Satin pointe shoes, shimmering tiaras and embroidered tutus may seem like the most fundamental elements in ballet, but to the Grand Rapids Ballet, the art is not just its stereotypical image.
“Ballet can be so much more. It can be very relative to now,” said James Sofranko, the company’s new artistic director. “We’re definitely going to keep alive the rich tradition of classical ballet, but I’d love to show that this ballet company is very versatile. We can do the old stuff, the new stuff and everything in between.”
The Grand Rapids Ballet’s season opener, Wild Sweet Love, is set to showcase that versatility and innovation. The repertory performance is composed of four ballets: Allegro Brillante by George Balanchine, Ghost Light by Penny Saunders, Wild Sweet Love by Trey McIntyre, and an original work by Sofranko.
“I do believe that all of these ballets we’re doing this year have never been seen before in Grand Rapids, or at least at Grand Rapids Ballet, as far as I know. Except for The Nutcracker, of course,” Sofranko said.
George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante is “go-for-broke dancing,” according to Sofranko. The work is set to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and features high-energy movement.
“It’s beautiful music. It’s gorgeous dancing, and I’m really excited to see the dancers bust it out in this piece,” he said.
Balanchine’s work is followed by the world premiere of Sofranko’s original ballet that he’s choreographing specifically for the Grand Rapids Ballet Theater. He has some of the storyline and music in mind already, but for the dancers and audience members, the work remains suspensefully under construction.
“I’m still pretty much forming it in my head as we speak,” he said.
Also this season, Penny Saunders, the choreographer-in-residence, is bringing her piece, Ghost Light. The show features unique lighting effects accompanying the music and movements.
“It’s mysterious and moody,” Sofranko said. “A ghost light refers to the light that’s always on in the theater so it’s not pitch black.”
Finally, the Grand Rapids Ballet is performing the season’s title piece, Wild Sweet Love, by renowned choreographer Trey McIntyre. The work muses on love and follows a central female character through different romantic experiences. It features pop music from artists like Queen and Roberta Flack, giving the show a progressive feel.
“It’s fun and lighthearted,” he said. “I think the audience is going to walk out skipping and humming.”
Between Balanchine, Sofranko, Saunders and McIntyre’s pieces, The Grand Rapids Ballet Theater’s dancers and choreographers are spending long days in the city’s downtown studio spaces rehearsing, teaching and learning the ballets for the upcoming season.
“It’s a wonderful thing to sit in an audience and see these dancers, who have worked their whole lives, dancing just for you in this moment, right here, right now,” Sofranko said. “You’re not at home watching it on Netflix.”
Sofranko is confident that the Grand Rapids Ballet Theater’s upcoming season, Wild Sweet Love, is “going to be great. I don’t want people to miss it.”
The four ballets marry tradition and innovation in a way that is emotional and romantic, while maintaining a dramatic air of mystery and abstraction. According to Sofranko, the evening has something for everyone.
“I would love to show that ballet is not just its stereotypical image, which is tutus and tiaras,” he said, referencing Wild Sweet Love’s combination of Tchaikovsky and pop scores as well as classical and modern choreography performed back-to-back.
“Ballet is bigger than we are,” Sofranko added. “It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than Grand Rapids Ballet, and it has a rich tradition that has come down for generations and centuries. We’re playing our part now to continue it for the next generations too. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Wild Sweet Love
Grand Rapids Ballet
341 Ellsworth Ave. SW,