Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Movemedia: Diversity I’ is a powerful work of dance art
By Adrienne Warber
There are some shows that stay with you long after the curtain closes. Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Movemedia: Diversity I” is one of those memorable shows. The company’s annual contemporary dance showcase focused on the theme of diversity this year, and featured the works of emerging choreographers Norbert De La Cruz III, Jennifer Archibald and Loughlan Prior for the first part of the two-part series. Grand Rapids Ballet gave three outstanding performances of “Movemedia: Diversity I” over the weekend of Feb.7-11 at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre. The show was thought-provoking, clever and demonstrated the power of dance artistry. Anyone who loves dance and exploring the arts should see the second part of the series, “Movemedia: Diversity II,” in March.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Movemedia’
Grand Rapids Ballet created the “Movemedia” contemporary dance series as creative collaboration between some of today’s most promising choreographers from all over the world and their company dancers. The series provides a platform for choreographers to try out their new works on Grand Rapids Ballet company dancers and see it performed on stage at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre. The series explores the creativity of dance and presents emerging talent. The idea for “Movemedia” was developed by Grand Rapids Ballet Creative Director Michael Auer. Grand Rapids Ballet has presented the “Movemedia” series for seven seasons and performed over 30 commissioned works.
“Movemedia: Diversity I” presented three original works by choreographers Norbert De La Cruz III, Jennifer Archibald and Loughlan Prior. Before each piece, Grand Rapids Ballet presented a short video featuring each choreographer discussing the work, clips of dancers practicing and dancers commenting about working on it. These videos provided a nice introduction into the creative process and the message behind each piece.
‘The Return of Balance’ by Norbert De La Cruz III
Norbert De La Cruz III is an award-winning freelance contemporary dance choreographer based in both New York City and Los Angeles. Born in the Philippines, De La Cruz was raised in Los Angeles, CA and started studying classical ballet and contemporary dance at age 13. After earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Jilliard School in 2010, De La Cruz has won many awards for choreography, including a Princess Grace Foundation-USA Award. He has been commissioned to create works for many dance companies all over the country. De La Cruz also teaches contemporary dance and choreography workshops. Grand Rapids Ballet commissioned the work “The Return of Balance” for “Movemedia: Diversity.”
De La Cruz examined the norms of pairings, identity and human interaction in “The Return of Balance.” The piece featured 14 dancers – seven women and seven men. They were all dressed in black costumes, which highlighted their movements with the lighting. De La Cruz’s choreography was a blend of contemporary movement with hints of classical ballet and involved energetic strong movements like deep lunges and defined arm work. He provided creative athleticism to movements and placed dancers in non-traditional roles. His work included same-sex partnering in pas de deux numbers. He also sometimes had women take the lead in male-female pas de deux segments. The movements were artful and clever.
The movement in the piece was full-bodied, sometimes mixing a deep, loose move with a sudden, short one. Dancers explored the idea of balance in the literal sense of moving bodies in and out of balance, and in their interactions with each other on stage. De La Cruz’s choreography was creative and full of artistry and Grand Rapids Ballet’s strong cast of dancers did an exceptional job.
‘Vapor’ by Jennifer Archibald
Jennifer Archibald is the founder and artistic director of the Arch Dance Company in New York City. She is also the program director of the ArchCore40 dance intensives. She is known for her blend of classical ballet with contemporary dance styles, especially hip hop. She received her classical ballet training from The Alvin Ailey School. She has won awards for her choreography, including the Joffrey Ballet’s Winning Works award. She also served as guest faculty at Columbia/Barnard College and developed the school’s hip hop dance curriculum. She has been commissioned to create works for many dance companies all over the world. She is currently the resident choreographer at Cincinnati Ballet, the first woman to hold that position at Cincinnati Ballet. Grand Rapids commissioned the work “Vapor” for “Movemedia: Diversity I.”
Archibald explored the individual’s perception of others and the embracing of differences in “Vapor.” She blended classical ballet with contemporary movement beautifully in “Vapor.” The dance featured a cast of ten dancers (five women and five men). Two things that really stood out in this piece was how well the cast danced as a unit in group numbers, and Archibald’s inventiveness with partner movements. In group numbers, the dancers lifted each other and moved together to form beautiful shapes that resembled sculptures. The sculpture effect stayed as they moved together around the stage. The brown costumes enhanced the effect of many coming together as one. The choreography also called for some extremely creative ways of moving across the stage in partnering. For example, a couple moved across the stage, both bent from the waist, facing each other, with only the tops of their heads touching, as they danced as one unit. Another example is a dancer is bent forward with one leg extended, while her partner pulls her across the stage by her foot. These are just two examples of some very unique and artistic aspects of Archibald’s choreography.
The choreography included the lovely lines of classical ballet with the loose-bodied movements of contemporary movement, as well as some hip hop and acrobatic dance floorwork. Archibald’s choreography was inventive and brought out the beauty of blending classical ballet with contemporary movement. Grand Rapids Ballet dancers brought her choreography to life in a superb performance.
‘They/Them’ by Loughlan Prior
Loughlan Prior is a choreographer and performer from Wellington, New Zealand. He began choreographing early in his dance training. After graduating from the New Zealand School of Dance, he has won awards for many of his choreographic works, including the Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award from Creative New Zealand. He now serves as choreographer in residence at the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Grand Rapids Ballet commissioned the piece “They/Them” for “Movemedia: Diversity I.”
Prior examined individuality as a gender-neutral concept in “They/Them.” The cast of eight dancers (four women and four men) wore white gender-neutral costumes to set the tone. The piece was well-staged with many scenes highlighted by squares of light on a darkened stage. The white costumes with the lighting really highlighted the dancing. Prior’s choreography provided the unexpected and created innovative expression. Female dancers could take the lead in a pas de deux, even lifting male dancers. Two female dancers danced a pas de deux that was athletic and full of strong, energetic movements instead of the traditional softness of classical ballet.
The choreography included a lot of creative movement that used every part of the body. There were expressive arms and hands, involving dramatic finger movements. The contemporary movements were artistically paired with a classical ballet moves. The work was full of energy and expressive movement, even running. Each dancer put a lot of expression into their moves. Prior’s innovative choreography was artistic and engaging. Grand Rapids Ballet dancers did an excellent job on the number.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Movemedia: Diversity II’
Be sure to catch the next installment of Grand Rapid Ballet’s contemporary dance series, “Movemedia: Diversity II” on March 23-25. The show will feature the original works by choreographers Uri Sands, Olivier Wevers and Danielle Rowe. Purchase tickets online at TicketMaster or visit Grand Rapids Ballet’s Facebook page for more information. Take a friend because this is the type of show you will want to discuss.