WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTO | GRAND RAPIDS BALLET
The Grand Rapids Ballet will turn 50 soon, but the company is showing no signs of slowing down.
Instead, the Grand Rapids Ballet is teeming with exciting new performances under the exuberant guidance of its new artistic director, James Sofranko. Innovative, exclusive premieres are debuting, and the classics are being reimagined.
A long-time San Francisco Ballet soloist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Juilliard, Sofranko has retired from the stage and is channeling renewed energy into the Grand Rapids Ballet, Michigan’s only professional company. Sofranko topped a list of 40 applicants from around the world to become only the fifth artistic director in the Grand Rapids Ballet’s 47-year history.
“I am very excited about what the future holds for the Grand Rapids Ballet, honoring the traditions of the classic art form while also pushing it forward with an emphasis on new ballets,” Sofranko said.
“I envision the Grand Rapids Ballet as one of Michigan’s most important cultural organizations, drawing dancers from all over the world and audiences from all over the state,” he continued. “When people talk about loving Grand Rapids, the ballet will be one of the reasons why.”
Sofranko is joined by an impeccable, commendable troupe and staff, including Penny Saunders, the resident choreographer. In demand around the world, Saunders’ work is always presented with an intelligence and attention to detail that is unmatched, according to Sofranko.
The spring season promises to be unforgettable, he attests.
Spring programming includes a production by Sofranko, new and classic works, and world premieres specially created for the Grand Rapids Ballet.
“Ibsen’s House” is a stunning, remarkably significant performance-based on plays written over a century ago by famed playwright Henrik Ibsen. A Doll’s House was penned in 1879, followed by Hedda Gabler in 1891; both explore the role of women in a man’s world. The ballet was originally created by Val Caniparoli and presented by the San Francisco Ballet; Sofranko was among the dancers.
In February, the “Move Media” performance series focuses on new works made exclusively for the Company by some of the best choreographers working today: resident choreographer Penny Saunders, who spearheaded a stunning perspective into the world of internationally acclaimed dancemakers around the globe, and French choreographer Nicolas Blanc. Blanc is a ballet master, a principal coach for the Joffrey Ballet, and a former principal dancer for the San Francisco Ballet who has recently created works for the New York City and Joffrey Ballets.
“Extremely Close” is a “magical” performance, according to Sofranco, that involves special effects such as feathers falling from the sky and a score by Philip Glass, who was just feted at the 41st annual Kennedy Center Honors in December 2018.
The spring season concludes with a reprise of “Alice in Wonderland” which is returning after a two-year hiatus and is choreographed by visual arts pioneer Brian Enos. This is one of Sofranco’s favorites for its visually stunning and colorful lighting effects surrounding the familiar, beloved characters.
Michigan’s only professional ballet company, Grand Rapids Ballet is also home to the Grand Rapids Ballet School and its Junior Company. Attila Mosolygo is the director, and classes are held in Grand Rapids and Holland. Scholarships are available.
Grand Rapids Ballet
341 Ellsworth Southwest
Grand Rapids MI 49503