A dancer, with back to the camera, poses on stage in front of a green image on a backdrop.

Animation students create images to accent Grand Rapids Ballet dancers on stage

Students in Julie Goldstein's animation class have had an opportunity this semester to create animations that will be projected onto the stage to accent the choreography of Grand Rapids Ballet dancers.

Their work will be part of the Ballet's Jumpstart Performance on March 25-27; information and how to purchase tickets is on the Ballet's website.

"This is something where students can have a high-impact learning experience," said Goldstein, assistant professor of film and video production.

An instructor, wearing a mask, talks with a student during a class.
Julie Goldstein, standing, works with students in the animation class.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

James Sofranko, artistic director for Grand Rapids Ballet, said for the company's 50th anniversary, he chose to highlight GVSU and other local organizations in the annual Jumpstart program, which is made up of all new works created by the Ballet's dancers. 

 This year, one of the dancers/choreographers, Emily Reed, worked with Goldstein's students to create a moving landscape that will then be projected on the backdrop of the stage while the dance is happening, creating a living scene for the dancers to inhabit, Sofranko said.  

 "I’m very proud of the work that Grand Rapids Ballet does, not only in presenting world-class ballet every year, but also throughout the community, and one of our partners through the years helping us create art and beauty for the city of Grand Rapids has been Grand Valley State University," Sofranko said. 

"Because all of the works in Jumpstart are brand new, I am always very excited to see what the final product will be on the stage, but I am even more interested this year to witness the collaboration between GVSU students and our professional dancers."

Goldstein said the goal of the animation work done by the students is to convey the emotion of the dancers in hopes of reaching on stage "a symbiotic relationship."

"When doing animation or any sort of projection for a performance, you don’t want to take away from the performance, you want to enhance the performance," Goldstein said. "There is a seamless effect that we want to create with the animation; you want it to seem like it belongs."

A student works on a piece of art by using a writing instrument and a screen. The student's hand is at the forehead.
A student, wearing a mask, draws a bird on the computer screen.
A student wearing a GV sweatshirt uses a writing instrument to draw on a screen.
Students work on creations during class. (Photos by Amanda Pitts)

Reed collaborated with students to help them understand the emotions or thoughts expressed at different parts of the choreography, Goldstein said. The process included creations done in class, thinking about the projection placement beforehand and then finalizing the layout during rehearsals.

Nature and birds are prominent features in the animations, and student Grace Spellman has been specializing in creating birds. Spellman, a film and video major, said she was inspired by the image of the birds "flapping their wings, almost like they're dancing, too."

She said she has concentrated mainly on creating hummingbirds, cardinals and seagulls. Spellman said she has enjoyed the collaborative, creative environment for this work.

"I definitely came into the film and video major interested in animation, because I love to draw and paint, and doing this solidified that for me," Spellman said. "I enjoy this kind of work, learning to work with others and receiving feedback."

Dancers sit in a half circle looking at a computer screen.
From left: Nigel Tau, Sarah Marley, Yuko Horisawa, Ednis Gomez and Emily Reed of Grand Rapids Ballet look at a computer screen during rehearsal.
A group of students watches rehearsal at the Grand Rapids Ballet.
The Grand Valley students look on during rehearsal.
Photos by Kendra Stanley-Mills

Hannah Barton, a graphic design major, said she took the animation class as an art elective, and is grateful for the experience. Inspired by the movement of the dancers, Barton has been creating animated lines that flow in the background.

She said this work is more free flowing than the more technical work of graphics, where she also feels like she has more control. "With animation, one wrong movement can throw it off and I have to restart," Barton said.

That's why this experience, which she said has stretched her creatively, will be useful in her career, she said.

"I'm glad to have the animation experience to take to other jobs," Barton said.

Four dancers perform on stage against a cube projected onto a blue backdrop.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills


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