Tag Archives: Patricia Barker

Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Extremely Close’, Extremely Good [REVIEW]


Alexander Meister-Upleger in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scoot & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Alexandra Meister-Upleger (center) in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By”. Photo by Damion Van Slyke.

Grand Rapids Ballet – Extremely Close
Peter Martin Wege Theatre
Grand Rapids, MI
April 12-14, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the company’s first season under new artistic director James Sofranko, Grand Rapids Ballet appears to be continuing on the path of upward trajectory begun by former artistic director Patricia Barker now the director of The Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The company’s program Extremely Close, on Saturday, April 13 at their in-house Peter Martin Wege Theatre, was varied, well-balanced and top notch. GRB’s dancers never looked better with adroit performances rivaling some seen in the finest dance companies in North America.

The program opened with veteran dance maker Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House” created for San Francisco Ballet (where Sofranko was a soloist) in 2008.

Caniparoli, one of the most consistently brilliant dance-makers working today, created with “Ibsen’s House,” a choreographic jewel.  The ballet was inspired by five female characters taken from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s plays; A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), Rosmersholm (1886), The Lady from the Sea (1888), and Hedda Gabler (1890). Said Caniparoli, in an interview about the ballet, “Ibsen’s radical ideas about marriage, gender roles, and family relations shocked and outraged many of his contemporaries, and still hold resonance today.”

Cassidy Isaacson and Steven Houser in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Cassidy Isaacson and Steven Houser in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

Danced to excerpts of Antonín Dvořák’s “Piano Quintet in A Major, Op 81” played live, the ballet had as a partial backdrop a large window frame with the dancers costumed in rich-looking, buttoned-up Victorian dresses for the cast’s five women and equally stiff suits for its five men by designer Sandra Woodall that suggested persons of privilege.

The ballet, an amalgamation of the aforementioned Ibsen plays’ themes and attitudes towards their heroines, unfolded as a series of vignettes expressing the emotions and attitudes each of the women with regard to the important personal relationships written about in the plays they appear in.

While it might be helpful in knowing these women’s stories in Ibsen’s plays, in some ways, it may also have been better not to as to not bring to the ballet expectations of the women’s character portrayals and those of others in the ballet.  Caniparoli’s choreography spoke volumes on its own.

Cassidy Issacson in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Cassidy Issacson in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

“Ibsen’s House” began with a series of solos introducing each of the five women and laying out their particular demeanor starting with dancer Cassidy Isaacson as Hedda Gabler from Ibsen’s play of the same name.

Isaacson was riveting as the cold and callous Gabler who appeared determined to fight back the boredom and disappointments in her life. Costumed in a mauve and black dress, Isaacson performed Caniparoli’s sharp, illustrative ballet choreography with soul withering intensity. Her deliciously superior attitude then gave way to the worried nervousness of Yuka Oba as Nora Helmer from A Doll’s House.  Oba’s solo, like Isaacson’s, was expertly-crafted with a high level of technique and phrasing. Caniparoli, who choreographed GRB’s The Nutcracker, creates the types of ballets that GRB and its dancers can only benefit from in taking the company to the next level in its upward trajectory.

Alexander Meister-Upleger in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Alexandra Meister-Upleger in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

Next, newcomer this season, Alexandra Meister-Upleger portrayed Helene Avling from Ibsen’s “Ghosts”.  The former Nashville Ballet dancer moved a bit like a prancing horse in a gesture-laden solo that the veteran dancer performed superbly. She was followed by Connie Flachs as the unfulfilled Ellida Wangel from “Lady of the Sea” in a swooping and swaying solo and GRB up and comer Madison Massera as the manipulative Rebecca West from “Rosemersholm”.

Yuka Oba and Nathan Young in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard. 500px

Yuka Oba and Nathan Young in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

The second half of the ballet paired the women with their male counterparts and sources of consternation in Ibsen’s plays. A series of dark and troubled pas de deuxs then further fleshed out the relationships between these characters. Most memorable was that of Oba and Nathan Young as the stern Torvald Helmer, her character’s husband in “A Doll’s House” who has found out she has been secretly stealing from him. The perfectly danced pas de deux filled with tension and peril left one  gripping at their seat watching it unfold.

Switching stylistic and emotional gears, the world-premiere of Sofranko’s “The Sweet By And By,” danced to lively jazz music by New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, was a charming spirit-lifter.

Levi Teachout, Nathan Young, and Adriana Wagenveld in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Levi Teachout, Nathan Young, and Adriana Wagenveld in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By”. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

The ballet followed main character Steven Houser as a carefree, life-of-the-party gent in a parade of bubbly dances with his large group of friends to the songs “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Down by the Riverside,” “By and By” and others.

Looking like frolicking characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Sofranko infused the ballet’s choreography with an energy and bravura that was pleasing.

Interjected into this world of glee were moments of melancholy. Houser’s flirty and infectiously positive character was, underneath that exterior, quite lonely for companionship and a meaningful romantic relationship. After several tries in the ballet, he found that companionship in a female friend portrayed by dancer Gretchen Steimle.

Steven Houser and Gretchen Steimle in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Steven Houser and Gretchen Steimle in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By.” Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

Truly a vehicle for Houser’s wide-ranging talents as a dancer, he simply killed it and received a rousing ovation at ballet’s end.

The program concluded with its namesake work “Extremely Close” by former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer and resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.

Choreographed in 2008 (and making the rounds to several regional ballet companies next season), the contemporary dance work was Cerrudo’s second-ever and smacked of a young dance-maker looking to make a big impression — He did.

Emily Reed and Isaac Aoki in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Emily Reed and Isaac Aoki in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close.” Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

Set to music by Philip Glass and Dustin O’Halloran, the work began in silence with white feathers slowly drifting down from the rafters and piling up on the stage floor like fluffy snow. A cast of 8 dancers in socks cut paths in the feathers with their dancing, launching into prolonged slides across the floor as if ice lay below the surface of feathers. Into this scenic dreamland, Cerrudo also added door-sized moving walls that the dancers then appeared and disappeared from behind as they glided in lines across the stage. GRB’s dancers were brilliant in their timing pulling off these visual effects.

Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close. Photo by Damion Van Slyke 500px

Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close”. Photo by Damion Van Slyke.

Led by dancers Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski, GRB’s dancers performed Cerrudo’s grounded movement language that is so associated with his works and that of Hubbard Street, marvalously. The breathtaking work ended with Wenckowski at the front of the stage pulling up the stage floor over his head and running toward the rear of the stage a la the billowing fabric effect used in choreographer Jiri Kylian’s masterwork Petite Mort.

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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Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2018 line-up revealed


Piano-Main-v2-RNZB-dancer-Abigail-Boyle.-Photo-by-Ross-Brown-867x1024

RNZB dancer Abigail Boyle. Photo by Ross Brown.

By Jeremy Brick

Choreographic mastery, cinematic vision and New Zealand’s pioneering spirit define the national ballet company’s 65th anniversary year announced today. 2018 promises audience favourites and landmark repertoire from New Zealand, Europe and America alongside expanded choreographic opportunities and continued commitment to education as the company tours to 16 centres nationally.

RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker is honoured to lead the company as the second female director in its history. “My vision is for the Royal New Zealand Ballet is to be celebrated for commissioning works by the brightest young choreographers, while meticulously maintaining the highest standards of traditional classics. The RNZB will continue to embody the elegance, grandeur, grace and strength that I have already seen in New Zealand’s landscapes and the people that I have met. We are a cultural ambassador and an important artistic export, sharing the spirit and creativity of our country at home and beyond our borders.”

The Piano: The Ballet:  The 2018 season begins with the world premiere of a work inspired by Jane Campion’s award-winning quintessentially New Zealand film that captured audiences worldwide. This newly re-imagined full length work by Jiří Bubeníček, is presented in association with the New Zealand Festival and the Auckland Arts Festival. Ada’s story is given a powerful new voice in dance and is accompanied by musical excerpts from Michael Nyman’s iconic film score and works by classical music masters.

Dancing with Mozart: Choreographic titans George Balanchine and Jiří Kylián find inspiration in the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as the RNZB presents the first New Zealand performances of Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 and Kylián’s Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze, alongside a new commission by Christchurch-born, UK-based choreographer Corey Baker.

Strength and Grace: Women: To mark the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand and the RNZB’s own 65th birthday the company looks to the future of dance, with a series of new commissions from female choreographers, curated by RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker.

The Ryman Healthcare Season of The Nutcracker brings a rich offering of seasonal cheer and fabulous music to audiences of all ages as the RNZB tours a new, traditional staging of the work nationally for the first time since 2010.

RNZB Executive Director Frances Turner says “We are thrilled to present such diverse programming of works that will be a choreographic feast for our dancers and a visual feast for our audience.”

Outside the three main stage seasons, the RNZB will continue its much-loved and popular Tutus on Tour and Ballet in a Box programme planned for seven centres throughout the year: Gore, Tauranga, Oamaru, Hamilton, Taupo, Whanganui and Kerikeri. The RNZB will also present the Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award with the support of the Ballet Foundation of New Zealand Trust, to provide opportunities for emerging choreographers to create short works for studio performance by dancers of the RNZB.

Details 

The Piano: the ballet: 

Inspired by the film The Piano with permission kindly granted by Jane Campion, Jan Chapman and Saddleback Productions.

22 February – 7 April

Touring to Wellington, Napier, Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Rotorua

Choreography: Jiří Bubeníček, Set and Video Design: Otto Bubeníček, Costume Design: Elsa Pavanel

Music: Otto Bubeníček, Michael Nyman, Debussy, Arensky, Stravinsky, Schnittke, Brahms and Shostakovich arranged by Otto Bubeníček, Staging: Jiří Bubeníček and Otto Bubeníček

Lighting Designer: Jeremy Fern

Dancing with Mozart: Balanchine – ­Kylián  –  Baker

31 May – 8 July

Touring to Wellington, Christchurch, Invercargill, Dunedin, Blenheim, Palmerston North, Rotorua, Napier, Auckland.

  • Petite Mort: Choreography: Jiří Kylián, Assistant to the choreographer: Stefan Zeromski, Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concertos K488 and K467, Costume design: Joke Visser, Set design: Jiří Kylián, Light design: Jiří Kylián (concept), Joop Caboort (realisation),Video registration: Hans Knill, Technical adaptation (lights/set): Joost Biegelaar
  • Sechs Tänze: Choreography: Jiří Kylián, Assistant to the choreographer: Stefan Zeromski, Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Deutsche Tänze K571, Costume and set design: Jiří Kylián, Light design: Jiří Kylián (concept), Joop Caboort (realisation), Video registration: Hans Knill, Technical adaptation (lights/set): Joost Biegelaar
  • Divertimento No. 15Choreography: George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Repetiteur: Francia Russell, Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Divertimento No. 15 in B flat major, K287, Design: Barbara Karinska, Orchestras: Orchestra Wellington, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Conductors: Marc Taddei (Wellington), Hamish McKeich (Christchurch and Auckland)
  • New work: Choreography/Design: Corey Baker, Music: Duncan Grimley, after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Requiem in D minor K626, Lighting Design: Paul O’Brien

Strength and Grace: Women: New commissions curated by RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker

17 – 18 August

Opera House, Wellington

To mark the 125th Anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand we look to the future of dance, with a series of new commissions curated by RNZB Artistic Director Patricia Barker.

The Ryman Healthcare season of The Nutcracker

31 October –  20 December

Touring to Wellington, Blenheim, Invercargill, Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Napier, Auckland (Auckland City and Takapuna), Rotorua

Choreography: Val Caniparoli, Music: Pyotr IlyichTchaikovsky, Set design: Michael Auer and Andrew Lees, Costume design: Assisted by Patricia Barker, Lighting Design: tbc, Orchestras: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Conductor: Hamish McKeich

Tutus on Tour with Ballet in a Box

Gore 15 March, Tauranga 4 April, Oamaru 17 June, Hamilton 9 July, Taupo 11 July, Whanganui 13 July, Kerikeri 12 December.

Repertoire may vary from centre to centre and will be announced in advance of each mini tour.

On sale dates for 2018 shows:

Renewing subscribers 2 October 2018; New subscribers 16 October 2017; Public 1 November 2017.

For booking info see www.rnzb.org.nz

The Royal New Zealand Ballet

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) was founded in 1953 by Danish dancer Poul Gnatt, as a touring professional ballet company for all New Zealanders. Now based at Wellington’s St James Theatre, the Royal New Zealand Ballet is an intrinsic part of New Zealand’s national heritage, and has the largest following of all New Zealand performing arts companies. The Royal New Zealand Ballet continues to invest in live music, performing with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Wellington, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra. The RNZB enjoys a reputation for strong and unique interpretations of full-length dramatic works. To this base the RNZB have added many masterworks and major ballets of the 20th century, such as Balanchine’s works and the Stravinsky ballets. The company has an enviable track record in commissioning new works from New Zealand and international choreographers. The RNZB regularly represents New Zealand on the international stage, with recent tours to the UK, Australia, China, USA, Italy and Hong Kong.

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Grand Rapids Ballet Begins Search for a New Artistic Director


GRB logo

By Michael Erickson

Grand Rapids, MI, August 15, 2017– Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) announced today that they are formally beginning a search for a new artistic director for Michigan’s only professional ballet company. Current artistic director, Patricia Barker, announced in June that she accepted the artistic director appointment at Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). Barker has been in this position with GRB since 2010, and will split her time between GRB and RNZB until the end of the 2017-18 season.

“We have already had a lot of Interest in this position,” said Glenn Del Vecchio, GRB Executive Director. “Patricia’s artistic vision and the success of the company have made GRB a highly respected ballet company. We will find an excellent candidate to continue the artistic excellence Patricia began and our patrons expect.”

A search committee has been formed within GRB that includes current board members, company dancers, and community leaders. Applications will be accepted through September 15, 2017. Interviews will begin in early October with a final decision being made by early December 2017.

A complete job description and details on how to apply can be found at grballet.com/ADsearch. No phone calls, please.

About Grand Rapids Ballet

Celebrating its 47th anniversary this season, Grand Rapids Ballet remains committed to lifting the human spirit through the art of dance under the current leadership of Patricia Barker as artistic director, Glenn Del Vecchio as executive director, and Attila Mosolygo as school director.

A proud recipient of the ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Cultural Organization, Michigan’s only professional ballet company has a rich history marked by steady growth, a commitment to excellence, and strong community support. In addition, Grand Rapids Ballet School provides over 250 students with the highest quality dance instruction in a nurturing and encouraging environment and the opportunity to perform in productions by Grand Rapids Junior Company.

Keep up with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, and visit grballet.com today.

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