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Grand Rapids Ballet's Movemedia II: Outstanding choreography with heart

Grand Rapids Ballet's David Strong, Hannah Wilcox and Nicholas Schultz are among Movemedia's talented dancers.
Grand Rapids Ballet's David Strong, Hannah Wilcox and Nicholas Schultz are among Movemedia's talented dancers.
Photo Courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

When choreographers develop a program, they share a part of themselves with the audience. This was especially true of last weekend's performance of Movemedia II by the Grand Rapids Ballet. Choreographers Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Kirk Peterson, David Strong and Hannah Sullivan presented works that glowed with exquisite choreography, strong dancing, and a great depth of feeling.

Movemedia Dance Series

Movemedia II is the second half of the contemporary dance series. The critically acclaimed Movemedia I was held in March. Movemedia is an annual contemporary dance series that combines dance, music and technology to showcase innovative choreography. Choreographers apply to try out choreography concepts and work with Grand Rapids Ballet dancers. This year, over 100 choreographers applied to the Grand Rapids Ballet to participate in the third season of the Movemedia series. Eight choreographers were chosen this year for Movemedia I and II - Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Robyn Mineko Williams, Pedro Lozano Gomez, Mario Radacovsky, Yuka Oba, Kirk Peterson, David Strong and Hannah Sullivan. Grand Rapids Ballet artist-in-residence Annabelle Lopez Ochoa worked on both Movemedia programs and presented unique works at each one. Movemedia II ran April 25-27, and featured the works of Ochoa, Peterson, Strong and Sullivan.

Peterson's 'The Eyes That Gently Touch'

Kirk Peterson, is a former Artistic Director of the American Ballet Theatre II and last year's Grand Rapids Ballet artist-in-residence. Peterson's work, "The Eyes That Gently Touch," was set to music by Philip Glass, played by a live pianist, Stuart Leitch. Glass's music was originally played for a speaking engagement by Dalai Lama on an organ. Peterson saw romance in Glass's musical score, especially when played by piano. He developed his choreography for three pairs of dancers to show three couples in different stages of romance. The work premiered on October 1, 1999 at the State Theatre in New Jersey, performed by the American Repertory Ballet.

The partnering was both athletic and graceful. The story of the three couples was well-done. One couple appeared to be in the throes of a new romance, moving together with slow, languid movements. In contrast, another couple danced with quick steps, sometimes a part, as if caught up in a busy life. The pair that stood out was Monica Pelfrey and Stephen Sanford, who moved together as if one body, demonstrating a happy couple that has stood the test of time.

Strong's '10:14'

David (DJ) Strong is a Grand Rapids Ballet dancer and emerging choreographer. He developed the work, "10:14," especially for the Grand Rapids Ballet. The work was deeply personal, showing different stories based on things Strong witnessed or experienced. It was inspired by the iconic poem, "Still I Rise," by Maya Angelou.

The lighting and sound effects along with the music by Kevin MacLeod all worked extremely well to capture mood in this piece. The modern dancing at times reminds the audience of the club scene. Sounds of a camera flash taking a photo show a group of friends at the start of the program. Soon the group separates and one dancer, David Naquin, is isolated. The audience witnesses his inner anguish and despair as he is beaten, and even spat upon by former friends. Naquin does an excellent job both in the athleticism and the emotion expressed during this scene.

Other stories in the piece showcase a mean girl causing friction and separating a group of friends who were dancing in harmony prior to her arrival. An abusive man drags his girlfriend by the hair off stage, but soon is caught up in a mutually abusive relationship with a woman who lays on top of him as they both crawl off the stage. The last scene shows the entire group coming back together in a club dance scene and having their photo taken once again.

Strong's choreography was on point to tell such an emotionally raw story. Dancers crawl on stage, violently swing at each other and themselves, crawl on the floor, and sometimes danced with their hair. This choreography made you feel.

Sullivan's 'For No Choice of My Own'

Hannah Sullivan is the Co-Artistic Director of West Michigan's Hearts In Step Dance Ensemble and an instructor at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Sullivan based her piece on her experiences as a social worker. Her work, "For No Choice of My Own," examined healthy and unhealthy relationships both out in the open and behind closed doors. The piece was performed by eight dancers set to live harp music by Martha Waldvogel-Warren. The light projection on stage changed with the music. At times, the light projection created the effect of making the dancers appear to create their own light as they danced.

The piece incorporated some classical ballet as well as contemporary movement. Dancers mirrored each other, worked together and then separated. Sometimes a lone observer watched from the sidelines.

Dave Naquin and Connie Flachs had the most passionate relationship in the pairings. He stares into space as she faces him with empty, outstretched hands. She tries to reach him, but he doesn't look at her. At one point, he rages, and then seems almost helpless. Flachs then reluctantly and angrily tends him, even helping him dress. She places her body against his as if to hug him, but can't bring herself to put her arms around him. Eventually, she walks away from him. He is left standing alone with a tortured look of longing on his face.

Ochoa's 'Written and Forgotten'

Grand Rapids Ballet artist-in-residence Annabelle Lopez Ochoa brings her internationally acclaimed choreography style to the unique work created specifically for the Grand Rapids Ballet. Her work, "Written and Forgotten," explores the joys and fears of childhood memories. The highlight of the evening, Ochoa's piece delivered top notch choreography, strong dancing and good entertainment.

The audience was transported into a dream state that very well could have been childhood memory. The set was white with a number of red balloons floating around. The dancing and props captured the fantasy of childhood dreams and nightmares. It was haunting and a little frightening the way a genderless figure slowly crossed the stage, bent completely forward, walking on all fours like an exotic animal, with a red balloon attached to its back. Dancers played together, holding red lollipops in their hands. The dancing was athletic and artistic.

The final scenes was enjoyable for audience members of all ages. A shy figure wearing a funny pointed mask and carrying balloons sadly gets entertained and embraced warmly by a group of funny dancers wearing clown noses. DJ Strong's lively dancing stands out. The jazzy and modern dance sequence is fun to watch and heartwarming as the funny little character is made to feel welcome in the happy circle.

West Michigan audiences left the theater feeling thoroughly entertained and eagerly waiting for next year's Movemedia series.

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