Grand Rapids Ballet’s top notch ‘Movemedia’ performance
opens 2016-17 Season
By Adrienne Warber
It was a night of standing ovations, tangible excitement from both the stage and audience, and moving performances that connected the performer and viewer. From the moment the curtain rose until the final bows of the evening, Grand Rapids Ballet gave a memorable tribute to American choreography in their production of “Movemedia: Made in America” on Friday, October 7. The production marked the start of Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2016-17 Season, and all three shows sold out this weekend. “Movemedia: Made in America” featured famous pieces by American choreography greats George Balanchine, Paul Taylor and Gerald Arpino. Grand Rapids Ballet captured the artistry of each choreographer’s work, the story behind each piece and showcased the skills of their strong cast of company dancers.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Movemedia: Made in America’
Grand Rapids Ballet chose a timely and patriotic theme by focusing on American choreographers with the upcoming elections, and it was also a way to show the versatility of the American voice in the world of classical ballet and dance. The production presented works by choreographers George Balanchine, Gerald Arpino and Paul Taylor.
George Balanchine, co-founder of the New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet, is the considered the father of American ballet and one of the most important 20th century choreographers. Balanchine revolutionized classical ballet technique in both movement and presentation. His movements provided an added depth to some aspect of technique for more expression like rounding out the traditionally flat classical ballet hand to a softer claw-like motion that makes all fingers more visible. One aspect about his technique was seamlessly connecting movement to the music. The ballet “Serenade” shows off the beauty of Balanchine’s technique.
Gerald Arpino, co-founder of the Joffrey Ballet, was known for his inventive choreography style that incorporated both classical ballet and contemporary techniques. He created a diverse body of work that included many thought-provoking and social commentary pieces. He sometimes combined aspects of other types of world dance in his choreography. His piece “Light Rain’s” music and movements are an example of Arpino’s creative style, which includes some Middle Eastern music and dance influences.
Paul Taylor, founder of Paul Taylor Dance Company and the technique called Paul Taylor American Modern Dance, is known as one of the leading voices of modern dance. A number of his choreographed works deal with social commentary themes. Taylor’s “Company B” pairs popular dances of the 40s with contemporary movement to explore the messages behind The Andrews Sisters’ music during a wartime era.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s selection of works by Balanchine, Arpino and Taylor for “Movemedia: Made in America” gives a glimpse of the diverse expressions of American dance.
‘Serenade’ by George Balanchine
George Balanchine’s famous ballet “Serenade” was originally developed as a stage technique lesson for dance students from the School of American Ballet. He adapted the choreography to things that happened during rehearsal to help dancers figure out how to professionally deal with unexpected events that might occur during stage performance. “Serenade” was the first original ballet that Balanchine developed in America, and it is one of his most famous works. Set to the music “Serenade in C for string orchestra, Op. 48” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Serenade” is performed in four movements.
Grand Rapids Ballet dancers captured the special magic of Balanchine technique in their performance. The 26 dancers danced together with seamless precision and elegance. The flowing blue costumes and blue lighting combined with Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director Patricia Barker’s staging worked with the dancers’ motions to create vivid images resembling living paintings. Dancers showed strong Balanchine technique in every aspect of their performance. They showed a reverence and a joy in their dancing.
‘Light Rain’ by Gerald Arpino
Gerald Arpino’s “Light Rain” is a mix of ballet and contemporary dance with a hint of Middle Eastern dance. “Light Rain” is set to the music “Dream Dancer” by Douglas Adamz and Russ Gauthier, an East-West fusion. Arpino developed “Light Rain” for the Joffrey Ballet to showcase the skill of his new company dancers in 1981.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Light Rain” performance was sensual, artistic and athletic. The corps de ballet and the partnering numbers captured the creativity of Arpino’s unique choreography. Dance movement included Middle Eastern shimmies and hip circles as well as classical ballet arabesques and contemporary jumps. The 14 dancers’ movements were at times like living sculptures. The pas de deux between Demi Trezona and Christian Griggs-Drane was masterful and full of artistry.
‘Company B’ by Paul Taylor
Paul Taylor’s “Company B” is both entertaining and complex. “Company B” is set to the music of The Andrews Sisters, best known for their upbeat optimistic dance songs, shows how society tried to keep spirits up while many men were away at war, but also reveals the anxiety and sadness beneath the surface as lives were lost. Taylor incorporates some of the popular dance moves of 40s, with hints of polka and Latin movements in the dance sequences.
The strong acting skills and dance talent of the company dancers truly shone in Grand Rapids Ballet’s performance of “Company B.” The dance numbers were entertaining and full of athleticism and great technique. The dancers portrayed a spectrum of emotions that fit the mood of each segment. Nigel Tau did a superb job in “Tico-Tico,” which involved challenging twisting movements. The “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” numbers were entertaining fun with great performances by Nicholas Schultz and Cassidy Isaacson. The sadness of wartime losses is explored in “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” and “There Will Never Be Another You” with excellent acting skills and emotional dancing by Connie Flachs, Laura McQueen Schultz and Christian Griggs-Drane. The cast’s performance honored Taylor’s social message as well as his choreography.
A Classic and Entertaining Show
Grand Rapids Ballet had a highly successful opening weekend for their 2016-17 Season with all “Movemedia: Made in America” shows selling out. At the opening night, the audience’s enjoyment of the show was obvious by the smiles on faces, the happy conversations and the standing ovations. It is clear that many of them will return for another show this season. Ballet fans may want to secure their Grand Rapids Ballet tickets soon for the 2016-17 Season since sold out shows are becoming the norm for Grand Rapids Ballet.