Tag Archives: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

North Pointe Ballet Production Celebrates The ‘Why’ Of What They Do


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North Pointe Ballet in “What’s Your Why?”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

By Steve Sucato

Why artists do what they do is a constant source of curiosity for many.  It is perhaps in trying to understand their motivations that we gain a better understanding of them and their art.  In North Pointe Ballet’s program What’s Your Why?, March 14 and 15 at the Lorain Palace Theater, the West Side ballet company seeks in part to answer those questions of understanding for themselves and audiences.

“The whole show is a reflection on what motivates us as artists and people,” says NPB’s founding director Janet Strukely-Dziak.

An encore performance of the 90-minute repertory program in 3-acts that the company premiered last October at Cleveland’s Near West Theatre, What’s Your Why? begins with Strukely-Dziak’s frenetically-paced group ballet “The Chase” (2009).

Performed to music from the soundtrack of the 2004 movie National Treasure by former YES guitarist Trevor Rabin, “The Chase” gets its inspiration from a young ballet dancer’s constant drive toward perfection,” says Strukely-Dziak.

Next, the company will perform excerpts from Arthur Saint-Leon’s 1870 comedic ballet “Coppelia”, adapted and staged for the company by NPB assistant director Melaina Kampf.

Rounding out the program’s first act will be “Quiet Chaos” (2003) choreographed by former Mercyhurst University Dance Department chair Tauna Hunter, a former mentor of Strukely-Dziak’s. Set to music by Philip Glass and Canadian singer-songwriter Jennifer Berezan, the ballet for 8-dancers is about escaping life’s day-to-day chaos and finding peace.

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North Pointe Ballet dancer in Tauna Hunter’s “Quiet Chaos”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

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North Pointe Ballet in “Swan Lake”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

Act 2 of the program coincidentally showcases Act II of Marius Petitpa and Lev Ivanov’s ballet “Swan Lake” (1895) to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It features NPB principal dancer Elizabeth Radachi as Odette, the White Swan and Matthew Robinson, formerly of Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels, as Prince Siegfried.  In a recent rehearsal of the ballet at Jillian Rian’s Dance School in North Ridgeville, the statuesque Radachi, partnered by Robinson, showed a quiet and steady confidence in her dancing while leading a young corps de ballet of dancers of varying skill as swans.

Act 3 contains the most personal of the ballets on the program in the form of Strukely-Dziak’s “Because of You,” which tells of the motivations behind her founding NPB in 2016 and of the company’s underlying mission to make classical ballet accessible to the community it serves by offering family-friendly, easy-to-understand, professional ballet productions in the western suburbs of Cleveland.

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Janet Strukely-Dziak and son Lucas in “Because of You”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

Set to an eclectic mix of rock and dance music from Guns N’ Roses, The Doors, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and others performed live by the NPB band, the emotional ballet stars Strukely-Dziak and her 9-year-old autistic son Lucas and looks back on their lives at the genesis of North Pointe Ballet. In addition to the pair, the cast will include NPB company and student ensemble dancers as well as performers from Lorain’s Spectrum Resource Center & School.

“The ballet and the program are a reflection of what North Pointe Ballet is all about” says Strukely-Dziak. “We are all in this together; let’s share our love of dance with everyone”.

North Pointe Ballet presents encore performances of What’s Your Why?, 7 p.m., Saturday, March 14 and 2 p.m., Sunday, March 15; Lorain Palace Theater, 617 Broadway Ave., Lorain, OH. Tickets are $15-20 and available at northpointeballet.org, lorainpalace.org or by calling (440) 245-2323.

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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‘Wild Sweet Love’ to usher in Sofranko-Era at Grand Rapids Ballet


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(L-R) Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Matthew Wenckowski, Isaac Aoki, Gretchen Steimle and StevenHouser rehearsing Penny Saunders’ “Ghost Light”. Photo by Jade Butler.

By Steve Sucato

For Grand Rapids Ballet’s season opening program, the first under new artistic director James Sofranko, the company will present Wild Sweet Love, October 19-21 at GRB’s ’ Peter Martin Wege Theatre. The diverse program including ballets by George Balanchine, Trey McIntyre, GRB resident choreographer Penny Saunders and a world premiere by Sofranko has audience-pleaser written all over it.

The production will also be the first opportunity for area audiences to see several new dancers Sofranko added to the company. They are former Nashville Ballet dancers Alexandra Meister-Upleger (Aurora, Ohio) and Nathan Young (Little Rock, Arkansas), Emily Reed (Monee, Illinois) formerly with Minnesota Ballet, Israel Garcia Chenge (Mexico), Nicholas Gray (Milwaukee, WI), William Shearstone (Atlanta, Georgia) and Cuban Josue Justiz a former dancer with National Ballet of Cuba.

Just a few months into the job, Sofranko says moving from being soloist with San Francisco Ballet for 18 seasons to now running a fulltime ballet company has been a bit of a shock to the system.  “There are a lot more demands on my time. You are needed in the studio, in meetings, in marketing discussions, dancers need to talk to you, choreographers need to talk to you, it’s a constant information overload,” says Sofranko. “You are the guy everyone wants to talk to so you have to be ‘on’ all the time.”

While balancing his time has been big challenge, Sofranko says he was surprised by the dancer in him still wanting to be in the studio to take class. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to just let that part of me go,” he says. “Being in the studio are the moments I cherish. The more I can be in there the better.”

Another hurdle Sofranko is facing that other former dancers turned artistic directors have also faced is coming to grips with not being one of the gang anymore. “You are the boss now and that is a different dynamic than being colleagues. That will definitely take some getting used to,” says Sofranko.

Also, like many new directors, Sofranko has had little time to do anything but prep for Wild Sweet Love since the dancers returned in September from their summer layoff. That includes creating his debut ballet for the company, “Ballade,” a 9-minute lighthearted classical piece to excerpts of Antonín Dvořák’s four “Romantic Pieces, Op. 75” for violin and piano (1887). In keeping with the love theme of the program, it features new dancers Meister-Upleger and Young along with Ednis Gomez and Gretchen Steimle as couples in more mature love relationships; one couple is awash in romance while the other has a more contentious relationship.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Josue Justiz and Yuka Oba rehearsing George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante”. Photo by Jade Butler.

Prior to “Ballade,” the company premiere of Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante” (1956) will open the program. The choreographer said of his vibrant and expressive ballet for 10 dancers, “It contains everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes.” Danced to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75, Sofranko sees the ballet as good test for the company and a great way for him to better get to know the dancers.

After a short intermission, the program will continue with Saunders’ “Ghost Light” (2014). Originally created on Kansas City’s Owen/Cox Dance Group, the work for 4 dancers (1 woman, 3 men) costumed in formalwear follows the mischievous antics of a group of theater ghosts inspired by famous figures Maria Callas, Harry Houdini, Fred Astaire and Duke Ellington at play after the living have gone home.

Saunders is familiar to GRB audiences having choreographed several of the company’s more popular ballets during Patricia Barker’s tenure as director including last season’s The Happy Prince & Other Wilde Tales. “Ghost Light” taps into the theatrical superstition that every theater is haunted and that the light or lights left lit onstage meant to keep stage hands and performers from falling into the orchestra pit when the theater is dark, also provides theater ghosts a spotlight to perform in once again.

Danced to an eclectic music mix from composer Alexandre Desplat, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, David Hirschfelder, J. S. Bach and Traffic Quintet, the 18-minute work is a comedic romp tinged with a bit of melancholy.

Bravura classical dancing then follows in the bold, high flying pas de deux from the ballet Le Corsaire. Danced to music by Riccardo Drigo, the pas de deux made famous by Rudolf Nureyev will showcase company members Justiz and Meister-Upleger.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Ednis Gomez and Yuka Oba rehearsing Trey McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love”. Photo by Jade Butler.

After another brief intermission the program will close with its title work, McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love” (2007). Originally created for Sacramento Ballet, “Wild Sweet Love” is a delightfully quirky and athletic work set to disparate music by Queen, Lou Reed, Roberta Flack, Felix Mendelssohn, The Zombies and others.  It explores the range of emotions being in love and lacking love in your life can bring. Played out in a series of dance vignettes that follow a central female character, the ballet is full of humor, heartache, and songs like The Partridge Family’s 1974 hit “I Think I Love You” that will leave you smiling.

Eager to begin this next chapter in his career and the next in GRB’s 46-year history, Sofranko says of Wild Sweet Love: “I am feeling good about the show. I am happy where we are at and how the dancers and the pieces look.”

Grand Rapids Ballet performs Wild Sweet Love, 7:30 p.m., Friday, October 19 & Saturday, October 20 and 2:00 p.m., Sunday, October 21. Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth SW, Grand Rapids. Tickets are $52 each. For tickets or more information visit grballet.com or call (616) 454-4771 x10.

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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Abridged Versions of Two Ballet Classics Aim to Introduce New Audiences to Ballet


Janet Strukely-Dziak as Odette in Olmsted Performing Arts’

Janet Strukely-Dziak as Odette in Olmsted Performing Arts’ “Swan Lake.” Photo by Ken Cavanaugh/Cavanaugh Photography.

By Steve Sucato

What better way to introduce children and new audiences to ballet than with abridged versions of two of its classics.  At least that is the thinking behind Olmsted Performing Arts’ Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake Double Feature, July 17-19 at the 1000-seat Olmsted Performing Arts Center in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.

Part of the OPA’s Ballet Series, the hourlong versions are the creations of OPA Ballet director and former Saint Louis Ballet dancer Janet Strukely-Dziak.  Using traditional choreography and some of her own creation, Strukely-Dziak condensed each multi-act ballet into a single act. No easy feat, the project meant piecing together scenes, movement phrases and music to create considerably shortened versions of each ballet whose storylines, dancing and inherent beauty still held up.  One way she accomplished this was by adding narration to each ballet.

“It was really important to me to have audiences understand the stories,” says Strukely-Dziak. “That lack of understanding is what I think scares people off of ballet.”

Her hope is that with the inclusion of narration along with shortening each and making it very clear through the dancing and acting what is transpiring, that each ballet’s storyline will be easily understood.

(L to R) Good Fairy Regina Pietraroia and Melaina Kampf as  Carabosse in Olmsted Performing Arts’

(L to R) Regina Pietraroia as Violente and Melaina Kampf as Carabosse in Olmsted Performing Arts’ “Sleeping Beauty.” Photo by Ken Cavanaugh/Cavanaugh Photography.

While accessibility for audiences was one important motivation for the shortened ballets, another was the inclusion of OPA Dance Academy students and others from neighboring studios including Jillian Rian’s Dance School, Jam Dance Academy, Rock City Dance and Dancexcel, introducing these young dancers to the classics.

“There are not a lot of classical story ballets being performed in the Cleveland-area anymore,” says Strukely-Dziak. “My goal is to bring ballet to the west side suburbs of Cleveland where the only thing people are exposed to are recitals and Nutcracker productions.”

OPA’s program will kick off with The Sleeping Beauty. Based on author Charles Perrault’s fairytale of the cursed princess Aurora who falls asleep for 100-years waiting to be awoken by a prince’s kiss, the ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa premiered in 1890.  Set to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Strukely-Dziak’s fun, lighthearted version will feature a cast of the aforementioned students (ages 6 and up) along with advanced level students, college dancers and guest professionals including Mercyhurst University graduate Kathryn Tokar as Princess Aurora, Matt Huefner as Prince Desire, Elizabeth Radachi as the Lilac Fairy and former Dancing Wheels dancer Melaina Kampf as the evil fairy Carabosse (a.k.a. Maleficent). It will be narrated by actor/dancer Josh Landis in the role of Catalabutte.

Janet Strukely-Dziak as Odette and Clayton Cunningham as Prince Siegfried in Olmsted Performing Arts’

Janet Strukely-Dziak as Odette and Jason Wang as Prince Siegfried in Olmsted Performing Arts’ “Swan Lake.” Photo by Ken Cavanaugh/Cavanaugh Photography.

For the avid ballet-goer interested in a higher level of technical dancing, OPA Ballet’s abridged version of Swan Lake will feature a cast made up of only advanced student dancers and professionals including Strukely-Dziak in the dual lead role of Odette/Odile. She will be partnered by Saint Louis Ballet dancer Clayton Cunningham as Prince Siegfried. Based on the 1895 revival of the ballet by Petipa and Lev Ivanov and set to music by Tchaikovsky, the ballet tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart’s curse and whose love for Siegfried knows no bounds.  A 16-member swan corps along with beautiful sets and costumes all add to this shortened yet traditional ballet experience.

A 32-year-old mother of two, Strukely-Dziak says it has been a challenge juggling teaching ballet, raising two small children and the demands of staying in shape as a freelance professional dancer.  Add to that re-working two ballet classics. Despite all that Strukely-Dziak says she enjoys what she is doing as do several other area professionals in the cast who are young mothers.

So whether you are new to ballet, are looking to introduce your children to ballet classics, or a ballet aficionado, OPA’s Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake Double Feature is sure to have a little something for everyone.

Olmsted Performing Arts Ballet Series presents Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake Double Feature, 7:30 p.m., Friday, July 17, 2:30 p.m. (Special kids show Sleeping Beauty only. Kids receive princess hair updo, snack, and dance lesson.) and 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 18, and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, July 19. Olmsted Performing Arts Center, 6941 Columbia Rd., Olmsted Falls, Ohio. $15-20. (440) 235-6722 or olmstedperformingarts.com. Pre-Show Event “Art of Ballet,” 90-minutes before each performance, local artists display works of dancers, attendees get to come watch warm-up onstage.

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