When you think of ballet in Seattle, one name is sure to immediately jump into your mind: Patricia Barker. Seattleites were blessed with the gift of having Ms. Barker on the stage at the Pacific Northwest Ballet for 27 glorious years, reveling in her journey as a fast rising star from her early days with the company to growing into an iconic ballet goddess. I’m sure I speak for all of her fans when I say our hearts broke a bit when we had to say goodbye to her in 2007 when she hung up her toe shoes and retired from performing. Well, let the healing begin, because the legend is back, people! Patricia Barker is coming back to Seattle next week with Grand Rapids Ballet in a role we’ve never seen from her before in the Northwest: Artistic Director!
At Grand Rapids Ballet, Ms. Barker found a new home, and a new stage to wow audiences on, only this time from the director’s chair where, for the past five years, she has brought together dancers and choreographers to create mesmerizing movement out of innovative concepts. Any ballet company would have been lucky to have Ms. Barker at the helm, so when asked what it was about Grand Rapids Ballet that made her want to call it home for this next chapter of her career she said, “There is a hunger here for new and innovative art. Because of the support from our audience and the community, I have been able to push my own boundaries as an Artistic Director by continually challenging myself to find and bring in the best talent that there is out there.”
She not only found amazing talent within her company (I’m speaking of course, of the exquisite dancers she works with every season), but she also shares her stage with choreographers from all over the world. These brilliantly creative people come to Michigan to collaborate with her dancers to, in her own words,“…build a breathtaking repertory full of innovation, passion and humor that is both bold and daring.”
Collaboration was always evident with Ms. Barker as a performer, bringing to life one captivating role after another, so I’m not surprised at all that she continues this tradition of bar raising excellence as an Artistic Director. You would see Ms. Barker dance iconic roles like Odette or Titania, and know that you’d never see it quite like that on any other dancer. There was a consistent strength, connection, and unique sense of style in her movement that could never be replicated. Patricia Barker had a resounding voice as a performer, and I’ve no doubt she’s instructing and inspiring the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers to find their own voices within their movement and to, if you’ll indulge the metaphor, harmonize beautifully with all the choreographers who show up to create new works with them.
“The success of these choreographers is largely due to the dedication and passion and talents of my dancers, who work with them to bring inspiration and ideas to life on stage.”
~Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet
It’s those collaborations that Seattle audiences are finally going to get to see when Grand Rapids Ballet arrives next week to perform works by five internationally renowned choreographers, in two parts, over a five-day extravaganza of creativity and passion.
First up will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by Olivier Wevers, Artistic Director of my favorite Seattle-based Dance Company, Whim W’Him. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Mr. Wevers, and a proud ‘Whimmer’ (which is the name they have adorably given us supporters of their company), but I have been a fan since I saw him dance, alongside Ms. Barker, in many ballets at the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Knowing that he is a part of Ms. Barker’s return to Seattle just makes me all the more excited for her production to arrive!
This is not the first time Mr. Wevers and Ms. Barker have collaborated on this story as they danced it many times together at Pacific Northwest Ballet. So, for Ms. Barker to commission Mr. Wevers to choreograph a completely new version on her company seems like a match made in heaven. Mr. Wevers and Ms. Barker have collaborated during her time at Grand Rapids Ballet twice before Midsummer, but this is the first full length piece Mr. Wevers has done for her.
Patricia and I constantly exchange ideas with each other. She is willing to take risks, and I love working with her because she truly sees the future of dance.
~Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director, Whim W’Him Dance Company
Two of my favorite PNB dancers of all time joining forces again, this time as the creative genius team reinventing one of my favorite stories makes me so happy, I can’t even tell you! Barker meets Wevers meets Shakespeare? A holy trinity of creativity, if ever there was one, and my jubilation level of anticipation is through the roof! So, what can we expect with this modern Midsummer? From Ms. Barker herself, we can expect mesmerizing movement and sophisticated humor.
“Olivier and I have a special relationship that stretches back to our days of dancing together at PNB. Creating a contemporary twist on something as classic as Shakespeare with my close friend has been exhilarating. Olivier’s choreography is truly mesmerizing and his ability to tell a story with sophisticated humor is exceptional. My dancers have unique perspective now on this story which I know will carry over the footlights into the audience.”
I had the pleasure of discussing this piece with Mr. Wevers tonight, and the concept and design are so fascinating, so intriguing and new, I cannot wait to see his vision come to life! I don’t want to say too much, because spoiler alerts are never fun, but one view of the teaser video, reinforces that this ain’t your grandmother’s Midsummer! No, this is, in fact, a modern, whimsical spin told from the perspective of the young changeling boy Oberon and Titania fight over throughout the story. A character, if you have never seen the play staged, that often gets overlooked and ignored based on the way Shakespeare wrote it. Mr. Wevers, however, has merged the changeling boy with the character of Nick Bottom giving this character a new voice and a unique journey from inside the imagination of a young child as his dreams of his adult self come to life. Mind already blown, and I havne’t even seen it yet!
Set on the backdrop of America politics with lighting by the brilliant Michael Mazzola (Wevers and Mazzola are a dream team as you’ll recall from my review of Whim W’him’s 2015 Choreographic Shindig), this is going to be an extraordinary piece you will not want to miss! This audience member cannot wait to have the energy and creativity spill over the footlights into the Cornish Theatre, and you should all join me!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays Oct 7-9, 2015 at the Cornish Playhouse, and you can get tickets on Brownpaper Tickets.
And if that is not enough to have you heading over to Brownpaper Tickets to get your seats, then how about part two of Ms. Barker’s triumphant return to Seattle? It comes in the form of a mixed rep production called MOVEMEDIA | Seattle, and it features works by four internationally renowned choreographers. To tantalize your dance loving taste buds, here is how Ms. Barker describes each work and why she chose this show as the first one to bring to the Pacific Northwest:
“It was important to me to not only pick ballets that Seattle will enjoy but also ballets that represent our inventiveness as a company.
Our next ballet, Mario Radacovsky’s Beethoven, premiered on our stage last season to audience acclaim. In the middle of the ballet, there is a powerful orchestra section, interpreted through dance, which speaks volumes to the genius of Beethoven.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a star in the dance world. When WRITTEN & FORGOTTEN premiered in Grand Rapids, audience members left the theatre dancing down the aisles. Her ability to discuss the human journey through dance is something I feel privileged to share with audiences in Seattle.
Lastly, David Parsons’ The Envelope is a modern masterpiece that has been performed by ballet companies all over the world… but never in Seattle. I feel honored to bring this humorous and creative work to the West Coast.”
This will be my first exposure to these four choreographers, but based on the delicious way Ms. Barker described these pieces, I think my fellow Seattle dance enthusiasts and I are in for quite a treat!
MOVEMEDIA | Seattle plays Oct 10-11, also at the Cornish Playhouse, and tickets can be purchased at Brownpaper Tickets. Take a look at the teaser video of this amazing body of work!
Born and raised in Washington State, Seattle was Ms. Barker’s home for a long time and it holds a special place in her heart. She returns to Seattle to share with us the work she’s done with Grand Rapids Ballet, and also seems quite excited to share Seattle with her company of dancers. I have absolutely no doubt that this will not only be a successful introduction, but will be the start of a beautiful, life-long friendship between our great city and the exquisite ballet company of Grand Rapids, all thanks to the legendary creativity and vision of Ms. Patricia Barker who so graciously and enthusiastically is bringing her passion to share with us. And I, for one, am humbled and honored to be a part of it.
Ciao for now,
Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet and grballet.com