Setting the Stage: James Sofranko

Artistic director, Grand Rapids Ballet
James Sofranko
James Sofranko. Photo by David Sparks

Every season, Grand Rapids Ballet works to bring amazing performances, music, design and talent to the stage. These dancers and directors work tirelessly to create a place where the audience can enjoy the true wonder of the ballet. This season, the performances all are centered on one idea: “finding what moves you.”

James Sofranko, Grand Rapids Ballet’s artistic director, reflected on what exactly that mantra means for him, the dancers and the audience.

He said although some of the magic of the ballet is its traditional history, it doesn’t have to just be that. While keeping classic shows alive, the ballet is working with choreographers to create shows that relate to people’s present-day lives.

Last season, the ballet had two shows dedicated to current issues. One was focused on climate change and the other on the testimony of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Sofranko said these somewhat controversial issues offer a message to audience members, and the storyline can move their emotions.

“I am in love with ballet as an art form that can ‘move’ people on so many levels, be it the grace of the dancers’ expression, the pure athleticism and physicality, the music, the story or message, the design or just the fact that these dancers have been training their entire lives to constantly improve,” Sofranko said.

Audience members are sure to feel moved watching the talent on stage, and each may find their own inspiration or enjoyment from the shows. They also can find inspiration from Grand Rapids Ballet’s community outreach, which includes classes and enrichment programs.

Coming up this season, Grand Rapids Ballet has a slate of interesting shows in the works. To kick off the season, it is offering four shows in one night.

“So, with one ticket, you will get to see a wide variety of what the Grand Rapids Ballet is all about,” Sofranko said. “We open the performance with ‘Mozart Symphony,’ a ballet that I choreographed in a more traditional balletic vein, and then we move to a world premiere (which is always a treat) from our choreographer-in-residence, Penny Saunders, who works in a more contemporary sphere. Thirdly, we will be presenting Adam Hougland’s contemporary and dramatic ‘Cold Virtues,’ set to the Philip Glass violin concerto, and then we finish with ‘Firebird.’”

“Firebird” is a visually stunning show with 28 dancers taking the stage during the performance. “The story of the Firebird is an old Russian folk tale, and Igor Stravinsky wrote the score to the first ‘Firebird’ ballet in 1910, choreographed by Michel Fokine of the Ballet Russes,” Sofranko said. “Since that premiere, the story and the score have captured the imaginations of numerous choreographers, including that of Yuri Possokhov, whose version we will be presenting from 2007.”

He noted “Firebird” tells the “time-worn tale of good versus evil,” and is a great show for all ages.

The ballet’s upcoming season ranges from traditional to contemporary with all shows posing the question, “What moves you?”

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