St. Cecilia brings ballet to the stage

Contemporary & classical collide in ballet presentation of ’Twelfth Night’
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Deos Ballet presents Twelfth Night. Photos by PC Raynard.

Deos Ballet’s COLLIDE Series 23 brings dancers from across the country together for a short-term contract, many of whom are on summer hiatus from their year-round commitments. Several evening and matinee performances will take place July 28-30 on the St. Cecilia Music Center stage.

Among other performances, the dance company will present an entirely original adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” boasting that it’s “the first major ballet production of its kind to tackle Shakespeare’s comedic telling of the story.” 

The comedic retelling of the familiar Shakespeare comedy will feature the entire Deos summer company, including 12 professional dancers from across the United States (based in New York, St. Louis, Louisville, and other major cities) and three collegiate dance interns. The full company production includes set pieces, a fun and lighthearted mix of period and modern costuming.  

“We can’t wait to retell this classic tale with a contemporary ballet edge. We want to make ballet fun — bringing the art to audiences with a lighthearted, funny twist is something we are taking a lot of pride in,” said dancer Isabelle Ramey.

I found all of this super intriguing so I decided to talk to the founder and Artistic Director of Deos Ballet, Tess Sinke.

LE: I’ve seen different versions of Twelfth Night and, even with words, it’s difficult to make the comedy “land” for a modern audience. How are you going to pull it off?

Tess: How do we turn a Shakespearean comedy into a ballet? The full-length play has a lot of different characters and subplots. The first thing we did was look at the many different elements of the story and decided which parts we wanted to focus on and highlight. Ours is a one act version of the play – so it’s a paired down version of the original. The dialogue is so crucial in the original play – so we had to get creative with telling the story without words. We do this in multiple ways, mostly translating the comedic plot points of the play from verbal comedy to physical comedy. We’re taking each character and making them more “over the top.” For example, The Duke of Illyria is usually described as being a bit melodramatic – in the ballet we are amplifying that. At the end of the day, our company is a storytelling company. We really focus on making ballet relatable through stories. I’m very excited to take this hilarious masterpiece and turn it into a ballet that everyone can enjoy.

LE: Describe a funny scene.
Tess: Just like a “Shakespeare in the park” play, we are keeping our sets very minimal. Just enough to set the scenes. The dancers’ costumes are medieval inspired, our twist is incorporating modern day props into certain scenes to add to the comedy. An example of this is our opening scene – Two of our main characters, Viola, and Sebastian (twins) are on a boat. Our “boat” is a spotlight with ocean thunderstorm sound effects playing as Viola and Sebastian fight over who will take the only (modern day) life jacket. With lots of fun props, quirky music and a cast of professional dancers who excel in portraying outrageous characters, this ballet is going to be a treat!

LE: What inspired this particular idea?
Tess: I love the challenge of taking a story from a different art form (play, book, painting, etc.) and turning it into ballet. With Shakespeare you have so much great imagery and characters to work with. I really enjoy creating comedic works, and over the years I’ve experimented with a lot of different types of comedic pieces. I finally felt ready to create a longer comedic work, and with the specific cast of dancers we have this summer – it just made sense. There are certain dancers that just naturally work really well together and play off of each other and have that chemistry needed to tell a great story. We’re very lucky to have exactly that with our company.  I’m really excited to see each of them dive into their characters.

LE: Long time Shakespeare fan?
Tess: I wouldn’t say I’m a longtime Shakespeare fan. I have become one after researching this ballet. My sister, who also works as Deos Ballet’s Dramaturg, is a huge fan of Shakespeare and with her theater background has a lot of knowledge. It was a team effort creating the storyboard and deciding what parts of the story to focus on. She was very instrumental in the creation process.

LE: Tell me about the cast:
Tess: Our resident dancers are Allison Haan, Leah Slavens Haggard, Madison Massara-Leister, Isabelle Ramey, Brianna Renfrew, and Lauren Hansen. Each summer, these dancers are joined by our summer cohort of professional dancers, hailing from companies including Louisville Ballet, St. Louis Ballet, Charlottesville Ballet, and Fort Wayne Ballet, as well as a handful of collegiate interns. COLLIDE is our biggest performance of the year, and we can’t wait to finally hold the show at the beautiful St. Cecilia Music Center in downtown Grand Rapids! 

Tess Sinke is the founder and Artistic Director of Deos Ballet, founded in 2018. She grew up in West Michigan, training at Grand Rapids Ballet and has a BA in Choreography from Mercyhurst University. She is also a faculty member at Michigan Ballet Academy (Deos Ballet’s partner school).

Deos Ballet Company “Twelfth Night” cast.

The cast
Viola – Isabelle Ramey
Sebastian – David Senti
Duke Orsino – Jeremy Gruner
Olivia – Madison Massara-Leister
Maria – Leah Slavens Haggard
Duke’s Attendants: Lauren Hansen and Brianna Renfrew
Olivia’s Attendants: Allison Haan and Katie Brown
Sir Toby Belch – Kathryn Tokar Conley
Sir Andrew Aguecheek – Michael Burke
Pageboy – Charlotte Anderson

Other performances include: Vivaldi’s “Summer” Reimagine, Guest Choreography Redefining Boundaries, & Brand New Works. Purchase tickets here.

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