Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Movemedia: Handmade’ Is a Contemporary Masterpiece
By Adrienne Warber
The art of dance and the magic of creativity come together each year when Grand Rapids Ballet holds their annual contemporary dance series, “Movemedia.” It is a unique window into the visionary art that encompasses dance. This year’s series, “Movemedia: Handmade,” held at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre on Feb. 8-10, featured seven world premieres, and five of them were choreographed by current Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers as well as a stirring number by their Choreographer-in-Residence Penny Saunders. The show demonstrated that Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director James Sofranko is dedicated to showcasing the depth of talent of his dancers for both performance and choreography. It is exciting for West Michigan dance fans to witness their local dance company continue to grow, enjoy world class shows, and see their favorite dancers grow as performers and choreographers.
Movemedia appeals to a wide audience
The “Movemedia” contemporary dance series includes many different forms of dance expression. The annual program provides an opportunity for new and emerging choreographers to create new works and choreograph them on Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers. The focus on contemporary style also provides both dance fans and dancers a chance to explore the many possibilities of movement. The creative numbers draw an audience of people who enjoy ballet as well as modern styles. The series also increases Grand Rapids Ballet’s fan base because of this wide appeal.
This year’s show brought out the versatility of dance art, how well it merges with a classical ballet foundation, and how movement can tell stories as well as create moments of pure emotion in so many ways.
‘Movemedia: Handmade’ by Grand Rapids Ballet for West Michigan
“Movemedia: Handmade” was a particularly special edition of the contemporary series because so many of Grand Rapids Ballet’s dancers choreographed original works. West Michigan got to see another artistic side of their favorite dancers. Yuka Oba, who has been a company dancer since 2011, created a beautiful piece called “Eriha,” inspired by her sister’s life as a geisha in Japan. Cassidy Isaacson, who has danced with Grand Rapids Ballet since 2011, explored healthy and toxic relationships in “The Rise.” Isaac Aoki, who has danced with the company since 2014, developed a mesmerizing number, “What Are You,” commenting on the being a person of color in a white world. Nigel Tau, who joined the company in 2016, choreographed an entertaining number about an artist’s creative process, “Errant Thoughts.” A Grand Rapids Ballet Apprentice since 2018, Nicholas Bradley Gray, created “Divine Light,” a loving tribute to the memory of the ballerina Raffaella Stroik, who was tragically lost at a young age. Grand Rapids Choreographer-in-Residence Penny Saunders’ “Testimony” delivered an emotional and thought-provoking comment on women facing sexual harassment in the workplace. Guest choreographer Nicolas Blanc crafted a clever comment on climate change’s effect on marine life in “Aquatic Hypoxia.” Grand Rapids Ballet truly creates an amazing opportunity for artists to grow in the field of dance through “Movemedia.” The personal stories behind each of these works is like a true heartfelt gift for the West Michigan community. Despite the recent bad winter weather, all performances of “Movemedia: Handmade” were well-attended this past weekend, with the Saturday show sold-out.
Inventive Choreography and Gorgeous Dancing
Grand Rapids Ballet consistently delivers productions that seamlessly weave together the set, lighting, projections, music and costumes with the choreography and dancing. “Movemedia: Handmade” was no exception to this rule. The way the production elements of “Movemedia: Handmade” came together was also an art form. Each piece was carefully crafted so each element came together beautifully to communicate the ideas of the choreographers.
It can be hard to know for sure if the audience will understand the choreographer’s intent or the story if the piece is a narrative. However, the numbers in “Movemedia: Handmade” did a good job conveying the choreographer’s main ideas. The well-chosen pieces all featured creative choreography and high-quality performances by the dancers.
There were many noteworthy moments in the show. Penny Saunders’ “Testimony” was excellent and timely. The use of testimony from the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearing, while a large cast of female and male dancers created a story commenting on sexual harassment faced by women in the workplace, was both haunting and emotional. Saunders’ choreography was highly inventive, and the cast of 19 dancers all gave a strong performance. “Testimony” received a standing ovation from the audience on opening night.
Yuka Oba’s “Eriha” was an elegant blend of ballet and contemporary movement that told a moving tale based on her sister’s life as a geisha as she navigates her personal and professional life. Oba included elements of traditional Japanese dance mixed with ballet and contemporary movement, and fox masks based on Japanese folklore to tell the tale. It was a lovely piece and Oba’s choreography and the trio of dancers did an excellent job in conveying the unique role of the geisha and her conflicting emotions in the performance.
Cassidy Isaacson’s “The Rise” cleverly blended contemporary movement with a large staircase to illustrate the ups and downs of relationships. Isaacson’s choreography utilized a lot of floor work, arm gestures and full-bodied movement. The cast of seven dancers gave a great performance full of athleticism.
Nigel Tau’s “Errant Thoughts” focused on the creative process of an artist and how self-destructive the artistic process can become. Tau’s number did a good job in conveying the frustrations of the creative process. He incorporated clapping, paper to represent ideas and use of voice into the work. The cast of eight dancers gave a top-notch performance and made the piece truly enjoyable.
Isaac Aoki’s “What Are You” was highly creative in its use of lighting and the dancers’ movements to make a statement about life as a person of color in a white society. The work began with the stage in darkness and the dancers emerged as the source of light. Their slow, controlled movements were hypnotic and lovely. Aoki did a superb job with the choreography and the trio of dancers gave an excellent performance.
Nicholas Bradley Gray’s “Divine Light” was a stirring tribute to the late Raffaella Stroik. Gray blended classical ballet and contemporary movement in his choreography that conveyed a joy of dance. The four dancers performed with strong technique and great emotion.
Nicolas Blanc’s “Aquatic Hypoxia” whisked the audience away into an underwater world where endangered marine life fight to survive. The piece featured 13 dancers and used lighting as well as projections to transform the stage into a marine world. Blanc’s choreography captured the feeling of the underwater world and the plight of the marine life. The cast danced with great skill.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Movemedia: Handmade” was a memorable and enjoyable show. The performance showcased the great talent of their company dancers. It will be exciting to see how Grand Rapids Ballet and their talented cast continue to grow.