Last week Grand Rapids Ballet—whose artistic director is former Pacific Northwest Ballet star ballerina Patricia Barker—had its début in Seattle with a double bill.
After dancing the Seattle premiere of Whim W’Him artistic director/choreographer Olivier Wevers‘s witty evening-long Midsummer Night’s Dream for 3 nights, GRB switched gears on the weekend to MOVEMEDIA, a lively mixed repertory program of contemporary pieces by 4 choreographers: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, a favorite with Whim W’Him audiences, for whom she has made several pieces and will create a new one in the 2015-16 season; Penny Saunders, whose exploration for Whim W’Him of the works of American painter Edward Hopper garnered much praise; Mário Radačovský, with whose National Theatre Brno (Národní divadlo Brno) Olivier is now working in the Czech Republic; and David Parsons.
I spoke with Michael Auer, GRB creative director (and Patricia’s husband) about the genesis of MOVEMEDIA. When the couple first went to Grand Rapids, the major emphasis there was classical. Some contemporary works were being done, but separately, in a “workshop, black box way.” On the one hand, Michael says, if you really wanted to make contemporary dance meaningful at GRB, “you needed to put on more full-fledged productions and charge more than $5,” while on the other hand, you would also need to avoid “confusion on the customer’s part.” Contemporary dance was not necessarily what the company’s long-established audiences came to see. The solution:
A contemporary dance series featuring dance works merging visual elements of sets, props, costumes and lighting, framed by technology and digital media to enhance the body in space by providing internationally recognized choreographers a creative canvas.
As Michael puts it, GRB created “an identifiable product by slapping a name on it.
A funding opportunity arose, and Patricia took it.” Resources were mainly contributed by the Rosemary and David Good Family Foundation, for a couple of years at first, but now the two part program is going into its 5th season. Whim W’Him’s Olivier Wevers was the first recipient of the two-part opportunity: first, to set an already created piece on GRB; and then, to create a new work for the company. The Sofa, choreographed for that initial MOVEMEDIA season, has now been performed not just by the Grand Rapids company, but by Whim W’Him in Seattle and at the Joyce Theater in New York City, and will open later this month in Brno, Czech Republic, where Olivier is currently rehearsing.
Over these 4 years, MOVEMEDIA has produced 36 ballets—by local, emerging and established choreographic talent, the full spectrum. By now, however, MOVEMEDIA is fully integrated into the repertory. And rather different choices are being made: more works by well-known choreographers, less total pieces, more time and resources to be devoted to each, more light designer time, etc.