How the Grand Rapids Ballet Put a New Spin on The Nutcracker

Is The Nutcracker one of your yearly holiday traditions? This December, see it live at the Grand Rapids Ballet! Today, our guest blogger from Experience Grand Rapids shares how Michigan-born writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg and team put a new spin on an old favorite.

TheNutcrackerArtworkChris Van Allsburg, the East Grand Rapids native known for writing and illustrating books including The Polar Express and Jumanji, can add another credit to his impressive list. He, along with Tony and Emmy award winning set designer Eugene Lee and renowned choreographer Val Caniparoli, are giving new life to the Grand Rapids Ballet version of The Nutcracker under the direction of Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) Artistic Director Patricia Barker.

Barker is quite fond of traditions. She was a principal dancer in the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) production of The Nutcracker with set designs by children’s author Maurice Sendak. The lavish production became a holiday tradition in Seattle, and upon her arrival in Grand Rapids, she knew she wanted to create a similar tradition here.

Photo courtesy of The Grand Rapids Ballet

Photo courtesy of The Grand Rapids Ballet

It was Barker’s dream for a new Grand Rapids tradition that set the ball rolling. The Grand Rapids Ballet asked Van Allsburg to design The Nutcracker with his own vision two years ago. Although his daughter Sophia has danced the role of Clara with Festival Ballet Providence in Rhode Island, he still needed some “encouragement” from his wife Lisa along with friend and co-designer Eugene Lee to take on the project.

While Van Allsburg is not in Grand Rapids currently, Barker said he was an integral part in creating the aesthetic for this re-imagined production and is still involved. “I have been in conversation with Chris weekly, sometimes daily,” said Barker.

With the help of Barker’s German speaking husband, Barker and Caniparoli spent more than a year going over the E.T.A Hoffman story that The Nutcracker is based upon in its original German. And although the set design, production and costumes are all new, the heart of The Nutcracker remains the same.

Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Ballet

Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Ballet

Van Allsburg and Caniparoli were steadfast in their determination to focus on the original story of The Nutcracker. Eugene Lee also played a large role in ensuring from beginning to end the audience sees the complete story line of Clara coming of age and going through a wonderful adventure for all ages.

“We uncovered interesting nuances that have been lost over multiple translations such as architecture, clothing, embellishments, etc.,” said Barker. “But with that being said, there will still be recognizable plot lines from modern renditions of The Nutcracker.”

The spirit of The Nutcracker isn’t limited to Grand Rapids Ballet.

Opening Curtain - Photo courtesy of Grad Rapids Ballet

Opening Curtain – Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet

Hotels will be offering Nutcracker Season packages along with special “Land of Sweets” desserts and a Nutcracker Cocktail contest at participating restaurants and bars.

For a more behind the scenes look, from November 20-January 15 the Grand Rapids Art Museum will have original artwork on display illustrating the process of this amazing production, along with costumes and set models that will give insight on how a production goes from conception to stage.

So get your tickets and plan a trip to Grand Rapids to the world premiere performance of the largest production in Grand Rapids Ballet history starting December 12. You won’t be disappointed.

Have you ever seen a performance at the Grand Rapids Ballet? Tell us about it!

A Step-by-Step Guide to Experiencing ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids

ArtPrize 2014 kicks off in just a couple of weeks! Grand Rapids will hum with creative energy across three square miles of downtown as artists and visitors from around the world flock to display and view the artwork.

Photo courtesy of Experience GR

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

This world’s largest art competition boasts more than 4500 artists at 515 venues! If you’re heading to the event for the first time or want to see more of what the area has to offer, use this step-by-step guide for experiencing ArtPrize from Experience Grand Rapids.

The sixth year of ArtPrize®, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, returns September 24-October 12. The largest art competition in the country will feature over 1,500 international works of art throughout a three square mile area. What truly sets ArtPrize apart though is the fact your vote helps select one of the winners of the $200,000 grand prize.

To help make your ArtPrize experience the best it can be, we’ve gathered the top five insider tips from experienced ArtPrize visitors both in and outside of Grand Rapids.

Plan Your Day

Stick-to-it-tive-ness Richard Morse 2012

Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Visit the ArtPrize website to see all 1,536 entries and start planning your “must see” exhibits. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Android device, download the ArtPrize app to search for specific entries or discover art near you when you come to town. You can also vote through the app-no need to wait in line! If you can swing it, plan more than one day to visit. Grand Rapids is home to many hotels downtown and in outlying areas to meet your overnight needs.

Pick a Parking Spot

Getting to ArtPrize early in the day will give you the most parking options. There are many downtown surface lots to choose from, and the Monroe Center Ramp provides one free hour of parking if you arrive between 8 am and 6 pm. Downtown parking meters are free after 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and most meters are free Saturdays while all are on Sundays. Don’t carry change in your pocket? Create an account to pay for parking via your cell phone.

Bus in

Why drive your car into the city, when you can leave it at participating Meijer stores and ride the bus!? Starting September 17, you can pick up two ArtPrize wristbands for only $5 at participating Meijer stores.  These wristbands give you unlimited rides on all Rapid, DASH and Silver Line buses all 19 days of ArtPrize. Wristbands are also available at the HUB and all Exhibition Centers.

Avoid the Crowds…or Not

Photo by Amanda Baarmen

Photo by Amanda Baarmen

The early bird gets the worm and fewer people on the streets at ArtPrize. Getting to ArtPrize early especially on day one not only helps you beat the crowds, you may even get to meet a few of the artists and speak to them about their work. Another way to manage the crowds is to visit Monday-Thursday when crowds are significantly less. And if you are a member of Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) you can get into GRAM two hours before the public to see nearly 20 ArtPrize entries.

But there is also an upside to additional people; especially when many are in town for the same reason. Being surround by likeminded people enjoying art, Grand Rapids and such a unique event can add energy and excitement to your day. Instead of “fighting the crowds,” soak in the amazing vibe of ArtPrize as you wander around the city and take it all in.

Explore ArtPrize

There are many ways to discover ArtPrize. To take any guesswork out of your day, download a self-guided tour for families and small groups available August 29. Speaking of groups, it’s a good idea to tour in smaller groups of two to four. Having fewer people to keep together makes it easier to get around. Then make plans with a larger group at a restaurant downtown to compare notes!

Another helpful tip is to bring your bicycle. Bikes make it easier to get to outlying venues and simply see more art since you can get from one venue to another that much quicker. You can also park a bit farther out of the city and ride in to avoid any parking jams.

Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and clothes to ensure you can access any venue. It’s also a good idea to bring a sweater or dress in layers. The weather can be a bit unpredictable near the lakeshore!

Time to Eat

Brewery Vivant - Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

Brewery Vivant – Photo courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

While you are enjoying the cultural feast, it’s easy to forget to eat physical food. Luckily, with over 100 restaurants in the downtown area, finding a place for a bite and a beverage isn’t too hard.

Since Grand Rapids is Beer City USA, stop into one of the many brewpubs for a pint and a nice little lunch. Or grab something to go and eat outside in front of your favorite outdoor art.

Whichever way you decide to spend your time at ArtPrize, remember there is no one way to visit ArtPrize. Make the experience yours and have a blast.

Have you been to ArtPrize? Tell us your helpful tips and tricks for first-time ArtPrize visitors.

6 Reasons Grand Rapids is Lonely Planet’s Pick for Top 2014 Travel Destination

As you begin to plan your travels for the new year ahead, here are six reasons why Grand Rapids is Lonely’s Planet’s Top 2014 travel destination from Experience Grand Rapids

When Lonely Planet named Grand Rapids the #1 travel destination of 2014, citing its natural beauty and beaches, ArtPrize, and the local craft beer scene as a winning combination, West Michigan residents weren’t surprised. They already knew that Grand Rapids is a gem just waiting to be discovered by the rest of the world – and here’s why:

The art.

Grand Rapids has been home to the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park for almost 20 years. The park houses rotating exhibits, as well as its own collection, and continues to expand. In 2007, Grand Rapids kicked its commitment to art up a notch with the opening of the new $75 million Grand Rapids Art Museum, the first art museum in the world whose entire facility is built to LEED standards.

Of course, the event making the biggest splash today is ArtPrize. Named one of the Five Festivals You Won’t Want to Miss in 2013 by Time magazine, this open art competition with prize money totaling $350,000, attracts artists and visitors from across the globe.

The beach.

Just 30 minutes from 300 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, the beach is never out of reach for those who live and play in Grand Rapids. And not just any beach, but a stretch of white-sand shoreline featuring expansive blue waters and a portion of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America.

The beer.

From its designation as “Beer City USA” for the past two years running, to individual awards granted to some half a dozen if its breweries, Grand Rapids has earned its reputation as a beer-lover’s paradise. New breweries, focused on sustainability and crafting that just-right-draft open regularly, and what was formerly a little neighborhood spot, Founders Brewing Co., has grown up, expanded, and taken its place in the international spotlight.

The food.

Grand Rapids’ restaurant scene is flourishing. A farm-to-table scene rivaling that of a major metropolis; innovative partnerships between brewers, winemakers, and chefs; the long-established Fulton Street Market; and the new Downtown Market – a culinary treasure trove – all mean that local foodies never have to look far for fresh ingredients, inspiration, and a world-class meal.

Performances aplenty.

Looking for live music? Check out one of Grand Rapids’ venues featuring local, regional and national talent both established and up-and-coming, take in a performance from the top-notch Grand Rapids Symphony, or experience a production from the Grand Rapids Opera. If live theatre is your passion, you can see touring Broadway productions or watch a play staged by one of several local professional theatre companies or the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, one of the largest community theatres in the country.

The scenery.

Despite all Grand Rapids has to offer, while in the city you’ll never be far from the rolling hills and abundant trees and wildlife of Western Michigan. Nature lovers can quickly get out of the city and enjoy the lush greenery surrounding its borders, but even right downtown, nature is always within sight – and within grasp.

With all that waiting for you in beautiful West Michigan, now’s the time to take the Lonely Planet’s advice and plan your trip! See you in Grand Rapids.

Established in 1927, Experience Grand Rapids (EXGR) leads the marketing of Grand Rapids/Kent County as a premier convention & visitor destination providing a significant positive impact to the West Michigan economy. Previously named the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau, EXGR represents the second largest city in Michigan with over one million residents.