One of the works being presented during Up Close on Hope this November is by award-winning choreographer Ty Parmenter, who is also a company dancer. This will be the fourth piece he has created for our Up Close on Hope series.
This work is most unique – a collaboration between Ty and local storyteller Valerie Tutson. Valerie has been entertaining and performing in schools for more than 25 years and is the founder of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers Association and the Funda Fest, a local storytelling festival. The choreography is set to Valerie’s rendition of an African folk tale of How We Got the Stars.
Ty said, “This collaboration began when Misha asked me if I’d be interested in working with text.” He continued, “I had been thinking about using narrative in my work, and thought it would be a great opportunity to work with a storyteller. Previously I had created a work using dialogue from an old movie and poem my sister had written, so I was all ears to hear what Valerie and I could do together.”
Valerie was thrilled to be working on this project with Ty. “I usually work alone, so I was excited about the opportunity to work with another artist. And this is great.”
Ty and Valerie met to listen to her recording of the story. She said, “I saw Ty’s brain go clickity-clickity-click.” She added, “I can’t wait to see what Ty is going to do with it, whether he’ll have a direct response to the story or an interpretation.”
Ty was also thrilled. He said, “It’s a beautiful story with lovely underlying themes about lightness and darkness, and there’s a wonderful line where Valerie says there’s always light on the other side.” Ty added, “Valerie’s recording is stunning – she has a phenomenal way of speaking.”
When asked about the process of creating a ballet set to text, Ty said, “Overall, the beginning process of choreographing to music or text is very much the same. I’m discovering that in the later stages of creating, the text wants you to be more intentional.” He continued, “With music, there are demands but with text, there’s only one way to interpret those words. On the other hand, as a choreographer, I try not to rely solely on the narrative, but to let the audience bring their own sensibilities to what they’re seeing.” Ty added, “This balancing act is quite a challenge, that’s what’s great about it.”
Explaining how the piece has been unfolding, Ty said that in the early stages of rehearsal, he didn’t play the story for the dancers. “I told them what they’re in for, that there would be no music.” Gradually, he started to introduce the words and elements of the text on top of the dancing so that the dancers could find their own connections.
The four dancers in the piece will perform to the recording with the exception of a special night when Valerie will perform the story live. Ty added, ‘It will be great for the dancers to perform to the recording, but also it will be great when Valerie is there live – her presence will add a whole other element. Who knows, she may not perform the story exactly the way she recorded it.”
Boyko Dossev, who has previously choreographed for FBP, is joining the resident company as a dancer and choreographer this season. We sat down with Boyko to learn a bit about his background, artistic philosophy, and more…
Hello Boyko! Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little about your training?
I completed my training at the National Ballet School in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was very fortunate to be taught by an artist that was the embodiment of the Renaissance man. As a dancer, he was the prince. As a teacher, he is the living encyclopedia of ballet. My training is based on the Vaganova method, but in my dancing, I have been influenced by the French method as well. This is largely because at the age of 17, I left Bulgaria to dance in France. After that, I danced in Germany as well.
You’re quite the globetrotter! What was your transition into your professional career like?
My transition into the professional career was quite a shock to me. I was 17, completed two years of training in just one year at school and was getting ready to join Le Jeune Ballet de France in Paris, France. This company was one of the most prestigious ballet companies for young dancers in the world at the time and I was very fortunate to be chosen to join it. The shock came on multiple levels. First it was cultural. Moving and adjusting to Paris was not simple. Although it is the most beautiful city in the world, I had difficulties integrating there. Then came the professional shock. This was the first time that I had to really fight for my roles and not just expect them because I was hard working and talented. Also, coming from a Vaganova school, where everything is much slower, it was really hard to adjust to the fast and bravura French technique. Nevertheless, this experience was important because I was exposed to new , style, dance, and choreography and it was when I started to grow as an artist.
It sounds like you’ve learned how to adapt to new settings quite well. So what has it been like coming from Boston Ballet to our much smaller company at FBP?
There are no small stages and no small companies. Yes, when talking about the physical size there are differences, but these are differences based on resources and not integrity, quality, innovation, or abilities. The audience is the same. The work is the same. Our goal is always to be the best we can be and to enrich our audience and our communities. These days, the competition is stronger than ever. Everywhere there are great dancers and great companies- doesn’t matter the size. What I love about FBP, though, is that as a smaller company it has the potential to grow big. It has the energy and the artistic integrity to further develop the art and dance scenes in Rhode Island and to become an influential, innovative art institution not only in New England, but in the States as well.
And we are so happy to have dancers like you to bring all of your artistic influence to Providence and help us grow. How has dancing in all of these different environments affected you as an artist?
Yes, I am very fortunate to be influenced by so many cultures. As a child I grew up in Mozambique, Africa. That’s where everything started for me as a dancer and a choreographer. Later on, the Russian, French, German, and American cultures played a big role in my formation. Living in places like Paris, Dresden, Hamburg, Boston and D.C helped me see how small the world has become, especially the ballet world. I feel so fortunate and very grateful for this gift. One thing that I want to say here though, is that even gifts come at a certain price. The price I need to pay for this incredible gift is that I am far from all my close friends and that I miss them all very much.
The sacrifices we make for ballet! Certain works that speak to us make it all worthwhile, though. Can you recall any moments like this in your career so far?
Although I consider all my roles and experiences in ballet a highlight I think the true one is always the next one. Despite this, I feel very fortunate to have worked closely with John Neumeier, who has become my mentor as a leader and a choreographer.
For me everything starts with the music. I think that the music is the base on which we can build upon. Use it as a guideline, reference, and an important medium through which we can communicate more than what the movement sometimes can. I also love the creative process and working with the dancers to explore new possibilities and true collaboration. I believe strongly in work that is based on partnership. I like to challenge my dancers and I like when they challenge me. It is only when we have a partnership and we become open to ideas that WE can truly innovate.
What a lovely and logical approach! Let’s talk education. You have a degree in Communications from Northeastern. Juggling a professional ballet career with schoolwork is extremely demanding. Why was this so important to you?
I think there are two main reasons. The first is that my studies there opened a new perspective on how I see the world around me, our art form and particularly its future. I feel, in the ballet world we are still stuck in the past century when it comes to organizational culture, communication, and structure.Ballet needs to evolve, we need to evolve with it as well. The second reason this degree was so important to me is because I found something else that I’m very passionate about, something that inspires me to be a better human being, leader, dancer, teacher, and choreographer: this is the art of communication, and it is also what we do as dancers.
Very true. So when you’re not dancing, what are you doing?
When I’m not dancing, I’m teaching and choreographing. Also, I love spending time reading, listening to music, being with family and friends and making my dreams come true. There are so many things to do and so little time!
Thank you so much, Boyko!
Catch one of FBP’s newest dancers, Boyko Dossev, onstage this fall. Tickets and more information here.
The FBP company is preparing for its first Up Close on Hope program of the season, which will feature Allegro Brillante, one of the most popular works by George Balanchine, one of the single most influential figures in the history of ballet. Elyse Borne, former soloist with New York City Ballet and current répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, is responsible for staging the ballet for FBP. Company Dancer Kirsten Evans caught up with Elyse to get insights into Allegro, Balanchine, and more…
Hello! Let’s just dive in: What makes Allegro Brillante different from other Balanchine ballets? Why is it special?
Allegro is not exactly different but incorporates the speed, clarity, technical difficulty, musicality, and neoclassical style so closely identified with Balanchine.
Your schedule is so busy! You’re always traveling somewhere new to set another ballet. Where else have you staged Allegro in the past?
I have actually staged Allegro for FBP before! I’ve also done it in San Francisco, Vancouver, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Singapore etc…..
That’s right, this wasn’t your first visit to Providence. What was your experience like working with the dancers of FBP this time around?
I had a great time with your dancers. They learned the choreography at breakneck speed and expressed a real interest in executing the ballet correctly.
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If you could describe Allegro Brillante in 3 words, what would they be?
I would describe Allegro as fun, gut-buster, and energized!
What is your favorite part of the staging process?
I love walking into a studio where no one knows the steps and seeing it all come to life in just a few hours.
After retiring from NYCB, you were ballet mistress at Miami City Ballet for eight years and then San Fransisco Ballet for six. You’ve been in the ballet world for your entire career, but now staging ballets, you have such a unique job. How did you become a répétiteur?
I always had a propensity for learning quickly so this was a natural inclination. I gained a lot of knowledge being a ballet mistress and still face challenges with relish when I have to learn a ballet I’ve never staged. I feel honored and privileged to be allowed to stage Balanchine and Robbins.
What is it about the Balanchine style that you enjoy so much?
I think I must have grown up with Balanchine style in my blood. It is so natural for me. Dancing at NYCB was a dream come true.
You premiered in The Nutcracker with Mikhail Baryshnikov. What was that like? Do you have any favorite memories of working with Mr. Balanchine or at NYCB?
My scariest and favorite experience at NYCB was doing the Sugar Plum Fairy with Baryshnikov. Alone everyday for 5 days in a studio with the 2 of them, Balanchine and Misha. Awestruck and nervous and excited all at once. My memories go on and on. I think I will have to write a book! I was so lucky to work with such a genius.
…and WE would love to read your book. Thank you, Elyse!