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Introducing Grand Rapids Ballet's New Artistic Director, James Sofranko

James Sofranko in Paul Taylor's Company B with San Francisco Ballet. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

James Sofranko, longtime San Francisco Ballet soloist, will succeed Patricia Barker as Grand Rapids Ballet's new artistic director, effective July 1. Sofranko topped a list of 40 applicants from around the world to become only the fifth artistic director in GRB's 47-year history. The 38-year-old will continue his work with SFDanceworks, the Bay Area contemporary ballet company that he founded in 2014. Pointe spoke with Sofranko about his transition.

Had you been actively seeking an artistic directorship?

In a way. I had applied to two other places before to sort of test the waters. With my career at SFB nearing the end, I began thinking about it more and got excited about what I could potentially bring to a company such as Grand Rapids Ballet.


What do you feel you brought to the table that GRB valued?

I've worn a lot of hats in my career, and those experiences can be put to use at Grand Rapids Ballet. I'm a choreographer, have been a fundraiser and have experience in programming and producing a dance season.

What is your vision for the company going forward?

I want to continue the focus the company has had on new works and have choreographers come in and experiment, but also bring a renewed energy in presenting classical ballets and full-lengths. I want to present great ballet pieces that Grand Rapids audiences will want to and need to see.

SFDanceworks has developed a following over the past few years. Will the company continue?

I plan to keep SFDanceworks alive and growing strong. It is an important company to have in San Francisco and a lot of people including myself would be very sad to see it go. Not only that, it will keep up my artistic exploration as well.

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

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Site Network
Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

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Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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