Tag Archives: Vicomte de Valmont

Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ Wickedly Seductive


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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Nicholas Schultz and Cassidy Isaacson in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Dangerous Liaisons.” Photo by Jarred Griffith.

Grand Rapids Ballet – Dangerous Liaisons
Peter Martin Wege Theatre
Grand Rapids, MI
February 12-21, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Rock icon Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister of English speed metal band Motörhead famously crooned “the chase is better than the catch” in the band’s 1980 hit song of the same name. For bored French aristocrats The Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s ballet adaptation of Stephen Frears’ 1988 film Dangerous Liaisons for Grand Rapids Ballet, “the chase” became a treacherous game in itself.

Frears’ film, with screenplay by Christopher Hampton, was an adaptation of Hampton’s play Les liaisons dangereuses, which in turn was a theatrical adaptation of the 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.  A succession almost as confusing to follow as Merteuil and Valmont’s romantic tristes in Ochoa’s PG-13 ballet involving cruel games of seduction and betrayal deliciously played out by GRB’s dancers in her skillfully-crafted contemporary ballet choreography.

The second such Dangerous Liaisons ballet by Ochoa, the first in 2013 for Augsburg Ballet, this 75-minute, 2-act, world-premiere production at GRB’s Peter Martin Wege Theatre ranks among the very best the steadily rising company has produced.

The performance on February 13 opened on dancer Yuka Oba as Merteuil encircled by four female dancers and Nicholas Schultz as Valmont by four males. The nasty, yet over-privileged pair were lifted, spun and further dressed onstage by their servants including Schultz donning a period-styled top coat with the image of a gold skull on its back.  

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[L-R] Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Yuka Oba, Dawnell Dryja and Cassify Isaacson in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Dangerous Liaisons.” Photo by Jarred Griffith.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Yuka Oba and Isaac Aoki in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Dangerous Liaisons.” Photo by Jarred Griffith.

Set to a recorded music collage from Beethoven and Bach to Dutch composer Almar Kok, with minimalist set design by Ochoa featuring overhead chandeliers and double-sided moving panels, the production set in 18th-century France, had the updated contemporary feel of a Baz Luhrmann film. Adding to that look was Michael Mazzola’s soft lighting design and Danielle Truss’ stripped down costumes that included skeletal hoop skirts for the women.

The dark and sexual nature of the subject matter of the story was brilliantly offset by Ochoa’s cheeky handling of its sexy bits via humor; replacing potential vulgarity with pulse-racing delight.

Like misbehaving teens who got their kicks from one-upping each other in ever risqué behavior and accumulating sexual conquests, Oba shined as the devious Merteuil casting bedroom eyes while dancing with determined attitude and power. Schultz was also captivating as the bold, back-stabbing bad boy Valmont whose hands and lips found their way on to almost anything that moved regardless of gender. The pair weren’t alone in their sexual desires as the ballet was awash in horny characters.  

The somewhat convoluted story where sexual partners were like library books, easily obtained and swapped, found Merteuil and Valmont, when not pawing at each other, scheming up games of conquest and revenge that toyed with emotions and destroyed lives. At Merteuil’s request Valmont seduced the young Cécile de Volanges, played with sensual innocence by Cassidy Isaacson, and then lured a reluctant Grace Haskins as Madame de Tourvel away from her husband (Christian Griggs-Drane) into an affair, while Merteuil seduced Cécile de Volanges’ would-be lover and music teacher Chevalier Danceny (Isaac Aoki).

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[L-R] Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Nicholas Schultz and Dawnell Dryja in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Dangerous Liaisons.” Photo by Jarred Griffith.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancer Grace Haskins in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Dangerous Liaisons.” Photo by Jarred Griffith.

Fueling all this mayhem were letters passed between the characters that served to entice encounters, disparage reputations, and ultimately reveal Valmont and Merteuil’s wanton depravity.

By the ballet’s second act, schemes unfolded and the public began to get wind of Merteuil and Valmont’s exploits.

Highlighting Ochoa’s descriptive choreography for the ballet littered with engaging duets, trios and group dancing, were several lush pas de deuxs. The most memorable being Madame de Tourvel’s giving herself to Valmont and him falling in love with her. To moving cello music, Haskins was enchanting as the vulnerable Tourvel. Her graceful, fluid dancing was spellbinding. Schultz proved a solid, giving partner to her in this emotional pas de deux.

As Hampton said of Valmont and Merteuil in an interview about the Dangerous Liaisons movie, their world relies on a system of people not being in love with one another. When Valmont falls in love, that system collapses. And so it did in Ochoa’s ballet with virtually every one of the main characters having their hearts broken, gone insane or died. The ballet’s final scene fittingly found a society-banished Merteuil seated alone at a dinner table set for many slowly succumbing to madness. Oba in period gown and powdered wig, chillingly barked orders at her servants, violently trashed the table setting, and then slumped totally defeated into her chair vacantly staring out into the distance.

Grand Rapids Ballet’s Dangerous Liaisons continues 7:30 p.m., Feb., 19 & 20 and 2 p.m., Feb. 21. Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth Ave SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan. $38-48. (616) 454-4771 or grballet.com.

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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Grand Rapids Ballet’s 2015-2016 home season a mix of favorites and soon-to-be favorites


Photo courtesy of MLive.com

Yuka Oba and Stephen Sanford in a scene from “The Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of MLive.com.

By Steve Sucato

After a successful tour this past week to artistic director Patricia Barker’s old stomping ground Seattle, Washington, where she was a star at Pacific Northwest Ballet for two decades, Grand Rapids Ballet returns to the “Furniture City” this weekend to kick off its 2015-2016 home season. As in Barker’s past five seasons as GRB director, local audiences can expect a mix of top flight contemporary and classical works danced by one of the nation’s most rapidly rising dance companies.

Here’s a look:

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October 16-18, 2015 @ Peter Martin Wege Theatre

A reprise of popular GRB repertory works, Pacifica includes choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “balloon-tastic” Written & Forgotten (2014), a humorous, sometimes poignant look at childhood memories, and Penny Saunders’ illuminating Slight (2015) of which Barker says: “The whole thing is how light and shadows change the look of the body, movements and mood. It’s quite eerie and quite cool.”  Also on the program will be choreographer David Parsons’ clever masterwork The Envelope (1984), a delightfully zany commentary on human social structures, and excerpts from Mario Radacovsky’s turbulent Beethoven (2015) that closed last season.

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December 11-13 & 18-20, 2015 @ DeVos Performance Hall

Last year’s spectacularly re-imagined holiday classic returns with a few minor tweaks. The magical production with choreography by Val Caniparoli and set design by Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg and Eugene Lee, brings with it Broadway-style production values, a legendary Tchaikovsky score played by the Grammy-nominated Grand Rapids Symphony and some great dancing. One of the best regional The Nutcracker productions to come along in years, it is surely the stuff childhood memories are made of.

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[World Premiere] February 12-14 & 19-21, 2016 @ Peter Martin Wege Theatre

Not to be confused with her 2013 production of Dangerous Liaisons for Augsburg Ballet, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa creates a brand new telling the tale of scheming French aristocrats The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. The two rivals and ex-lovers use seduction to humiliate and degrade others all-the-while boasting of their cruel and manipulative talents. Of the new 80-minute production in two acts Ochoa says it will more closely follow the plotline of the 1989 movie adaption starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich rather than author Durand Neveu’s original 1782 book series.

The characters in Ochoa’s new Dangerous Liaisons come out of a time period in the French aristocracy where the powerful and wealthy became bored with parlor games and turned to more sinister games of the heart. Their intrigue and eventual comeuppance should make for a rather unique dancegoer experience.

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March 18-20, 2016 @ Peter Martin Wege Theatre

The Best of MOVEMEDIA will revisit some of the most popular works presented in the annual cutting-edge dance series that began five years ago. They include Brian Enos’ Nae Regrets, Thomas Dancy’s You Gotta Be Kiddin Me and others, plus a brand new work by choreographer Penny Saunders.

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[World Premiere] – May 6-8 & 13-15, 2016 @ Peter Martin Wege Theatre

Closing out the season is will be a new ballet adaptation of Charles Perrault’s classic fairytale Cinderella. Choreographed by former Boston Ballet resident choreographer Bruce Wells and set to Johann Strauss II’s “Aschenbrödel” (Cinderella), the classical ballet will be a lighter take on the timeless tale.

“It is very important for our company and school to come together and have a collaborative look,” says Barker. “Cinderella is another production like The Nutcracker we can do that. Having it be like a second Nutcracker to us is one of our big goals.”

Audiences will notice several new faces this season as ten new dancers join GRB’s ranks. They are: New Jersey-native Branden Reiners, Illinois-native’s Julia Turner and Matthew Wenckowski, Missouri’s Thomas Seiff, Seattle’s Grace Haskins and Georgia’s Nigel Tau. The company’s new trainees are: Charlotte Logeais (Paris, France), Elise Gillum (San Jose, CA), Derek Brockington (Holland, MI) and Adriana Wagenveld (Bayamon, Puerto Rico). Promoted from apprentice or trainee to company member are: Morgan Frasier, Emily Rose, Caroline Wiley, Jack Lennon and Hannah Potter. Departures from last season include dancers Leah Slavens, Jessica Smith, Keely Lytton, Vanessa Cielle, Yassui Mergaliyev and audience favorites Hannah Wilcox, Kyohei Giovanni Yoshida, Monica Pelfrey, and Stephen Sanford.

For more information and tickets visit grballet.com or call the Grand Rapids Ballet box office at (616) 454-4771 ext. 10

All graphics courtesy of Michael Auer, Grand Rapids Ballet

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