Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Christmas Carol’ leads way
for exciting artistic collaboration in 2018
By Adrienne Warber
After ending the year with two highly successful productions last month, Grand Rapids Ballet begins 2018 with a promising future for the West Michigan dance community. It was a daring move to plan a world premiere ballet production of “A Christmas Carol” a mere two weeks after their performance of “The Nutcracker.” However, the number of sold-out shows and glowing reviews for both December productions is setting the stage for the type of high caliber and artistic shows audiences can experience during Grand Rapids Ballet’s remaining 2017-18 Season. The artistry of choreographer Brian Enos in “A Christmas Carol” and superb cast dancing provides a glimpse into the way Grand Rapids Ballet blends classical ballet with contemporary movement to retell classic stories. The show is a great example of how the company reimagines the art of dance for today’s audiences.
Choreographer Brian Enos’ Version of the Dickens Classic
Brian Enos, Artistic Director of the Big Muddy Dance Company in St. Louis, Missouri, is best known for his inventive choreography and his beautiful blending of classical and contemporary dance styles. His works often include experimental movement full of artistry. He started choreographing at the age of 14, and created his first work for the Houston Ballet while still a student at the Houston Ballet Academy. He danced professionally with the Houston Ballet before joining Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as a dancer and choreographer. His award-winning choreography is notable for its unique movement, energy and artistic expression.
The creative team of choreographer Brian Enos, Grand Rapids Ballet and music director Brendan Hollis developed a truly wonderful version of “A Christmas Carol,” that captured the holiday spirit and showed a full spectrum of dance and music artistry. All elements of the production from the dancing, choreography and live music to the lighting, staging and special effects came together beautifully to create a highly entertaining production.
The ‘Christmas Carol’ Experience
From the moment the curtain rose and focused on the quintet of musicians playing beautiful music with great emotion, the audience was transported into Dicken’s world. The musicians seemed to dance with their instruments as they played with the music with reverence and passion, led by music director Brendan Hollis. Live music brings so much to a production. Both the dancers and the audience responded to the live music in a way that is often hard to replicate with recorded music.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s strong cast of dancers, Brian Enos’ choreography and Brendan Hollis’ music worked smoothly with the set and projection design by Grand Rapids Creative Director Michael Auer, lighting by Matthew Taylor, and Victorian costumes by Sadie Rothenberg to tell the story. The storytelling shined in the cast’s dancing and acting. Even those unfamiliar with “A Christmas Carol” were able to understand the story. The production created the feel of Dickens’ Victorian era through these elements. For example, the choreography for the townspeople included some dances from the era. The ghosts captured the haunting feel of the classic story.
Steven Houser played a wonderful Ebenezer Scrooge. His acting and dancing depicted a classic Scrooge from the beloved story that showed the evolution of Scrooge’s inner battle from miser to compassionate man. Houser also added elements of comedy in the movement that made miserly Scrooge likeable, such as when Scrooge fears the ghosts or when he reacts to the townspeople’s good-natured teasing. His reaction to seeing his lost love Belle, sweetly danced by Yuka Oba, is heartbreaking as he tries to warn his younger self to go after her. Houser’s awakened Scrooge was enjoyable to watch as he danced joyfully with the Cratchits and townspeople.
Nicholas Schultz and Laura McQueen Schultz gave heartwarming performances as Bob Cratchit and Mrs. Cratchit. The scenes with the Cratchits were danced with a sweetness that showed the loving relationship of the happy family that has such an impact on Scrooge in the Dickens tale. Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company dancer Serafina Wagenveld gave a great supporting performance as Tiny Tim Cratchit in her scenes with the Schultzes and Scrooge.
The townspeople consisted of four couples, who helped transition each scene. Connie Flachs, Grace Haskins, Sidney Scully, Gretchen Steimle, Brenden Reiners, David Senti, Nigel Tau and Ben Waldvogel all gave delightful performances as the townspeople. They also helped set the tone for various scenes in their interactions with main characters.
The Christmas ghosts had some of the best performances in the show and their movement truly reflected Enos’ inventive choreography. The Christmas ghosts all showed great acting skills and memorable characters. Cassidy Isaacson’s Ghost of Christmas Past was both flirty and whimsical. She gave a lovely performance that blended classical ballet with contemporary movement beautifully. Ednis Gomez’s Ghost of Christmas Present was joyful and the life of the party. Matt Wenckowski’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was a frightening grim reaper. His performance included some truly creative contemporary movement. The ghost corps de ballet, skillfully danced by Claire Ashcraft, Micaelina Ritschl, Adriana Wagenveld and Caroline Wiley, helped create the eerie otherworldly feel of Scrooge’s ghostly visits.
Hopefully, Grand Rapids Ballet will perform “A Christmas Carol” again in future holiday seasons. It was a lovely addition to their “Nutcracker” for holiday entertainment options, and many shows sold out for both productions.
Future Creative Collaborations
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “A Christmas Carol,” featuring Brian Enos’ choreography and live orchestra music by Brendan Hollis, was one example of Grand Rapids Ballet’s many excellent creative collaborations during the 2017-18 Season. It is now mid-January and Grand Rapids Ballet is already off to an exciting start for 2018. The company began the New Year with the announcement of the appointment of their new Artistic Director, James Sofranko, an award-winning principal dancer from San Francisco Ballet and founder of the contemporary repertory company, SFDanceworks. Sofranko’s background in classical ballet and contemporary dance will bring a fresh voice to West Michigan dance. Upcoming shows include “Movemedia: Diversity I and II,” “The Happy Prince and Other Wilde Tales,” and Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company’s “The Wizard of Oz.”
This year’s “Movemedia” contemporary dance series will explore the beauty of differences and feature the works of some of today’s leading and emerging choreographers. “Movemedia I” Choreographers include Jennifer Archibald, Norbert De La Cruz III, Locky Prior. Uri Sands, Olivier Wevers, and Danielle Rowe are the choreographers for “Movemedia II.” The “Movemedia” series will also include discussion panels and community outreach. “Movemedia: Diversity I” runs Feb. 9-11, and “Movemedia: Diversity II” will be held March 23-25 at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre.
Grand Rapids Ballet School Junior Company will perform “The Wizard of Oz” on February 23-25 and March 3-4. The Junior Company’s production will bring the beloved childhood classic to life on the stage of the Peter Martin Wege Theatre. There will be a yellow brick road, and everyone’s favorite characters will be there, including Toto.
“The Happy Prince and Other Wilde Tales” is a ballet based on collection of Oscar Wilde’s children’s stories that celebrate the joy of childhood imagination. Grand Rapids Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence and Princess Grace Award Winner, Penny Saunders, choreographs the ballet based on the classic childhood tales, “The Happy Prince,” “The Selfish Giant,” and “The Nightingale and the Rose.” Grand Rapids Ballet will perform “The Happy Prince and Other Wilde Tales” during the weekends of May 4-6 and May 11-12 at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre.