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April 15, 2011, By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk

The Grand Rapids ballet

When people talk about the "The Nutcracker" ballet, the person they generally associate it with is Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In fact, a couple of writers and choreographers also contributed to the piece that debuted in 1892 in the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
Meanwhile, in the United States, George Balanchine'schoreography made "The Nutcracker" the Christmas tradition it is today.

Of the performing arts, ballet is second to none as a team effort. In Forest Hills Fine Arts Center this weekend, Grand Rapids Ballet Company will premiere the latest work by artistic director Gordon Peirce Schmidt.

But the creation of "Tatyana" really is the work of two Schmidts.
Schmidt's principal collaborator is his brother, pianist Kimberly Schmidt, who will accompany the performance, playing music by Brahms, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Liszt.

"Tatyana" is based on the novel "Eugene Onegin" by Russian author Alexandr Pushkin, a story that became the basis for a successful opera by Tchaikovsky.

The Schmidt brothers' ballet, however, uses nothing of Tchaikovsky's music.
We purposely wanted to stay away from that, -Kimberly Schmidt said. The Tchaikovsky is great, but we felt wed go in another direction.

In Pushkin's story, Onegin spurns the affections of a young woman, Tatyana, only to fall in love with her later and be rejected by her. "They change their attitudes. They flip-flop," Gordon Peirce Schmidt said.

The ballet stars Gaiane and Akop Akopian as Tatyana and Eugene Onegin. Kateryna Derechyna portrays Tatyana's sister, Olga, and Nicholas Schultz dances the role of Onegin's friend Lensky, who is engaged to Olga. Stephen Sanford plays Prince Gremin, Onegin's cousin, who becomes Tatyana's husband after Onegin rejects her.

"This is not epic-scale, ballet storytelling," Gordon Peirce Schmidt said. "But it's pretty clear who's with whom and why."

The brothers spent months going through "piles and piles of music," as Kimberly Schmidt put it, to match the story, the characters and the special talents of the company's dancers, to create "Tatyana."

"This is all music I love deeply and that Gordon feels strongly about," he said.

As a youngster, Kimberly Schmidt studied dance until he fractured a collarbone while playing outside. While he was recovering, his dance teacher closed her studio, and he never returned to dancing. "I never was an accomplished dancer," he said with a laugh. "Feeling I get when I accompany the ballet".

Gordon Peirce Schmidt, who became the first American dancer to receive a full-time contract with the Vienna State Opera Ballet in Austria, played violin as a child, though he eventually gave it up. "I just moved on," he said.

Though he has been affiliated with GRBC since 1998, his professional relationship with his brother goes back even farther.

"We've worked together at least 20 years," Kimberly Schmidt said.

Pushkin's 19th century story will be told to 19th century music, all performed by Kimberly Schmidt at the piano onstage.

"In that sense, the piano will be part of the action," he said.

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