Among the many unique and wonderful things Grand Rapids is able to proudly claim as our own is the Grand Rapids Ballet, Michigan's only professional ballet company. Celebrating 50 years in 2022, GRB's artistic achievements throughout the community are vast, having lifted the human spirit through the art of dance over many years—and especially during the pandemic.
We caught up with James Sofranko, Artistic Director, and Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director, as they look ahead to introducing new audiences to the joy of dance over the next 50 years.
GRB's 50th Anniversary spans two seasons, the 2021-22 season and the 2022-23 season, with celebrations beginning in February as the Company returns to DeVos Performance Hall for Cinderella, taking place February 25-27. Later this spring, the company will perform Jumpstart 2022 at its own Peter Martin Wege (PMW) Theatre, and A Midsummer Night's Dream in April, also at PMW.
The 50th Anniversary performances will also include a performance in October, which will be announced at a later date, and will conclude with The Nutcracker in December 2022 at DeVos.
"As we celebrate 50 years at Grand Rapids Ballet, we are humbled by the years of collaboration, support, and impact the West Michigan community has had on dance and the arts," said Glenn Del Vecchio, Executive Director, Grand Rapids Ballet. "We are a shining example of what can be accomplished when the community comes together!"
Grand Rapids Ballet was created in a studio in the 1960s under the direction of Sally Seven. After a highly successful production of The Nutcracker in 1972, the board of directors and the Grand Rapids Civic Ballet Company, a nonprofit corporation, was formed. In 1983, former principal dancers with the Joffrey Ballet, Charthel Arthur and Robert Estner, visited Grand Rapids to expand the city's established Summerfest program, which led to an expansion of accredited dance programs and experiences.
Following its first full-length ballet, Cinderella, at DeVos in 1987, Grand Rapids Ballet hired its first contracted dancers in 1991, leading to today's fully professional company, including 19 company members plus trainees and apprentices. Over its 50-year-history, GRB has been led by various artistic directors, including Charthel Arthur, Gordon Peirce Schmidt, Patricia Barker, and currently, James Sofranko.
"I am very excited to be kicking off our 50th anniversary year with a Grand Rapids Ballet premiere production of Cinderella, the same ballet that was so integral to our growth as a professional company 35 years ago," said James Sofranko, Artistic Director at Grand Rapids Ballet. "As a professional dancer myself and now as an artistic director with the responsibility to usher the art form into the future, I recognize that all of our current programs would not be possible without the contributions of countless individuals who paved the way before us."
The organization's name has changed over the years, from the Youth Symphony Ballet Company to Grand Rapids Civic Ballet to Grand Rapids Ballet; and with those name changes came further leaps and achievements, including ongoing collaborations with local and statewide arts organizations to create performance opportunities, and a longstanding partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, creating opportunities for students to see lecture demonstrations, take classes and attend performances.
"Grand Rapids Ballet has reached a level of local and national prominence, and as we emerge from the pandemic, I sense that we are on the verge of even greater things, on and off the stage," said Sofranko. "I am so proud to lead this company at this exciting moment in our history, and I hope that the entire West Michigan community is aware of the world-class ballet company that exists right here in our own backyard."
In addition to being Michigan's only professional ballet company, the organization has had its own school since 1988, when the School of the Grand Rapids Ballet was formed. Over time, the name transitioned to Grand Rapids Ballet School (GRBS), led today by Attila Mosolygo, which now includes over 250 students. GRBS has continued to grow, offering a satellite program in Holland, creating its Adaptive Dance Program, which boasts the therapeutic power of dance for children and adults with disabilities, beginning its Dance Immersion Program that serves students from Grand Rapids and Forest Hills public schools, and establishing a partnership with the KROC Center.
"I am incredibly proud as I look at all the achievements accomplished and the growth that the school has made over the years," said Attila Mosolygo, GRBS Director and Junior Company Artistic Director. "I am honored to lead the Grand Rapids Ballet School, as we continue to offer dance education and performances to the community."
Throughout 2022, the organization will host an array of celebratory events, including an alumni weekend in April, and a Golden Anniversary Gala in October at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.
GRB is also calling on patrons, dancers, and the local community to celebrate this milestone by asking the question: "How has Grand Rapids Ballet lifted your spirits?" and sharing their experiences using #GRB50 on social media.
Take a moment to watch the video below to get a brief history of Grand Rapids Ballet:
Courtesy of West Michigan Woman.
Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet.