Tag Archives: Grand Rapids Michigan

ARTS AIR EXCLUSIVE: Patricia Barker Named Artistic Director of Royal New Zealand Ballet


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By Steve Sucato

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and current artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet, Patricia Barker will become the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s twelfth artistic director and only the second female director in its 64-year history. She takes over from current RNZB artistic director Francesco Ventriglia on June 19, 2017. Ventriglia will stay on as a choreographer for the company.

Barker says the application process involved her submitting a strategic overview with a sample production plan. She met with RNZB’s search committee via  video conference calls and spent three days at the company’s home in Wellington where, in addition to meeting and talking with the organization’s board and staff ─  including fellow American executive director Frances Turner ─  she had a question and answer session with RNZB’s dancers.

“It’s exciting, they have an excellent reputation, wonderful reviews and a great spirit and energy in the studio,” says Barker.

According to Barker, RNZB was looking for a unique identity for their 36-member company and she feels she can create that for them. “All the works I did at Grand Rapids Ballet definitely gave us a unique identity. I look at each transition as an exciting change, building on an organization’s successes that came before while looking toward the future. We did that in Grand Rapids and I think I can do that here.”

With a 13-million dollar budget and a history of international touring, Barker says she is ready to apply what she has learned in her career at Pacific Northwest Ballet, as a dancewear entrepreneur and at Grand Rapids Ballet  to moving RNZB forward.

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Patricia Barker in the studio with Grand Rapids Ballet dancers. Photo by Michael Auer.

With their 2018 season already set, Barker says she will be initially working on programming for 2019 as well as getting to know the dancers and the organization. With that advanced planning in place along with seasonal differences in when RNZB performs, it will allow Barker to also stay on as artistic director at Grand Rapids Ballet during the coming 2017-18 season.

“It’s nice because their [New Zealand’s] summer is our winter and there will be opposite weeks of work,” says Barker. “I can do a lot remotely and be in Grand Rapids for the opening of productions.” She also says she still plans on staging a few ballets on the company.

GRB’s 2017-18 season, which includes a program of highlights from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, Esmeralda and Don Quixote; their annual The Nutcracker production re-imagined by Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg; two repertory programs celebrating diversity with world-premiere works by some of today’s most influential choreographers; and the world-premiere of choreographer Penny Saunders’ Oscar Wilde inspired ballet The Happy Prince and other Wilde Tales, will now act as a farewell celebration of Barker’s 7-years with the GRB, taking it from a relatively unknown regional troupe to one with a national presence.

On moving to the other side of the world the 54-year-old Barker says: “I am an adventurous individual with one more adventure in me. I am so proud of what we created at Grand Rapids Ballet, the platform for choreographers, especially women choreographers and the prolific amount of works we have done has been incredible. Also, the development of talent, including local talent, has been wonderful to be a part of. The fun thing about going somewhere else is bringing all that I have learned and experienced here and applying it there.”

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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61Syx Teknique is ‘breaking’ barriers in advancing one of hip hop’s original dance forms


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Owner/Director Keegan Loye. Photo credit Darline Nguyen.

By Steve Sucato

In the heart of Grand Rapids’ Comstock Park neighborhood sits an anomaly. No, it’s not a giant sinkhole or a time portal to another dimension—it’s something far more innocuous but perhaps just as rare: a dance school that exclusively teaches breakdancing.

61Syx Teknique Street Dance Academy, with its graffiti-adorned walls, is one of just a few dance schools in the nation that exclusively teaches breakdance. Most dance studios offer classes in a variety of dance styles. Even the ones with a hip hop dance concentration generally offer training in several styles within the genre, such as popping, locking, and krumping. The narrow focus is something 61Syx Teknique owner/director Keegan “Seoul” Loye says is at the heart of their philosophy as artists and teachers.

“We want to pass down the legacy of breaking to others,” says Loye. “Although breaking has been a street dance for decades, it is still very new when it comes to being taught in dance studios.”

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Curiouser and curiouser: Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Alice” overcomes early flaws to delight


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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Cassidy Isaacson and Levi Teachout in “Alice in Wonderland.” Photos by Eric Bouwens.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For a long time, it’s been a common speculation that iconic novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was the product of mind-altering drugs. The world premiere of Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB)’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” Friday night based on that tale by Lewis Carroll’s (the pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), feeds into that notion. The mind-blowing visual spectacle has the feel of a cross between 1960s psychedelia and Disney’s “Fantasia.” But where award-winning Argentinian visual artist Luis Grané’s colorful and cartoon-like costumes and scenic design was a highlight of the production, slow character development early on in the ballet proved problematic.

Known for his illustration work on such films as “The Matrix” (1999), “Ratatouille” (2007), “Hotel Transylvania” (2012) and “The Boxtrolls” (2014), Grané’s bold visual effects and projections acted as a moving scenic backdrop to the 90-minute multimedia production choreographed by Brian Enos. “Alice” was the first ever full-length story ballet Enos has choreographed. He was up to the challenge for the most part, employing a strategic blend of movement styles that helped illustrate each of the ballet’s characters. The artistic director of St. Louis’ The Big Muddy Dance Company, local audiences may remember Enos from his other ballet created on GRB, 2013’s Scottish-flavored “Nae Regrets.”

Family-friendly (although skewing more toward younger audiences), the ballet was set to a well thought out score of existing music by composers Alfred Schnittke, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and others compiled by Brendan Hollins. Although not set in the usual Victorian era in favor of a more contemporary look, for the most part Enos followed Carroll’s universally known storyline.

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