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By Steve Sucato
Patricia Barker reinvents Michigan’s ballet troupe.
GRBC in Olivier Wevers’ The Sofa. Photo by Ron McKinney, Courtesy GRBC.
Grand Rapids Ballet Company is experiencing a renaissance. An ambitious new repertoire, record-breaking sold-out performances, and a renewed local buzz have revitalized the 41-year-old company. Its resurgence came about with the arrival of former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Patricia Barker as the company’s new artistic director in 2010. In just a few seasons, the first-time director has taken GRBC from a little-known regional ballet company to one making inroads into the national and international dance scene.
Barker built on the foundation laid by her predecessor, Gordon Peirce Schmidt, that included a troupe of 14 dancers (now 24), a thriving school, and the Meijer-Royce Center for Dance that houses studios, administrative offices, and the 300-seat Peter Martin Wege Theatre. When Schmidt left, he took with him the 50-plus ballets he created for the company, so Barker has focused her attention on building a new repertoire. Her well-received mix of cutting-edge contemporary ballets by choreographers like Brian Enos and Olivier Wevers, and masterworks by Balanchine, Taylor, and Parsons, has allowed her to accelerate her vision for the company. As Michigan’s only professional ballet company, GRBC has also become a touring ambassador for the city of Grand Rapids and the state. This past July, GRBC dancers performed in Austria in a joint production with Balet Bratislava.
Continuing the high caliber of the new repertoire, GRBC’s upcoming programs include a Romeo & Juliet by Mario Radacovsky, former director of the Ballet of the Slovak National Theatre; Balanchine’s Who Cares? and Four Temperaments; and Gerald Arpino’s exhilarating Light Rain, along with several new works.