James Sofranko joined the Grand Rapids Ballet in July after first being announced as the organization’s new artistic director back in January. This month, he has his first opportunity to really introduce himself to Grand Rapids with the ballet’s season-opening performance, “Wild Sweet Love,” a mixed repertoire program that includes a hybrid of classical and modern ballet.
Sofranko said the program begins with “Allegro Brillante” by choreographer George Balanchine, who is considered “the father of American ballet.”
“This is one of his masterpieces, one of his most well-known works, but it’s never been seen in Grand Rapids,” Sofranko said, adding, “In fact, all of these ballets have never been seen before in Grand Rapids.”
“Allegro Brillante” is a 13-minute piece that is “jam-packed” with opportunities for the dancers to showcase their talents. Balanchine once described the piece as “everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes.”
“Dancers really relish an opportunity like this,” Sofranko said. “It’s a piece that shows off their strengths and is fun to dance. It’s one of my favorite ballets out there, in the world, and I’m happy to be able to bring it here.”
“Le Corsaire Pax De Duex” is the oldest piece in the program, hailing from 1856 when it was first performed in Paris. It is among classical ballet’s most famous and performed excerpts.
Sofranko said the work has evolved throughout many generations and what he is most excited about is that the piece will feature two new Grand Rapids Ballet dancers, Alexandra Meister Upleger and Josue Justiz Brito.
“They are spectacular together. It will be a gem in the evening,” Sofranko said.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s resident choreographer, Penny Saunders, also has a piece in the evening’s program. Titled “Ghost Light,” the work was inspired by the “haunting light left on in theaters.”
Sofranko said while the light may have been left on to ensure no one falls off the stage, there is also a lot of lore and legend attached to the theater so it is just as likely that the practice started to appease the ghosts of the theater.
“There are three males and one female and they embody these characters from the past,” Sofranko explained. “The woman wears this long dress and the men manipulate it around her and the dress becomes like another character in the piece. So it’s mysterious and ghostlike. It’s a beautiful and captivating piece. It’s not as showy as “Allegro.” This is more brooding and mysterious.”
Sofranko will also premiere his latest work during the program. “It’s untitled as of yet,” he said. The piece tackles the theme of “romantic relationships and how different they can be from one couple to the next.”
The final performance of the evening might have the audience struggling to stay in their seats. “Wild Sweet Love” is a piece by Trey McIntyre that features well-known pop songs from the likes of Lou Reed, The Partridge Family and Queen.
“It’s a really fun, high energy way to send the audience out after an evening of ballet,” Sofranko said.
Sofranko said his goal with the first program of the season was to “show a nice strong variety of what ballet is and what this company can do.”
“Not every company can do a George Balanchine piece and then go into a Penny Saunders piece,” he explained.
Sofranko said he wants to show off the full scope of talent of the Grand Rapids Ballet and has designed a season of five programs total that he hopes will show the audience just how talented its ballet company is.
“The theme would be that ballet is new and fresh … ballet is not just a museum. It is bringing artists the opportunity to express themselves today and about issues that are happening right now. We celebrate the past and look forward.”
“Wild Sweet Love” runs Oct. 19-21. Purchase tickets here.
Grand Rapids Ballet 2018 – 2019 Season
Oct. 18 – 21 – Wild Sweet Love
Dec. 14 – 16 & 21-23 – The Nutcracker
Feb. 8 – 10 – MoveMedia: Handmade
April 12 – 14 – Extremely Close
May 3-5 & 10-11 – Alice in Wonderland
*Main photo: Grand Rapids Ballet dancer Yuka Oba in “Allegro Brillante.” Photo by Isaac Aoki.