GRAND RAPIDS, Mi. — Arts have the power to change a community, to bring them together, engage and entertain. For a half century now, the Grand Rapids Ballet has awed audiences with their grace, athleticism and emotion. Today they are the only professional ballet company in the state, with a growing dance school and wonderful community programs. Now they’re hoping to bring west Michigan together to celebrate the milestone that is 50 years.
The Grand Rapids Ballet started with one dancer on the second floor of a department store back in the 1970’s. From those very humble beginnings, to today, 50 years later, this season is truly a celebration of how far they’ve come. Today the company is comprised of 32 dancers in their own 40,000 square foot theatre, Executive Director Glenn Del Vecchio says, “it really is a huge, huge leap from the early days to where we are.”
Today, this company pulls talent from around the world to west Michigan under Artistic Director James Sofranko. "We are Michigan’s only professional ballet company we are very proud of what we do here in the community.”
They are committed to lifting the human spirit through the art of dance, and the talent is captivating. Grand Rapids Ballet Board President, Leah Voigt says, "our dancers are first and foremost athletes -their bodies and their health and their strength is incomparable.” They work every day, eight hours a day, six days a week to perform for us, Del Vecchio says, "you just feel overwhelmed with the emotional connection that you make with the dancers.”
It's an artistic opportunity anyone can appreciate. Del Vecchio says, "the athleticism, the beauty of the storytelling, the drama, the magic and the music all coming together. It really is for everybody."
And the reason for the success, the longevity and the growth of this company all points to one thing – community. “I think you get the best of both worlds when you have a city the size that we are. But we also really cultivate the arts here with the symphony, the art museum and ballet -- those things are the types of things that really make it more of a rich place to live and I think arts are so important to humanity,” Sofranko says.
This year, the Grand Rapids Ballet hopes to reflect and recognize how far they've come, while leaping forward into the next half century with bigger and better things, and Del Vecchio says everyone is invited. "We want the public to be a part of our 50th anniversary we are not here today without them. We stand on the shoulders of everybody who came before us. And we are so proud to represent west Michigan as Michigan’s own professional ballet company and represent the arts in our community, so we just want you all to be a part of it because we're going to have a heck of a year."
The first performance to kick off the 50th anniversary season is Cinderella, February 25-27 at DeVos Place. Incidentally, that was the first full length ballet the company ever performed in 1987. There will be plenty of other celebratory events all year long. For more information on tickets and events, head to https://grballet.com/.