Many factors go into making a ballet performance a success. Some of these factors involve technique, choreography, acting skill, staging, and technical aspects like lighting, as well as the overall impact of the performance on the audience. Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Movemedia II” hit all of these key areas with great skill. “Movemedia II” ran April 16, April 17 and April 19, ending the 2014-15 Season’s “Movemedia” series on a high note. Grand Rapid Ballet shows, under the leadership of Artistic Director Patricia Barker, are regularly becoming as masterful as any Broadway performance.
‘Movemedia II’ Choreography
“Movemedia II” featured the works of female choreographers Susan Jaffe, Andrea Schermoly, Penny Saunders and Yuka Oba. The show was a celebration of women in dance, and by showcasing all female choreographers, Grand Rapids Ballet brought awareness to the fact that women are underrepresented in ballet leadership roles. Despite the large number of female dancers, men outnumber women in ballet history for the creation and choreography of ballets and leading dance companies. This is gradually changing, and more women are starting to choreograph and take on leadership roles, such as becoming artistic directors of dance companies.
The choreographers featured in “Movemedia II” are some of the industry’s brightest talents. Susan Jaffe, who was handpicked by ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov to join American Ballet Theatre (ABT) at age 18, danced as a principal dancer with ABT for 20 years. Since her retirement in 2002, she co-founded a ballet company, Princeton Dance & Theatre Studio, served as a Ballet Master for the ABT, and choreographed a number of works. Jaffe is now Dean of Dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). Andrea Schermoly, a former South African Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics Team athlete and former dancer with the Boston Ballet and the Netherlands Dance Theater, is an internationally renowned and award-winning choreographer. She has choreographed for prestigious ballet companies all over the world as well as for feature films and commercials. Penny Saunders formerly danced with The American Repertory Ballet, Ballet Arizona, MOMIX Dance Theater, Cedar Lake Ensemble and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. In 2011, Saunders won the National Choreographic Competition, and has choreographed a number of critically acclaimed pieces for dance companies, such as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Owen/Cox Dance Group and Whim W’Him. Yuka Oba is a critically acclaimed dancer with Grand Rapids Ballet, who made her choreographic debut with a memorable emotional piece last year at “Movemedia.”
The “Movemedia II” choreography was emotional and inventive, with great athleticism and grace. Artistic Director Patricia Barker had the right idea pairing the “Movemedia II” choreographers together, because each performance, while unique and with signature moves associated with each choreographer, came together for a thoroughly entertaining show. A general theme in all four dances was emotion and full body dancing. Dancers expressed emotion with every part of their body. Grand Rapids Ballet dancers gave an excellent and polished performance that represented each piece well. Each choreographer’s dance background was reflected in their work. Jaffe’s ABT classical ballet experience was apparent in her elegant “Weather One” piece. Schermoly’s professional choreography background and signature moves were notable in her “Things You Can’t Take Back.” Oba is known for her strong technique and acting skills in her performances, and her second choreographed work, “Tomorrow Never Comes,” was breath-taking and comparable to works from far more experienced choreographers. Saunders’ “Slight” was on par with her critically acclaimed choreographed works, and reflected Saunders’ Hubbard Street Dance Chicago experience.
Oba’s ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’
Grand Rapids Ballet’s Yuka Oba is a new emerging voice in choreography, and her work is quite powerful and engaging. Oba’s piece titled “Tomorrow Never Comes” was inspired by the idea that people so often take life for granted, and as a result, miss opportunities to really live and enjoy life. The male dancers wore long flowing red skirts, and the female dancers wore long flowing skirts of various colors. The skirts flowed with the dancers’ movements and seemed to have a personality of their own. Oba also used some flashing light elements. The piece had group numbers that involved partnering for 6 couples and two duets. The couples shared an intensity during much of the partnering, and the movements were lovely and flowed well together. The piece was moving and well-executed. Oba has a talent for choreography, and ballet fans should be eager to see what she will come up with next.
Schermoly’s ‘Things You Can’t Take Back’
Andrea Schermoly’s “Things You Can’t Take Back” was inspired by the tensions and resentments that can build up in relationships between lovers, siblings or parent/child, and how people deal with it. This was an emotional work full of athleticism and creative movement. She used projections, which seemed to perform a dance of their own, and worked well with the dancers’ movements. Schermoly’s extensive professional choreography background was apparent in this polished and entertaining piece.
Jaffe’s ‘Weather One’
Susan Jaffe’s “Weather One” was sumptuous. Jaffe’s classical background along with her creative ideas brought the weather to life through some truly lovely choreography. Her piece featured a duet, a trio, a quartet and a soloist, and was set to Michael Gordon’s music, “Weather One.” Jaffe was inspired by Gordon’s music, and she designed the piece to reflect the weather and human relationships. The women all danced on pointe. A projection of clouds and a gathering storm played in the background, adding to the atmosphere. The piece was emotional and the dancing extremely fluid and graceful.
Penny Saunders’ “Slight” was the last performance of the show, and rounded off the show nicely. The piece featured 11 dancers and was set to the music of Daniel Hope, George Frideric Handel and David Lang. One unique aspect about Saunders’ piece was the creative collaboration on the costumes. The costumes were created by Fashion Studies students from the Pamella Roland DeVos School of Fashion at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University. Saunders and Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director Patricia Barker worked directly with the Kendall College of Art and Design students on the costume creation. The costumes were attractive and fit the piece well. In Saunders’ piece, dancers danced with their entire body, played with light and used their facial expressions and hand movements in some of the dance sequences. Dancers also danced with a curtain that hung on the stage, which along with the light, was a character in the piece. Overall, Saunders’ “Slight” was entertaining and full of creative ideas.
‘Movemedia’ Shows the Versatility of Dance
The “Movemedia” contemporary dance series shows the versatility of dance and different ways to use classical ballet training to create new movement. “Movemedia II” was a great example of all that is possible in dance. “Movemedia” pieces all used a perfect balance of classical ballet structure, loose contemporary movements, and modern technology to communicate an artistic expression. This year’s “Movemedia II” may have been one of Grand Rapids Ballet’s best.