Ballets by Female Choreographers Showcased in Grand Rapids Ballet’s MOVEMEDIA Program II


Grand Rapids Ballet dancers rehearse Andrea Schermoly’s “Things You Can’t Take Back.”

Grand Rapids Ballet dancers rehearse Andrea Schermoly’s “Things You Can’t Take Back.”

By Steve Sucato

For the second of Grand Rapids Ballet’s MOVEMEDIA contemporary dance programs this season, GRB artistic director Patricia Barker chose to feature works by four female choreographers including former American Ballet Theatre prima ballerina Susan Jaffe.

Program II, April 16, 17 and 19 at GRB’s Peter Martin Wege Theatre, will kick off with “Tomorrow Never Comes,” a new ballet by GRB star dancer/choreographer Yuka Oba. The 12-minute ballet for twelve dancers set to music by A Hawk and A Hacksaw, Yann Tiersen and Dead Can Dance, says Oba, was inspired by a general feeling of dissatisfaction she noticed from young people about their prospects in life.

The second ballet Oba has choreographed for the company in as many seasons, the ballet, described Oba, “is full of energetic dancing” celebrating life with a message to enjoy it with what time you have.

Next, the world-premiere of former Netherlands Dance Theater dancer Andrea Schermoly’s “Things You Can’t Take Back” will explore another of life’s challenges.

Schermoly, who has choreographed for the television series Bunheads, a recent Budweiser Superbowl Commercial and for the 2013 motion picture Star Trek Into Darkness, says the 17-minute contemporary “sock” ballet, danced to turbulent music by Italian classical composer Ezio Bosso, gets its inspiration from “the things that you do in a relationship that you can’t take back; those things that build resentment in a relationship and become toxic to it. They change the way you relate to someone forever.”

The multimedia ballet for fifteen dancers runs through different phases of a souring personal relationship. “The movement is dynamic,” says Schermoly.

Former American Ballet Theatre prima ballerina Susan Jaffe works with GRB dancers on her ballet “Weather One.”

Former American Ballet Theatre prima ballerina Susan Jaffe works with GRB dancers on her ballet “Weather One.”

Recognized as one of America’s quintessential ballerinas, Jaffe, now The Dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, says she came to the art of choreographing kicking and screaming.

“When I started my school (Princeton Dance & Theatre Studio) in 2003, we needed someone to choreograph “The Waltz of the Flowers” for our Nutcracker,” says Jaffe. “I was elected and was really upset about it. It took me hours and hours to think up the steps. It was just the hardest thing in the world. But then when it got performed somehow the audience was really excited about it and I thought hey, I might have a little talent for this.”

Since then, Jaffe has gone on to create ballets for Configuration Dance Theatre, Texas Christian University and the Studio Company of American Ballet Theatre. For MOVEMEDIA, GRB will perform her 2013 ballet “Weather One,” originally created for San Francisco-based Company C Contemporary Ballet.

The ballet is set to music by composer Michael Gordon whose music has been featured in several other dance works by Emio Greco | PC, Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal and Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance. The 20-minute “Weather One” for ten dancers, is a ballet version of a classical suite that includes a solo, a pas deux, a pas de trois and a pas de quatre.

“Each section of the ballet is a different aspect of a rainstorm,” says Jaffe.

Jaffe sees her ballet’s rainstorm theme as being analogous to the volatility of a romantic relationship.

“There is nothing lyrical about the ballet,” says Jaffe. “Each section’s dancing is quite bravura and powerful.”

Grand Rapids Ballet  artistic director Patricia Barker (left) along with choreographer Penny Saunders in a rehearsal of Saunders' “base ∞.”

Grand Rapids Ballet artistic director Patricia Barker (left) along with choreographer Penny Saunders in a rehearsal of Saunders’ “base ∞.”

Closing out the program will be the world premiere of former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer Penny Saunders’ “base ∞.” The contemporary work for eleven dancers features costumes designed by Fashion Studies students from the Pamella Roland DeVos School of Fashion at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University and is set to music by Daniel Hope, Händel and David Lang.

“Light is the driving force behind the choreography for the work,” says Saunders.

She will play with light and shadow in the work bouncing it off scenic elements such as a large piece of hanging fabric that Saunders says will flicker and ripple in the light.

Like many of the works in the MOVEMEDIA series, Saunders with her work is looking to stretch GRB’s dancers’ artistry in ways ballet dancers don’t normally work.

“There are a lot of beautiful contemporary movers in the company,” says Saunders. “They are less fussy than other ballet dancers I have worked with. They don’t mind me asking them to roll on the floor, make ugly faces or flex their feet. They have been very responsive in whatever I have wanted them to do which has been great.”

A sentiment echoed by the other choreographers on the program. GRB’s dancers’ versatility and openness to trying just about anything has quickly become a hallmark of the company; one that choreographers crave and audiences appreciate when it comes to the variety of repertory the company is able to perform.

Grand Rapids Ballet performs MOVEMEDIA Program II, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16, Friday, April 17 and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 19. Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth Ave SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan. $12-25. (616) 454-4771 or grballet.com.

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