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Barker’s Ballet

Questions for Patricia Barker, artistic director for Grand Rapids Ballet Company.

already had a year with me, now they know someone else isn’t coming in to make a decision and judge them as artists. I think that settled everyone down a little bit knowing they won’t have to learn someone else’s way of working.


When you came in last year, the 2010/2011 season had already been announced. With Gordon Peirce Schmidt’s departure, the season had to be restructured. That was the most interesting part because I came and met with the board and staff to look at what was in the repertoire, and there was nothing. So without seeing the dancers, without knowing the audience and organization — just knowing about the community — I went and set a season.

How did you choose the pieces? I picked through works by renowned choreographers, proven works that I knew would be great for this community … some of my favorites to watch. When you stay with proven works by renowned choreographers, you can’t go wrong.

Was this a big career change for you? I had already been retired for four years and I was already doing this work. I was an artistic advisor for the Slovak National Ballet, and I’ve staged Balanchine ballets around the world – I was in Hungary for three months staging three of the ballets for the Hungarian National Ballet. I’ve traveled a lot doing exactly what I’m doing here, but I get to do everything in one place here.

Must be less stressful. It is. It’s nice not having to take all those flights all the time.

This past season had a record-breaking 19 sellouts. Was that a surprise? It wasn’t a surprise to me. I think it was a great energy boost for the organization and something that shows that dance does survive in Grand Rapids.


When did you start as a dancer? I started just like any other little girl. I was seven years old when I started dancing and it was the right fit for me – physically and mentally, it was something I excelled at. Everyone wants to excel at something, so I was lucky that my father put me into ballet.

What do enjoy about being a dancer as opposed to a teacher? They’re two very different roles. Dancers need to be dedicated because they need to be rested, they need to be well-nourished and in a heightened state of athleticism. You grab everything you can from people who help you. As a teacher and director, I need to divide my time between all those hungry artists and make sure everybody feels comfortable. What I like is I get to pass on the information I got from my coaches and teachers to the next generation.

What makes a good performance? When you leave a little of yourself onstage for the audience.

What do you mean by that? A connection with the audience is the most important. An audience member comes to support you. They already like you, they came, they took the time. It’s important to create a wonderful experience for an audience member as soon as they walk into our doors. They walk into our home; we’re gracious to them, they feel something magical when they come in.

Do you miss being onstage? I think I am still onstage. Each time my dancer goes out there, a little bit of me goes with them because of the coaching, because of the training and because I believe in them so much. n


ast August, Grand Rapids Ballet Company brought you in as interim director. Then, a few months ago, you were named the artistic di- rector. What does this mean for the company? The dancers relaxed a little bit because they had


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