By Steve Sucato
For the fourth year running, Grand Rapids Ballet’s cutting-edge repertory series MOVEMEDIA returns to GRB’s own Peter Martin Wege Theatre. The first of two programs in the series, MOVEMEDIA I runs March 13-15 and will feature four works that stem from their choreographer’s personal experiences but also speak to universal themes of conflict, disappointment and reflection.
The MOVEMEDIA series created by GRB artistic director Patricia Barker seeks to open the company’s audiences to the contemporary dance of today by offering select choreographers from around the globe the opportunity to create new work or expand/rework existing ones. Past choreographers in the series have included Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Olivier Wevers and Robyn Mineko Williams.
In recreating his 2009 work “One Charming Night,” Israeli/Dutch choreographer Sagi Gross, artistic director/choreographer of Amsterdam-based Gross Dance Company, says he developed a shorter 20-minute version of the work using nine dancers but that contains more dances. The first of two of his works on the program, “One Charming Night” explores Gross’ conflicted feelings over military actions in the Middle East as well as what he feels are “generalizations in overheated debates in the media” about that region.
Set to music by Henry Purcell, Oum Kulthoum and Max Richter, the work utilizes Gross’ own brand of articulated contemporary dance movement that blends a mix of dance styles with twitchy gestures and exaggerated pedestrian movement. The work also makes use of video projections created by Gross including a green moon that during the piece distorts and morphs into an exploding tank shell from a night shoot of a military ground offensive. That image ties into the work’s ironic title taken from the lyrics in Purcell’s opera “The Fairy-Queen” which reads “One charming night gives more delight, than a hundred lucky days.”
Gross, who began choreographing at age fifteen, says his path to becoming a choreographer began as far back as age three when listening to classical music with his mother and seeing moving images and colors in his head. The avant-garde choreographer in addition to creating works for his own company has worked with Israel’s Bat-Dor Dance and Dede Dance Companies and The Netherlands Opera House.
For the world-premiere of his second work on the MOVEMEDIA I program, “Strings,” Gross turned to an unfinished 2012 work that featured dancers from the English National Ballet.
“I had a vision of a ballerina getting electrified (electrocuted),”says Gross.
The 8-minute pas de deux set to music by Franz Schubert will be danced by GRB’s Yuka Oba and Ednis Gomez and plays with images of a ballerina in pointe shoes whose shaky movements go beyond what is expected.
Says Barker of Gross’ two works: “They are going to be bold and audiences will be both challenged and entertained.”
Joining Gross on the program will be award-winning choreographer Gina Patterson. The Texas-based choreographer has created over 80 original works in her career for companies such as Atlanta Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Nashville Ballet and Ballet Austin. Her new work for GRB “To the River,” in collaboration with folk-pop Americana singer-songwriter Peter Bradley Adams is about letting go she says. “We (she and Adams) saw the piece as sort of a solitary expression,” says Patterson. “The river is a place to contemplate life’s questions.”
The 15-minute work for eight men and six women continues Patterson’s affinity for creating dance works connected to and inspired by nature. “To the River” gets its name from a haunting 2013 tune written and sung by Adams and Caitlin Canty that is used as a jumping off point for the rest of the original music used and visual imagery contained within the work. A series of duets, quartets and overlapping of stories flow like a river throughout the piece, appearing and disappearing into silvery darkness.
Rounding out MOVEMEDIA I’s offerings will be Ballet BC (British Columbia) dancer/choreographer Andrew Bartee’s new work for GRB, “People are disappointing thank you.” The 17-minute ballet for thirteen dancers in tennis shoes set to music by Peter Hansen, Alva Noto and Nils Frahm is about being “disappointed with people at all different levels,” says Bartee.
Grand Rapids audiences may remember the 24-year-old Washington-native’s ballet “Arms That Work” that GRB performed in 2013’s MOVEMEDIA.
Says Bartee, named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2015, “I love coming here (GRB), it is such an exciting environment in the studio and everyone works so hard and will literally try anything.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by all of the program’s choreographers and one that is sure to pay dividends to the program’s audiences.
Grand Rapids Ballet presents MOVEMEDIA I, 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, Saturday, March 14 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 15. Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth Ave SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan. $12-25. (616) 454-4771 or grballet.com.