After leaving Pacific Northwest Ballet, former principal dancers Olivier Wevers and Patricia Barker followed similar if geographically separate paths. Wevers became artistic director of Whim W’him, a company that he founded in Seattle, while Barker relocated to Michigan in 2010 as the artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet. Now the two are back together in Seattle, with Barker’s company performing Wevers’ whimsical interpretation of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" this week at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center. Grand Rapids Ballet also will dance a mixed repertory program called "Movemedia" consisting of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s "Written & Forgotten," Penny Saunders’ "Slight," David Parsons’ "The Envelope," and Mario Radacovsky’s "Beethoven’s 5th."
Barker went on to describe “Slight” as the choreographer having “a lot of fun playing and experimenting with light and shadows and the final product is a wonderfully imaginative ballet.” Radacovsky’s piece was first performed by Grand Rapids Ballet last season while Parson’s “The Envelope” will be making its Seattle premiere with these performances. “I’m very excited to bring this entertaining ballet to the West Coast,” said Barker.
Barker specifically commissioned Wevers to create “Midsummer Night’s Dream” for her company. “The partnership Olivier and I had on stage and now off has been that of creativity, support and fun,” she said. “I also think him to be a very talented choreographer with a unique voice. His work in ‘Midsummer’ is fun and inventive. ‘Midsummer’ is our second commissioned work by Oliver. He loves our dancers and we all trust his many talents.”
With 20 dancers in the cast, this also is a larger piece for Wevers and a real opportunity for Seattle audiences to see his choreographic style applied to another company, she noted.
Under Barker’s leadership, the Michigan ballet company has presented 56 works by modern choreographers including George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, David Parsons, Jose Limon, Gerald Arpino, Ulysses Dove, and Kirk Peterson as well as commissioning new works by Mario Radacovsky, Wevers, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Robyn Mineko Williams and Brian Enos. The company’s Movemedia, launched in 2012, highlights new works that merge visual elements of sets, props, costumes, and lighting with digital technology and media to enhance the body in space.
As for Barker, she’s enjoying life backstage as much as performing leading roles at PNB. “The biggest difference is that I am responsible for so much more than just myself now,” she said. “As a dancer, I only needed to worry about myself and what I needed to do to be my very best. Now I have responsibilities not just to my dancers, but throughout the entire organization and a commitment to the greater dance world to commission works and support the next generation of choreographers.”
Barker also has been traveling to Europe as part of this mission, including a trip last month to the Czech Republic. “I staged George Balanchine’s ‘Serenade,’ the first Balanchine ballet ever presented by the National Ballet of the Czech Republic Brno. I’m always grateful for the opportunity to work with talented dancers and bring such an iconic American work to a ballet company,” she said. “Also on the program was Olivier’s ‘The Sofa.’ It’s a work that was commissioned by Grand Rapids Ballet in 2012 and has been performed in Grand Rapids, Seattle, New York and now Brno.”
Coming back to the city that served as her dance home for more than 25 years is exciting, she said. “I want the Seattle audience to see what I’ve been up to for the past five years and I want to show off my dancers and the wonderful commissioned works we are proud to have produced.”
Grand Rapids Ballet performs Oct. 7 to 11 at the Cornish Playhouse, 201 Mercer St. “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” will be danced Oct. 7 through 9. "Movemedia" will be performed Oct. 10 and 11. For more information, see the company’s website.