and one of the most memorable of the evening. The corps de ballet featuring Connie Flachs, Cassidy Isaacson, Madison Massara, Emily Reed, Isaac Aoki, Steven Houser, Levi Teachout and Matt Wenckowski supported the principal couple seamlessly and gave a top notch performance. The number was a true tribute to a love of dance.
‘Ballade’ by James Sofranko
The world premiere of Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director James Sofranko’s work, “Ballade,” was a delightful classical ballet number featuring two couples set to music by Antonín Dvořák. Sofranko, who has both a classical ballet and contemporary dance background, has choreographed both classical ballet and contemporary works. His choreography for “Ballade” featured classical ballet technique and incorporated some elements of tango dance in the movements. The number was a comment on romantic love, with one couple representing new love and the other representing a long-term relationship.
The dancers Gretchen Steimle, Ednis Gomez, Alexandra Meister-Upleger and Nathan Young gave elegant, artful performances. The dancers brought out the beauty of Sofranko’s clever choreography. “Ballade” was enjoyable, and it was exciting to see the type of high quality choreography the new artistic director can create for the West Michigan dance community.
‘Ghost Light’ by Penny Saunders
One of the great highlights of the evening was “Ghost Light,” choreographed by Grand Rapids Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence Penny Saunders. The choreography, dancing, lighting, acting, and costumes all worked seamlessly together to create a haunting and memorable performance. The stirring work explored theater legends, the passion of performing and the single light always left on stage. The number was set to music ranging from Mark Mothersbaugh to J.S. Bach and Traffic Quintet.
The piece featured dancers Gretchen Steimle, Isaac Aoki, Steven Houser and Matt Wenckowski. The music, stage lighting, light props, movement, and even the costumes were all a part of the dance itself. For example, the male dancers moved Steimle’s skirt in play with her steps and the dancers were drawn to the single standing light on stage and the lights suspended from the ceiling like moths to flame. Saunders used a mix of contemporary dance in her choreography that truly explored movement. In her choreography every part of the body was used to create movement, even voice. There were deep lunges, sweeping arm movements and expressive gestures. Sometimes the dancers created artistic movement patterns as a group. One part of the number also incorporated physical comedy reminiscent of vaudeville comedies and movements that were similar to Gene Kelly dance films. The audience laughed out loud at some of the physical comedy, such as a scene where a dancer appears to have danced himself to death and the other two dancers attempt to carry his listless, limp body around the stage with great difficulty. Steimle, Aoki, Houser and Wenckowski gave superb performances with great technique and acting skill. “Ghost Light” is only one of many examples of Saunders’ inventive choreography. She is a rising talent in the field.
‘Wild Sweet Love’ by Trey McIntyre
The audience favorite of the evening was the title piece, “Wild Sweet Love” by gifted choreographer Trey McIntyre. McIntyre’s contemporary dance number was set to a diverse range of music including Queen, the Partridge Family, the Zombies, Roberta Flack, Lou Reed and Felix Mendelssohn. Audience members were leaning forwarding in their seats, tapping their toes and were very engaged with this piece. “Wild Sweet Love” is about a woman’s search for love and all the obstacles that get in the way.
Cassidy Isaacson’s heartfelt performance as the soloist really stood out as one of the best of the entire evening. She danced with the perfect blend of strong dance technique, emotion and great acting ability. Her emotions reached the audience. Other dancers featured in the number were Yuka Oba, Ednis Gomez, Emily Reed, Matt Wenckowski, Claire Ashcraft, Isaac Aoki, Connie Flachs, Nathan Young and Madison Massara. Everyone did an excellent job in this number, which also featured the Grand Rapids Ballet apprentices and trainees as the shadow people, and the complete cast in the finale. The strong cast gave a superb performance. “Wild Sweet Love” was a nice high note for a closing number to an excellent show.
A promising beginning to the Season
The “Wild Sweet Love” production marked a promising beginning to Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2018-19 Season. The audience appeared to truly enjoy the show and gave a standing ovation. West Michigan dance fans will want to be sure to see this Season’s exciting lineup of shows performed by the talented company of dancers under James Sofranko’s artistic direction.