After Thoughts with James Sofranko

From the Grand Rapids Magazine July 2018 issue. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.

The Grand Rapids Ballet welcomed accomplished dancer, choreographer and artistic entrepreneur James Sofranko as its new artistic director on July 1. In this capacity, Sofranko is responsible for all artistic direction and planning for the GR Ballet.

Sofranko, a Cincinnati native, received dance training at The Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, and The Juilliard School in New York City, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance. After graduating in 2000, Sofranko joined the San Francisco Ballet, where he was promoted to soloist in 2007. His final performance as a dancer with the San Francisco Ballet was this May.

Grand Rapids Magazine: Proudest moment?

JS: My proudest moment was probably when I was hired into San Francisco Ballet straight after graduating from Juilliard. Juilliard sometimes has a reputation of being a school for only modern dancers, and I am very proud that I was able to show that my training in the modern techniques of Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and Jose Limon did not exclude classical ballet from my future.

I love all styles of dance and I believe that training in one style can inform another. Dancers today must be versatile and able to do so much more than just classical ballet. My versatility was one of my strengths at San Francisco Ballet and I’m very proud that I was able to dance in such a large variety of styles during my career.

Grand Rapids Magazine: Biggest career break?

JS: There is a role designed for a short man in Kenneth Macmillan’s “Elite Syncopations,” a ballet we did at San Francisco Ballet early in my career, set to Scott Joplin rags. A few of the shorter principals were cast in the role, but through injury or other circumstance, I ended up first cast in this role that required a lot of comedy and physicality.

I found myself, as a new corps member, dancing with long time principal (and the very tall) Muriel Maffre in this pas de deux with her legs constantly going over my head. I remember thinking to myself, “Whatever you do, just don’t drop her!” I was nervous, of course, but the comedy kept me on my toes and in the moment. To this day, audience members still come up to me and remind me of that duet and how that was the first time they remember knowing who I was.

Grand Rapids Magazine: What talent would you like to possess?

JS: I would love to be able to draw or paint. Unfortunately, I can barely do a stick figure.

Grand Rapids Magazine: Favorite movie of all time?

JS: Oh, so hard to choose! My wife and I could watch “When Harry Met Sally” forever. We know all the lines, but it’s still one of our “go-to” movies when we just want to relax and laugh. Also, “Bullets over Broadway” and “Meet the Parents” rank pretty high for comedy.

For more serious fare, I like “V for Vendetta” or anything written by Charlie Kaufman, and “West Side Story” is my favorite musical.

Grand Rapids Magazine: Morning or night person?

JS: Morning, although I can stay up late too… but I’m my best in the morning.

Grand Rapids Magazine: What are you most passionate about?

JS: I’m most passionate about showing people the value of art in their life and society. Without art, we lose sight of the beauty that humans are capable of. Without art, we lose a form of expression that speaks beyond language.

Grand Rapids Magazine: What makes you laugh?

JS: My two sons, Jack and Aiden!

Grand Rapids Magazine: Favorite getaway?

JS: In California, we love taking a drive to wine country; it’s like having Italy in your backyard.

Grand Rapids Magazine: Your best or worst habit?

JS: One (bad or good depending how you look at it) habit I have is doing too much and saying yes to too many projects! There’s just so much to do and not enough time!

Grand Rapids Magazine: How do you unwind?

JS: A walk on the beach with the family is always therapeutic.

*Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

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