Immediately following his release from Rhode Island Hospital on Wednesday, Jordan Nelson’s first stop was, you guessed it, Festival Ballet Providence. The hit-and-run biking accident several weeks ago may have left him with a broken clavicle and fractured skull, but it did not take away his determination to keep dancing.
Arm in a sling but eyes bright as ever, Jordan stepped into the studio for an emotional reunion. As he approached his usual position at the barre, Nelson broke into tears of joy, explaining just how much it meant to be back in the studio again.
While slowing practicing some doctor-approved pliés, Jordan opened up about his intense work to improve his physicality and technique throughout the month of June, and the hardest part of being in the hospital for eighteen days: not moving. In typical dancer fashion, Jordan is already planning his gradual return to training, one step at a time.
Jordan’s got his sights on the upcoming season, FBP’s 40th Anniversary. “There’s still so much work that we have to do, and only a few months left to prepare. I can’t believe I am able to get back to doing everything that I love with all of these dancers that I’ve been able to work so hard with this past year,” Nelson beamed, adding “we’re going to get to show audiences what we are capable of as a company, to an extent that I don’t think they’ve seen before.”
Jordan is certainly looking forward to the next few months, but in his not so distant future? “Seven Stars for a ginger biscuit, of course.” Pliés and pastries, just what the doctor ordered.
Danielle Davidson, one of the area’s most respected local contemporary dancers and one-half of the groundbreaking duo “Doppelgänger Dance Collective” joins the faculty of FBP’s Summer Dance Intensive 2017, which starts next week. The four-week training program is the perfect venue for Davidson’s unique choreographic style, based in classical ballet but with a contemporary flare all her own. We asked FBP School student Mizuki Samuelson to sit down with Danielle and learn about her backstory and what inspires her choreography and teaching.
Hi Danielle! To start, how did you get involved in dance?
I started dancing really late compared to most. I was 12, when I discovered dance. My parents had me try out many sports: soccer, bowling, baseball. I hated it! And I was afraid of the ball. I would be spinning and swirling out in the field. One day, a friend at school told me about this dance class she was taking–a jazz class. I was interested so I begged my mother to sign me up. On my first day, the teacher was like “Oh you have a lot of potential. We’re gonna put you in ballet and in the performance group, tomorrow.” And I fell in love. Immediately, yeah.
So once you started taking classes, did you go straight to a professional school to train?
The training I was doing age 12 – 14, was at an amateur after-school program. It was Cecchetti ballet, jazz, modern. I went many nights a week because I was crazy about it. But I realized right away I wanted to do this professionally. So I auditioned for L’École Supérieure de Danse du Québec because I speak French and because the program offered full scholarships. I was 15 when I moved away from home and, yeah, living in an apartment with a couple other dancers…that was my teenage life.
When did you first start working with contemporary dance?
When I was about 21, 22. The transition was difficult. I didn’t know anything about floor work. [Laughs] I was so bad. Just dropping my bones into the floor. There is a professional series in Montréal programming at Circuit-Est. I basically taught myself by attending class daily for 2 or 3 years, Monday through Friday, every morning I’d show up to those classes, and mangle my way through. It’s a really elevated program and I just learned through practicing. I found that there was a lot more acceptance about your depth of physicality, not that I don’t have a lot of it, hahha, but it just felt more…honest. And human, authentic, and accepting.
What other companies did you work with?
I worked with an opera company in Hamilton, Ontario with Renaud Doucet who’s a brilliant choreographer. There were six dancers. They paid to move me to Hamilton, they paid for my apartment, it was a luxurious position. We toured all over. It was my first real commercial [job]. We were treated like royalty. It was lovely. Big change from a ballet company where you, you know, you have to kind of fend for yourself.
Then I moved to Toronto and worked with a company called Ballet Espressivo, mostly neoclassical ballet. Lines were still appreciated but there was less of the old romantic ballet stories and more present day conflicts. Like some of the work that Festival Ballet Providence is doing now, like Viktor Plotnikov’s work.
In my 20s, I changed companies almost every other year. I was still trying to figure out where I belonged, who I was, what made sense for me. I started to realize that the prestige mattered less than the creative process itself. I realized that, the rehearsal process, the creation of new work was more important to me than the prestige of touring or dancing with a well-known company. And actually, to be honest, touring kinda sucks. When you’re living out of a suitcase, it sounds glamorous, but it sucks. You miss your cat, your friends, grocery stores.. etc.. I was happy to stop, after all my early 20s, traveling all the time. I wanted to settle down.
I went back to Montréal in 2006. I started working with Lina Cruz, with a company called Productions Fila 13. Lina makes dance-theater, so it was this whole new experience for me. I was actually a part of the creative process. Her work tours internationally, so it’s really well supported and the company– what I loved about that job, was that the members of the company were like friends, family, people that I cared about. We were a solid team.
So do you feel like when you returned to Montreal in 2006, that was the first time you found a company that was right for you?
Yeah, it was the first time I found a company that nurtured my spirit, that felt like home, and that the work was really weird [laughs] but in a really exciting way, it made sense for my personality. I performed in this one piece where we were on all fours, licking a mirror reflection of ourselves. A small company of about six dancers– three men, three women. We were all really featured, always a soloist, you weren’t just a number. I really love that company. Dance-Theater makes so much sense to me.
As a dancer, what was the transition like to becoming a teacher and a choreographer?
Well, right before my husband and I moved to Providence, my professional ballet school contacted me and said that they’d really love for me to come and teach. I was like [surprised look]. When I attended the orientation day it was so weird to be sitting on the side with the faculty, with people who had been my teachers. It changed everything about how I understand the dynamics between teaching and being a student. Like what it means to share your life experience and your life’s passion with people, especially younger than yourself, who perhaps don’t quite yet know themselves.
It became a practice, every class I taught I learned more about how to share the essence behind why we do a dégagé. What does it mean that your lower half is going out into the world? You know, like the conceptual and philosophical reasons to move our bodies in space. Where the joy is and where the pain is. All that stuff helped me better understand why I dance.
When they asked me if I would set a piece on the dancers, I thought , Wow. I mean I don’t know. Do you really think I’m capable?.. It was that they believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself. They trusted that I could do it, so I had to prove to myself and them that I could. It seemed that I had a gift for choreography.
I always thought I was a dancer. And I can see that in my future, I’m going to be more of a choreographer. I’m already headed down that path. But for right now it’s important that I dance, that I teach and that I choreograph because all three, they communicate with each other. My dance experience teaches me about teaching. And the teaching teaches me about choreography. And the choreography teaches me—they all speak to one another in this really cohesive way that reminds me how everything is connected. In the universe. We’re all connected. And it’s just a beautiful, spiritual experience to have, to have so many outlets to come together. I’m sorry, is this really esoteric? [Laughs]
How would you describe your choreography? What is your process like?
Well, it’s all over the place. I’ve made some pieces that are very movement vocabulary-based, that are almost like feats of technique and virtuosity. I’ve also made quiet works that are sparse and take their time in horizontal space. But the vocabulary itself is somewhere between contemporary release technique and neoclassical ballet. I’ll give my dancers a conceptual task and they will generate some material that I will then completely take apart [laughs] and re-frame, but there is still an essence of them left. I’ll give little hints about what I want their performative state to be, but I hope for them to want and to find the journey within the piece for themselves. As for conceptually what types of work I make… A lot of it is about identity, transformation, struggle, community, definitely community, anonymity. All the works I’ve done have in some way been about those concepts.
What’s it like to be a female choreographer in the male-dominated field?
I find that in order to not let that fact of life get me down, I use the knowledge of this inequality to empower me. That we as a society have men still being paid more than women in all jobs, that men are still being valued as more successful…. it’s a travesty. But, instead of seeing it like I’m a victim and I’m defeated by being a woman, I see it as a challenge for myself to be the best that I can be. Regardless of how society or the systems that are in place right now are set up, I feel it is my duty to continue striving to do my absolute best and to share that with the world in the best way that I can. I see that horrible inequality as an opportunity for me to grow, to speak my truth and to fight the systems in place.
Do you think being a woman has any influence on your own choreography?
Absolutely. I’m very interested in the ideologies of third wave feminism, and for example, the writings of Judith Butler. I think what’s important to me is equality, and justice, and the attempt to get as close to it as possible, in every climate and environment. Whether you’re a transgender individual or a straight white female, how you identify is what matters I think, that as humans we navigate life trying to remain true to ourselves and foster relationships of equality with everyone we encounter.. that’s what is important to me. So, I would say because I do identify as a woman, it’s glorious to know who I am and to be able to remain true to that. I wish that for everyone..That’s going to be a concept explored in our piece at Festival, definitely. (Editor’s Note: This new commissioned choreography for FBP’s Summer Dance Intensive will be performed at WaterFire on July 22 and at the FBP Black Box Theatre on July 29).
So would you say that your experience in theater informs your work as well?
Yeah, absolutely. The other thing is I’m an entrepreneur. Shura and I co-founded a company! And this is the magical transition that happened when I moved to Providence. When I was living in Montréal my husband was doing his B.A. When it was time to do his M.A. he said he wanted to transfer to a better known university. But I wanted to stay in Montréal. I loved the company I was working with, and I was happy. So he stayed for me, he stayed in Montréal for a few more years. But then he wanted to get his Ph.D. at an Ivy League university, so we moved to Providence.
I found a company in Massachusetts called Prometheus and I work with them. I just got lucky, finding a home, a family, a group of dancers that allow me to be part of the creative process, build the vocabulary, and work with guest choreographers. At the time, I didn’t feel that there was the type of dancing I wanted to do consistently here in Providence.
Then I met Shura Baryshnikov in a technique class and we just sensed the ‘doppelgänger-ness’ immediately. We sought out our dream choreographers, began fundraising, built Doppelgänger Dance Collective (DDC) from the ground up and it has been really successful! So, all this to say, I initially moved here thinking that my dance career was over, that I would be gardening and crying into my flowers, but then, this new opportunity came, to be an entrepreneur, to be a woman building a company. We’re doing really well and I would have never ever thought of co-founding or directing a dance company. I would have never wanted to do the administration and the websites and the learning about technical direction and production design and dealing with presenters and the media. All of that stuff, it was never something I wanted, but I’m loving it. I’m learning so much about this other side of dance- arts-administration, things that I would have never learned as just a member of a company. So, Providence, in that respect, has given me this thing that I would have never imagined for myself. A real gift in learning.
I was just going to ask about your company with Shura! So what would you say is the idea behind Doppelgänger Dance Collective?
The day Shura and I met, we just intuitively felt and knew that we’d met our match. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, we were at the same place. We were at the same age, we had a ton of different experiences and wisdom to bring to the table, but we were mirror reflections. We wanted to push ourselves and each other past our own limitations, breaking all boundaries and just being recklessly brave about what was possible for the arts community and for ourselves in Providence. We also wanted to foster the creation and performance of live music for our concerts, and give choreographers the opportunity to have their works presented, without having to self-produce. In a sense we are also curators. We’re doing it all. It’s crazy. I mean we have some help, we have a team of people who help us: a lovely intern, an amazing social media strategist, a technical director, etc.. but yeah… it’s crazy.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve worked on? Either your own choreography or things that you’ve danced.
I was a soloist in a piece choreographed by Thierry Malandain, the artistic director of Ballet Biarritz. He created a work for us called Gnossiènes, set to Erik Satie’s beautiful ‘Gymnopédies & Gnossiennes’ . I danced a trio with two men where I had to do this crazy acrobatic stuff. I was at once, a rabbit coming out of a magician’s hat, and also some sort of gymnast; I had to literally flip off the barre, I had to maneuver my hands on the barre as the guys swirled me around like a helicopter. The barre itself had on, one side the light and, on the other, the dark. I had to repeatedly try to get into the light because I was in the dark. It reflected the state of being or frame of mind, I was in at the time, and it just meant so much to me, emotionally, spiritually, physically… We performed that piece all over Europe, all over North America, that piece I have never stopped loving.
Danielle Davidson will teach a master class and choreographic workshop July 8-9 at Festival Ballet Providence. Click here to learn more.
Interview conducted by FBP School student Mizuki Samuelson. In the Spotlight series edited by Kirsten Evans and Dylan Giles.
On a given day, the Festival Ballet Providence studios would echo with sounds of music and dancing as rehearsals and classes unfold throughout the day. But recently, the sounds of power tools pierce through an eerie silence, as contractors replace old flooring and install new equipment and fixtures while the FBP company and school are mostly on break.
It’s all part of a multi-year renovation project that we are embarking on, to enhance the experience of our Black Box Theatre patrons, FBP School students, and company artists.
Goals for Phase I of the plan (September 2017 completion) include:
Black Box Theater lighting system overhaul
Audio system upgrade
State-of-the-art projection system for multi-media projects
Repairs to main corridor and theater entrance
Cosmetic and structural improvements to exterior
Replacement of dance floor in Studio 2
Subsequent phases are still in the planning process and will include even more expansive improvements to the building and infrastructure.
The Phase I renovations total $120,000 and about half of that is being subsidized by a Cultural Facilities matching grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) which allocates funds specifically for these renovation purposes. The funds originate from a 2014 Creative and Cultural Economy bond referendum, approved by Rhode Island voters. The bond focuses on the preservation of historical sites as well as the improvement and renovation of nonprofit artistic and performance centers throughout the state.
A post shared by Festival Ballet Providence (@festivalballetprovidence) on
But the grant requires 1:1 matching by the recipient organization, meaning we need the help of our audience and supporters to get us to our goal. Now through June 30, the first $59,552 in donations made to the “Cultural Facilities” capital campaign will be matched dollar-for-dollar.
The FBP studios and Black Box Theatre serve as a destination for artists and arts enthusiasts. This ambitious new undertaking will ensure its future as an artistic landmark for generations to come.
This weekend, FBP School will be holding a special fundraiser at Barnes & Noble in Warwick. Funds raised will go toward the Christine Hennessey Scholarship Fund, a need-based tuition assistance program for the FBP School. The fundraiser runs 10:00am-7:00pm on Sunday May 7, 2017 and continues online through May 11, 2017; you must mention the fundraiser at checkout.
Writing in the Dark, Dancing in the New Yorker By Arlene Croce
Arlene Croce is arguably the single best writer on dance in the 20th Century. Her insights were at once poignant and arresting, training a penetrating eye unlike any other on a rapidly changing art form.
This is a great book about choreographic icon George Balanchine. It’s a biography of sorts, told through the lens of his works, from the earliest surviving work Apollo (his eighty fourth piece of choreography!) to the blockbuster Jewels and the jaw dropping Ballo Della Regina. A concise encapsulation of a prolific choreographer.
An Evening with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (DVD)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs some of the works that have won them wide acclaim, including “Divining” and “The Stack-Up.” Music is provided by many artists, including Laura Nyro and Alice Coltrane.
Marissa Parmenter, Company Dancer, SDI Director, Interim Development Director
Dancing in the Wings
By Debbie Allen, Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)
Sassy worries that her too-large feet, too-long legs, and even her big mouth will keep her from her dream of becoming a star ballerina. So for now she’s just dancing in the wings, watching from behind the curtain, and hoping that one day it will be her turn to shimmer in the spotlight.
The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel
By Adrienne Sharp
Exiled in Paris, the frail, elderly Mathilde Kschessinska sits down to write her memoirs. A lifetime ago, she was the vain, ambitious, impossibly charming prima ballerina assoluta of the tsar’s Russian Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg.
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
By Michaela DePrince, Elaine Deprince
The extraordinary memoir of an orphan who danced her way from war-torn Sierra Leone to ballet stardom, most recently appearing in Beyonce’s Lemonade and as a principal in a major American dance company.
The Black Dancing Body: A Geography From Coon to Cool
By B. Gottschild
What is the essence of black dance in America? To answer that question, Brenda Dixon Gottschild maps an unorthodox ‘geography’, the geography of the black dancing body, to show the central place black dance has in American culture.
Before she gets to the ball, Cinderella will be coming to a library or bookstore near you!
We’ve got a fantastic lineup of workshops from Wakefield to Providence, all of them completely free and open to the public. Each workshop will include a reading of a Cinderella storybook, an interactive group dance, and a small craft that children can take home to remember the magical event. We hope to see you there!
Peace Dale: Thursday May 11, 10:30am – Peace Dale Library (1057 Kingstown Rd., Peace Dale RI 02879)
Special thanks to our outreach team led by Valerie Cookson-Botto and to the libraries and bookstores for helping make these workshops possible. Don’t forget to get your tickets for Cinderella, May 12-14, 2017 at The Vets!
Boyko Dossev is a man of many talents. You may have seen him on stage as Romeo in Romeo & Juliet last February. This time he’s taking on the role of choreographer, one he has had a few times previously creating charming ballets like Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood, and Little Red Riding Hood. We sat down with Boyko to get all the inside scoop on his newest creation for FBP’s chatterBOXtheatre series, The Little Prince.
Hello Mr. Choreographer! The story of The Little Prince is special to many people. What was it that drew you personally to this story?
I’ve always wanted to choreograph a ballet based on Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince. This is one of those stories that carry wisdom in just a few pages. It continues to inspire children and adults all over the world. It is symbolic, sad, poetic and at the same time full of hope. The Little Prince reminds us what is truly important in times of great challenge. The journey of The Little Prince is one that we all are having and I wanted through my interpretation of the book, once again, to remind adults about the kids they once were and to help kids to never forget what it’s like to be a child.
That’s beautiful- but also complex. What are some of the challenges in telling this story? What are some of the rewarding aspects?
The main challenge when you are telling a story like this through choreography is translating the incredible words of wisdom and then communicating these messages without compromising their meaning and integrity. It is challenging to create a ballet that can convey Exupéry’s main idea through movement, while also allowing children and adults have a wonderful time. This is the main challenge, to communicate the spirit of the book successfully in less than 35 minutes.
That is a daunting task! But we are so lucky to have incredible music to help us tell the story. Can you tell us a bit about where the music for this ballet came from?
I am very lucky to have a very dear friend, Geneviève Leclair, who connected me with the French-Canadian composer Maxime Goulet. His music is perfect for this project and although it was not written especially for The Little Prince, every single note seems to be as if we have collaborated for years to create the perfect score for my choreography. Maxime is remarkably talented composer and I feel extremely honored and grateful that he agreed to work with me on this ballet.
Do you have any favorite aspects of the ballet so far?
My all-time favorite part will always be the process of creation and collaboration with the dancers. I wish we could have more time in the studios to explore and see where and how far we can take the story of The Little Prince.
I love that. As you mentioned earlier, this story has been around for quite some time. Can you tell us a bit about what makes your interpretation of The Little Prince unique?
I think what makes this interpretation of The Little Prince special is the way dancers tell Exupéry’s story through their own sensitivity and experiences. I can create the steps and different effects to try to tell the story, but is the dancers who bring their characters to life and make them real. This is what will tell the story in a unique and exciting way.
Another interesting thing about this version of The Little Prince is that you’ve decided to use multimedia in the show, including video and audio collaboration. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Everything started with one of the company dancers, Jacob Hoover, creating an origami elephant out of scrap paper during in his free time during a break at the studio. In fact, he created few of them and this inspired me very much. I envisioned how we could create an animation, like when I was a kid, without the help of all the Hollywood type of technology. I wanted it to be very basic but at the same time captivating to the imagination.
I asked Jacob to create a bigger elephant, a snake, a rose, a fox…I wanted them all. At this time of the development process, I asked another company dancer, Ty Parmenter, to come on board and help us film. I wanted to have a stop-motion video of the paper elephant and a boa constrictor swallowing the elephant to represent the beginning of the story. To my surprise, both Ty and Jacob didn’t think I was crazy and agreed to work with me!
Thanks to company dancer Eugenia Zinoveva’s boyfriend, Jon Gourlay’s help we were able to get a green screen and start to experiment. All of this led to the idea to have Jacob’s mother, Michele Gutlove, (also a phenomenal glass artist) create some sketches of The Little Prince and integrate them into the media. She made some fantastic images, her work as an artist is so inspiring.
Here is a gallery of some of Michele’s watercolors:
But we didn’t stop there…
My colleague and good friend Viktor Plotnikov, whose Carmen is opening the same weekend as The Little Prince, helped me with the sets, which became an integral part of the entire multimedia project. At the end, we recorded some narration as well, done by Ms. Valerie Tutson. Ms. Tutson’s voice and artistry added another dimension and sensitivity to the ballet.
Finally, Misha called up Barnaby Evans, creator of Providence’s acclaimed WaterFire installation. His iconic star lanterns were the perfect “cherry on top” of the vibrant scenery and imagery.
Wow, so it was a collaborative effort! The dancers, staff, and community at FBP are so multi-talented.
I feel very fortunate to have all these recourses available to create The Little Prince. Misha’s support, guidance, and trust in every step I made were essential. I feel very lucky to collaborate with all these amazing artists and dancers. I am very excited to see all of the elements of The Little Prince come together. A story as complex as The Little Prince is hard to interpret in the theater. I needed to do something that would help me tell the story right, something that would add to the choreography in a way that could transmit to our youngest audience the beauty, the wisdom, and the sensitivity of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince.
Thank you so much, Boyko!
The Little Prince concludes next weekend, but it’s almost completely sold out. Call 401-353-1129 to be added to a stand-by waiting list.