For Balanchine, Apollo was a “turning point”

In her book Balanchine Variations, former dance critic Nancy Goldner gives insight into the legacy and staying power of Apollo, which FBP will perform in Up Close on Hope, Program 1.

Balanchine made Apollo in 1928, under the inspiration of Stravinsky’s score and under the auspices of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. He was all of twenty-four years old. As his oldest surviving ballet, and by general consensus one of his great ballets, Apollo has a biographical fascination. It offers a rare glimpse of his achievements as a young man…The official chronology of his work, which was compiled with his participation, cited 1920 as the beginning of Balanchine’s choreographies. He was prolific from the get-go: Apollo was his eighty-fourth ballet, although many of these works were small, occasional pieces or divertissements for operas.

[Balanchine] never called Apollo a great ballet or his first great ballet, but he did famously call it a “turning point” in his life. He wrote this in 1947 in an essay for the magazine Dance Index, in which he paid homage to Stravinsky as a composer for dance. He wrote, “In its discipline and restraint, in its sustained one-ness of tone and feeling, the score was a revelation. It seemed to tell me that I could dare not use everything, and I, too, could eliminate.” He added, “It was in studying Apollo that I came first to understand how gestures, like tones in music and shades in painting, have certain family relations…Since this work, I have developed my choreography inside the framework such relations suggest.”

Balanchine’s comments about Apollo all point to the business of artistic mastery, of shaping and controlling one’s material. It so happens that this is also the theme of the ballet. Apollo traces the god’s life from birth to his ascension of Mount Parnassus. Throughout the ballet Apollo is testing the limits and capabilities of his body. Once he learns to walk (in the first scene), he wants to figure out how forcefully he can swing his arms and legs, how much flexibility is in his back—see how his torso contracts and arches in his first solos—how far he can lean backward without falling down. He experiments even with his hands—clenching them into fists, then opening them. (Balanchine got these open-and-close, on-and-off sequences from the neon lights he saw flashing in Piccadilly Circus—or so the story goes.) He wants to know what makes the lute tick from top to bottom. He cradles it seemingly in endless positions. He looks at it from afar, close up. With a rambunctious windup, he strikes the lute’s strings as though it were a banjo. Later on he makes a sound so soft, he must place his ear against the strings to hear it.

When Apollo dances with the three Muses he sports with them as though they were parts of a mobile, first partitioning the trio into groups of two and one, then shaping all three into picturesque poses. He partners them two at a time, one by one, in the air, into the ground.

Later on, he appraises them form a critic’s point of view: each of the muses dances a variation for him, a sort of audition in which they display their artistic wares. The first two, Calliope (goddess of poetry) and Polyhymnia (goddess of mime), goof up, and Apollo dismisses them—rather rudely, I would say. Terpsichore pleases the god and gets to dance a duet with him. Polyhymia’s mistake is obvious. She must be silent, and so dances her jaunty variation with a finger pressed to her lips. At the very end, though, she flings her arms toward the audience and opens her mouth—wide! She covers her mouth in shame and runs off like a naughty schoolgirl. Calliope’s problem is harder to read. My understanding is that she keeps running out of ideas. She starts with big ones; that is, she clutches her bosom as though digging deep inside herself, and then declaims with stentorian arm movements. These grand (grandiose?) beginnings end with whimpers, her body sagging. So Apollo sends her packing too.

Because Apollo is not a literal narrative, it’s not wise to look for specific reasons why Terpsichore’s solo is the “best.” But it’s worth noting that hers is the most three-dimensional of the lot. If there is one salient characteristic of her solo, it’s that she keeps revolving around herself, showing her body to the audience from all possible angles. She offers full disclosure…Naturally, Apollo brings Terpsichore back for a pas de deux, after he does a variation of his own. What I particularly love about his solo is its encoded homage to ballet technique. Accompanied by grand chords from Stravinsky, Apollo thrusts his arms skyward, as if holding up the world in the raised palms of his hands. But its not his arms that give him Herculean strength; its his legs locked tightly in fifth position. Fifth position, of course, is the cornerstone of ballet; it’s the beginning and the end.

The pas de deux for Apollo and Terpsichore also refers to the source of life, by way of Michelangelo’s fresco. But the grandeur of the encounter quickly gives way to less godly moods—playfulness, tenderness, friendly competition. These moods come and go with the breezes of a spring day, and they characterize the rest of Apollo.

At its premiere the ballet ran into trouble with the critics. The authenticity of the ballet’s classicism was naturally a main bone of contention. Music critics thought the music a rehash of old material. Dance people were horrified by Balanchine’s so-called distortion of classical principles. It’s easy to find the sinning elements in the choreography—the occasional turned in leg, the flat-footed shuffles, the novel ways of partnering, the inclusion of acrobatics. (My god! Was that Terpsichore doing the splits?) None of this stuff was new, but now it was applied to noble subject matter.

By all accounts making Apollo was a happy experience for Balanchine and Stravinsky, and, more importantly, the memory of it stuck. The two continued to work on ballets together, culminating with Agon in 1957, and the professional relationship flowered into a friendship that lasted until Stravinsky’s death in 1971.

Nancy Goldner’s book Balanchine Variations, chronicles the life and career of George Balanchine through the lens of several prolific works of his choreography that changed the face of ballet as we know it today.

Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Apollo. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Apollo. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

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Andrea Dawn Shelley: “For Saskia”

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Saskia van Uylenburgh, the Wife of the Artist, 1638. Rembrandt (1606-1669)

When I think of the Baroque period, I think… opulence. The architecture, music and art, so very extravagant and rich in every way. There is much to be absorbed. This is where my mind went when I spoke with Misha over the phone and he offered that he would like his guest choreographers to choose a Bach Violin Sonata as the music for our new works. He then went on to tell me that all Bach selections would be played ‘live’ and my particular two choices, by a violist. The plot thickened and I chose to focus my energies towards not only the frenetic and complex Bach score but, Rembrandt. Rembrandt, a prolific artist of the Baroque period whose work in many ways contrasted the Baroque style. I specifically found myself gravitating towards his self portraits that use dark and dismal color, yet are rich with detail and emotion. The more I began my relationship with Rembrandt and these portraits, the furthermore I wanted to learn about his personal life.

As we know, art often imitates life and is inspired by our personal experiences. I began to read about Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia and learned of their personal tribulations. They had the misfortune of loosing three of their children as infants. Only one of their children, Titus lived into adulthood to the age of 26. Saskia was to never know that her child Titus survived beyond two months of age, as she perished soon after his birth of tuberculosis. Rembrandt survived them all. Is this a disenchantment with the miracle of life that I see when I look into his vacant expression in his self portraits? This is the story I began to weave and my focus shifted.

Saskia.

The physical and emotional burdens this young mother and wife must have experienced are truly incomprehensible. “For Saskia” tells a narrative about her physical burdens and emotional torment. Her grief, hopelessness, confusion, distress and heartache. Through the dancers artistry, Bach’s recapitulating sonatas and our “pied piper” casting her magic spell of forthcoming death with each stroke of her bow… they collaboratively convey a tale of despair through frenetic movement and music.

Andrea Dawn Shelley (bio) is co-founding director of iMEE Dance Company. Her work “For Saskia” can be seen in Up Close on Hope, Program 1, Nov. 13-22. Details & Tickets…

David DuBois (left), Jaime DeRocker (aloft), and Alex Lantz in rehearsal for Shelley's "For Sasika"
David DuBois (left), Jaime DeRocker (aloft), and Alex Lantz in rehearsal for Shelley’s “For Saskia”

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One Year

Last week, we gathered together Juliana, Juliet, and Miles – the three youngest members of the FBP Family – to make a poster for our week-long Diaper Drive for Project Undercover, which starts today. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the three babies arrived back-to-back (almost exactly 10 days apart), and we asked our mothers to reflect on a year they (and we) will never forget.

L to R: Dancers Ty and Marissa Parmenter with Miles, Dancer Ruth Whitney with Juliet, Ballet Mistress Leticia Guerrero with Juliana
L to R: Dancers Ty and Marissa Parmenter with Miles, Dancer Ruth Whitney with Juliet, Ballet Mistress Leticia Guerrero with Juliana

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Juliet “Taught me how to love in a whole new way”

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It is amazing to think that one year ago yesterday, Juliet came into this world.  She has taught me how to love in a whole new way and opened my heart to a depth of empathy I will always be humbled and grateful for.  I am also so grateful that I have been a part of Festival Ballet with Misha as a director as he has welcomed the babies into the world of FBP.

Juliet is constantly dancing, often making her own guitar or drum music to dance to, when her dad isn’t around to play the horn or bass for her to practice her plies and sautes to.  The company dancers have been so supportive and understanding, helping during breaks and inviting Juliet and the other babies to join them when there is free space in the studio.  Juliet may never want to dance seriously, but it has been such a pleasure for her in this first year to be around music and movement, her face simply lights up and she has to move to. It is something magical and primal and what a wonderful early childhood gift!

It has also been so special having Miles and Juliana sharing these early experiences.  They clearly enjoy playing around each other and as a mom it is so nice having other babies and moms to share this journey with.  I am so excited for them to continue to grow together and am so truly grateful to be a part of this past year’s Festival Ballet Babies : )

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Leticia Guerrero

With Juliana, “Our prayers were heard”

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After 14 years a new life comes to our family. Having Gabriana, (my first true love) and watching her grow into a amazing “señorita” made this desire stronger. The idea of having a second child had been brewing for some time, I kept putting it off to fulfill my dancing career. Also knowing that the love of a sibling is irreplaceable. Tony and I made our new task.  It was not an easy one….frustration, fear, prayers, and many tears. Until the right time came.

We are Blessed indeed. The right time came and we finally told Gabriana we were expecting a baby. Our prayers were heard . We were so happy…so many tears of joy filled our lifes. Finally Juliana arrives. What a joy when Gabriana, Tony, her Godmother (Doctor Cavanaugh, who also delivered the baby) and I watch her for the first time.

We had that feeling of knowing her already for a long time. It has been a year of many changes for many, including my coworkers. It would have been quite difficult to do it all without the support of Festival Ballet members. I was allowed to work while breast feeding and taking breaks to change diapers. My family is so grateful. We thank you for the support. I am privileged to say that work is like a family.

I honestly thought the second time around would be easier. I was so wrong. It’s another first time. Having a newborn and a teenager full of activities was definitely challenging. Preparing Ballet lessons family lunches and dinners, getting baby ready to go to work….ahhhh no wonder my clothes sometimes did not match. I must say I’ve had great support from many including my parents Deysi and Fernando, Tony’s Family, my aunt Milagros, and my great friends Sandra and Betza.  So many had helped…

Leticia's daughters Gabriana and Juliana
Leticia’s daughters Gabriana and Juliana

Juliana can feed herself, making art sculptures out of food,  walk around the house pretending to clean, and helps me redecorate on a daily basis.  The laundry basket is her favorite hang out place, especially when it magically turns and swings. She has three hide out places, under her crib, behind the curtain in Mami’s room, and in her sister’s room. And yes….she made up the hide and seek game ‘again.’ Our dogs Lola and Oscar have become her monkey see, monkey do. She wants a treat as well. “Juju” as some of us call her, is a great help in the kitchen. She takes all  the pots and pans out so I can easily choose. Juliana also helps me keep my weight down by taking my lunch out of my bag and hiding it inside any box she can find.

She is a very happy, smily, very curious girl that steals hearts, the remote control and car keys. She makes our day better just by smiling.

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Marissa Parmenter

“A year of overwhelming joy, unwavering fatigue, emotional self-doubt and the most extraordinary love…our first year with Miles.”

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Any parent out there will understand when I say that this year has been the most wonderful and most challenging of my life. Miles will be turning one year old and I am bursting with gratitude that he has entered our life, thrown it upside down, and filled it with blissful chaos. It has been one surprise after another as Ty and I have navigated our new roles as parents and as Miles’ personality unfolds daily.

Ty has taken to fatherhood like it was a role he was always destined to play. He is Miles’ constant entertainer, co-care giver, and nap buddy. I always knew Ty would be a fabulous father but what I didn’t know was what an incredible husband he would be to me as a new mother. As a generally confident, self sufficient woman, this past year has at times brought me to my knees. Often 12-hour work days, then up all night with Miles, managing daycare schedules, work schedules, a new house, performing etc. fatigue has never hit me like it has this year. I have had to lean on Ty more than ever and he was there ready to support me even before I leaned in. Miles and I are so lucky.

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Life as a dancer is completely different now. I used to be at the studio 30 minutes prior to class to prepare my body for the day, but that time just doesn’t exist in my schedule anymore. I am often coming into class 5 minutes late (if I even make it all) and I am lucky if I don’t get pulled away before class finishes. I don’t have time to think about each step, or role, or musical phrasing like I used to; now I dance much more intuitively. Survival mode. I find that as a teacher and coach my new point of view as a parent is helping me to explore an entirely new way to connect with my students.

I miss Miles every moment of the day that we are not together. Although we have our routine – Miles is at daycare twice a week, with my mom twice a week (such a blessing) and in the studio with us one morning and one afternoon a week – it is constantly up for negotiation. I often second-guess my choice to work as much as I do, to send him to daycare so young, to bring him with us to work. He is my priority and as much as I want him to grow up with the example of parents’ that love what they do for a living, I don’t ever want him to feel like I wasn’t there when I should have been. Sometimes I am proud of how we handle our days and sometimes I am convinced I am doing everything wrong…and then Miles smiles and everything feels better.

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We have been blessed to work in a place where Miles is not just welcomed but loved. Misha, the dancers, the staff, and my students have been so amazing with Miles. They are patient and understanding when he is crawling through the studio while they are dancing and they are loving and helpful if we need someone to watch him while we rehearse. I could never have expected such gracious friends for Miles to grow up around. He is enjoying the most special childhood because of them.

Becoming Miles’s mother has been the greatest gift. He teaches me and guides me daily on our adventures together. I am so honored to be loved by that little face; when he reaches out his arms to me and wants to snuggle; there is no place I would rather be. I am grateful every time Miles’ calls for mommy at 3am or needs a diaper change just as we are leaving the house, and for every time I am rushing to pick him up on time at day care or kissing him after returning late from a performance. I will continue to work as hard as I can for Miles and make loving my family my number one priority. Happy Birthday Miles! Mommy loves you!

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A HUGE shout-out to the moms and dad for sharing their thoughts with us, and for getting their baby’s feet covered in paint so we could make this adorable poster for the diaper drive. THANK YOU!

Most importantly: Please help us help less fortunate babies by donating unopened packages of diapers, underwear, and socks to our Project Undercover diaper drive at our location on Hope Street. We are open M-F 9am-8:30pm and Saturday 8:30am-4pm.

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Also thanks to Kirsten Evans for painting lettering on the poster (believe it or not, the babies did not want to do the letters) and Ty Parmenter for photographing the adorable event.

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FBP Students to Participate in Peace Fest RI

Students from FBP School will celebrate peace at Peace Fest RI, September 19 from 1:00 to 4:30 pm at Burnside Park/Kennedy Plaza. The Dance for Peace will take place around 3:00pm. Those wishing to participate can view the teaching video below to learn the routine. Don’t forget to wear your FBP t-shirts!

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A long read and a sharp eye

Brown University undergraduate journalism student Zoe Gates recently spent a few weeks immersing herself with the FBP company, observing and interviewing dancers to get an in-depth view of our lives, onstage and off. We’re very proud that East Side Monthly picked the story up! Enjoy!

37 YEARS AND STILL DANCING
Zoe Gates

FBP Company in rehearsal for Viktor Plotnikov's Coma

At nine in the morning, the atmosphere in the Grand Studio is that of a high school corridor before the morning bell rings. Dancers drift in one at a time and dump their bags on the floor. Dressed in leggings, tights, t-shirts, skirts, or leotards, they cluster in groups just as teenagers beside their lockers, chattering and stretching.

A young woman sits on the floor beside her friends, counting aloud the bruises on her knee; there are fifteen. One man does yoga at the front of the studio, pausing intermittently to take a sip of coffee. Others do sit-ups or lie back on foam rollers. The room murmurs with flutters of restless movement.

A burst of energy disrupts the quiet when one of the youngest dancers, a 19-year-old trainee name Jorge, bounds into the studio. He and two others have purchased matching black jumpsuits in jest—baggy black one-pieces that zip up the front, hanging loosely on their slender bodies and exposing their muscular arms. They put them on all together, striking poses and laughing at one another’s ridiculous appearance.

Jorge pulls the hood over his head and begins to hip-hop dance in place. “Team gangster up in the crib,” he says, eliciting giggles from his colleagues.

And then, an authoritative voice cuts through the buzz. At once, nearly two dozen ballet dancers take their places around the studio. They line up at the barre around the edge of the room and at portable ones that have been dragged to the center of the floor. When the piano music begins to play, the jovial atmosphere dissolves and one of focus takes its place. It is a drill they all know—they drag their pointed toes and extend their arms in familiar patterns, awakening their muscles for the long day ahead.

All at once, the space has been transformed. Muscular legs lengthen and bend, spines curve at unimaginable angles. The same young men and women who were laughing and lazing only moments ago now paint sweeping arcs in the air with their fingers and bend low to the ground, their faces composed and calm.

Five mornings a week, this is how the professional dancers at Festival Ballet Providence (FBP) on Hope Street begin their workday. The small but highly regarded company is composed of 24 dancers, a small artistic staff including a ballet master and mistress who act as dance instructors, Resident Choreographer Viktor Plotnikov, and various other choreographers. In the afternoons, the studios are taken over by a ballet school. All is overseen by Artisic Director Mihailo “Misha” Djuric.

A native of Yugoslavia, Misha once danced as a soloist with the National Opera and Ballet Theatre in Belgrade. His choreography, which has been performed worldwide, has been recognized with numerous awards. Before coming to Providence, Misha served as Artistic Director at Ballet New England in Portsmouth, NH, where he was lauded for transforming the company. In 1998, Misha took over at FPB in the wake of the founder and previous director’s death. Under his direction, the company has matured into one of the most respected ballet companies in the area.

As summer approaches, the company prepares for the final program of FBP’s 37th season—a black box performance entitled Up Close on Hope that takes place in the studio where the company rehearses daily. The show is the last of six programs that the company performed this season, four of which took place in the Black Box Theater on Hope Street.

The idea behind the Up Close performances is to provide audiences with a more intimate viewing experience; at eye level with the performance space, spectators have the chance to see the sweat on the dancers’ foreheads and hear their shoes squeaking on the floor. The program, which the company spends about a month and a half putting together, consists of nine pieces, many of which are company or world premieres.

Before Festival Ballet, founded in 1978, took up residence at 825 Hope Street, the building housed a funeral home. Today, music constantly rings through the three bright studios and cluttered offices. Dancers labor for long hours, putting their bodies under incredible stress for the sake of art. Each day, while the world outside bustles with conference calls and traffic jams, they dance.

On a Tuesday afternoon in late March, the studios hum with activity as the company rehearses for the next month’s Up Close on Hope performance. There are only two weeks until the first show, but many of the dances are far from polished.

In the Grand Studio, a choreographer works through the steps of a brand new piece with a handful of dancers. In it’s completion, the piece will feature nine dancers to tell a dark and emotional narrative. But first, they must learn the steps.

A young man and woman, both wearing skirts, stand in the center of the floor. They are connected by a red elastic chord that ties around their waists. It stretches and quivers as they pull towards and away from one another, threatening to entangle them if they do not execute the moves precisely.

The choreographer, a woman with a thick Lithuanian accent, instructs the female dancer to do a complicated series of cartwheels that will force her to navigate around the elastic chord. “Just concentrate. This is like ninja stuff—just do your thing,” she says. The choreographer laughs as the dancers wrestle with the alien connection, their movements lacking the grace expected of ballerinas.

In another room, a different rehearsal is wrapping up. Dancers float between studios following a schedule that has been posted in the hallway. They attend many rehearsals throughout the day, for each dancer must learn a number of parts for the upcoming program. Vincent (“Vinnie”) Brewer and Tegan Rich prepare to practice a new pas de deux (a partnered dance) choreographed by the company’s ballet master, Jaime Diaz, who has danced with the National Ballet of Cuba and the Boston Ballet. All three are young and athletically built, attired in workout clothes.

Tegan does sit-ups in the corner while Vinnie leans against the mirror sipping a coffee and making faces at his partner. When they finally take their places in the back corner, though, he is serious and composed.

Jaime presses play on the speakers. A piano, steady and rhythmic, echoes through the room. As though propelled by it, Tegan steps forward slowly, with Vinnie just a step behind. A violin cuts in, unhurried and wrought with emotion. The pair skatesacross the floor, drifting in and out of the orbits of each other’s bodies. At one point, their fingertips nearly brush the mirror at the front of the room, and then suddenly they are at the back, Tegan’s legs straight in the air as she rolls over Vinnie’s bent spine. In one moment they lay side by side with their feet flat on the floor and their knees in the air. One hand at a time reaches desperately up towards the ceiling, pulling the dancers’ shoulders off the floor and back down again. A moment later they are standing by the doorway, their faces close before she pushes him away. When the music fades, Vinnie lies curled up on the floor as Tegan walks away.

“We were late,” she says, the magic dispelled at once. They begin to pick apart the choreography, isolating single moments and tweaking subtle movements. Jaime corrects precise foot placements, turns, and when the dancers should or should not make eye contact. The music starts and stops as they work.

The discussion turns to Vinnie’s facial expression, which has been lacking enough emotion. “Have you ever had your heart broken?” Jaime asks him with a Columbian accent.

“No.”

“Just think of something that makes you sad,” he advises. “Just think that she is messing you up.”

At some point during the practice, Misha has wandered into the room. He sits by the mirror with his arms crossed over his chest, occasionally interjecting with a comment or bit of criticism. He is a short man, wearing round tortoise-shell glasses, sweatpants and a grey t-shirt that matches his grey hair.

Misha is typically the first one to arrive at the studio in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. His office features a glass window that looks over the Grand Studio, where he can keep an eye on things while working at his desk. Since the company is small, Misha’s duties range from administrative tasks such as payroll and scheduling to running rehearsals and choosing works for each program. He can tell you to the day how long he has been with FBP (just over 17 years).

Spending so much time in front of the computer working tends to leave Misha less feeling inspired than when he was dancing and choreographing more earlier in his career. But his love for ballet as an art form and admiration for the people he works with keep him going. “If I was not passionate about dance, I would not do this, I would do something else. My passion makes things easier even if they’re hard,” he said.

Recent financial difficulties have posed significant challenge for Misha and FBP as a whole. “These days a lot of communities don’t appreciate dance as much as they appreciate sports or music or theater,” he said. With virtually no government funding and dwindling corporate support, the company relies on ticket sales and individual donations to stay afloat. This season, FBP was not able to put on as many main stage performances as usual. Where the company typically finishes off a season with a big classical ballet on a main stage in May, this season ended early with a smaller production of Up Close on Hope in the studio.

“It’s kind of a nice way to live but it’s also scary way to live,” said Misha. Despite the difficulties, FBP has managed to emerge from a low point in the company’s history that took place during 2009-2011 when the company faced large debt. The people at FBP, however, don’t tend to measure success in terms of financial stability. “We have had more successful seasons in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we were in our ‘prime’ in those periods,” said Dylan Giles, Marketing Director and company dancer. “I think Misha would argue that the company is as artistically strong now as it’s ever been…. We have been through the ringer financially and we have come out stronger and wiser as a result. So by those metrics, I would say our prime is now.”

According to Misha, there are advantages and drawbacks to having the audience virtually on stage with the dancers during black box performances. “Being close definitely gives some excitement, but also being far away gives some magic,” he said of the different types of performances. “Here in this space people really start to appreciate more dance because they see how much hard work it is. They see every drop of the sweat, every moan. And on stage you don’t hear all those things…. Distance creates magic and something that is unreal.”

While audiences tend to appreciate the intimacy of the Up Close performances, company dancer Kirsten Evans, 23, lives to dance on the big stage. She feels that classical ballet is meant to be observed from a distance. “Dancers don’t want to be called athletes but it’s extremely athletic. We have the same amount of stress on our bodies as a professional athlete but we have to make it look beautiful,” she said. “A football player is allowed to grunt and look like whatever he wants. But we have to smile and look beautiful and pretend we’re not sweating.” In the close setting, fine details of a dance tend to be under intense scrutiny by the audience, often making Kirsten feel self-conscious. She feels that her most authentic performances happen when she is on stage and is able to forget the audience, getting wrapped up in the dance itself.

“For me anyway, that’s when all the payoff comes—when you actually get to get on stage and show what you’ve been working so hard on. So to not be able to perform especially on a big stage, it almost starts to feel like you’re not even doing you’re job,” she said. “It feels kind of dark. I’m trying not to sound dramatic. It feels pretty dramatic.”

As a dancer, Kirsten has felt the burden of the company’s debt. Though she hardly goes a day without dancing, it often feels like the rewards of such hard work are few and far between. “If someone has a really strong passion for baking, it’s like as if their baking all these cakes all the time and they never get to give it to anyone or sell it to anyone or have anyone try it or taste it,” she said.

Despite the challenges, Kirsten wouldn’t dream of having another job. Originally from Seekonk, MA, Kirsten began dancing with FBP as a child and has been a member of the company for the last five years. During her senior year of high school, she was a trainee with the company, attending Company Class in the morning and high school classes in the afternoon. A year at a time, she moved up the ranks from trainee to apprentice to full company member.

Ballet is Kirsten’s life. She spends upwards of 40 hours a week in the studio, not counting performance days, and trains all summer long to stay in shape for the next season’s start in September. Her ballet-focused blog, “Setting the Barre,” has over one thousand followers. Despite “senioritis” at the end of the season, Kirsten will be back in the studio just three days after the final performance practicing with an advanced class at the ballet school. Her social life exists almost entirely within the company, as it’s hard to meet other people with her hectic schedule. On days when she’s not dancing, she’s often too tired to do much else besides rest.

Kirsten described March and April as a whirlwind of preparing for Up Close. Casting for the show is constantly in flux, so dancers have to learn up to six parts at a time.

The first few weeks preparing for the show are spent working out the kinks of choreography. If the piece is brand new, certain dancers will work directly with the choreographer to put together a sequence. Otherwise, they often learn from videos.

“I like to be choreographed on,” says Kirsten. Often, choreographers and dancers will work together to discover what feels and looks best on a dancer, catering to personal style and making changes along the way. Like many dancers, Kirsten is inspired by being the first one to perform a particular piece.

Over a number of weeks, the works come together and rehearsals get more structured. Weeks are spent fine-tuning, and rehearsals often involve dancing the same piece over and over again. During the week leading up to a performance, the company focuses on details like costumes, hairstyle, and even what color shoes are to be worn for each dance.

Kirsten is especially particular about her pointe shoes. During intense periods of rehearsing and performing, she goes through as many as one pair of shoes a week, as they become “dead” with use. Although the company allots $800 to each dancer a season to cover the cost of shoes, it doesn’t come close to covering the many pairs of $90 shoes that Kirsten prefers.

Despite the hours of preparation, casting changes sometimes happen as last minute as the night of a show, forcing dancers to be ready for anything. During one show in April, Kirsten was cast in four high-energy pieces, something she didn’t think her body could handle. They re-cast the program last minute so that she only had to dance three times, but it was still one of the most physically taxing shows Kirsten ever performed. Retrospectively, Kirsten is grateful for the challenge, which she believes has prepared her to continue to grow throughout her career. “Everything is a learning experience in ballet,” she said in reflection. “Everything just makes you stronger.”

As it is smaller than most ballet companies, a number of the dancers at FBP also work administrative roles, creating a tight-knit organization. “I would not call it community, I would call it family,” said Misha. “It’s like every family’s ups and downs and tears and laughs and fights.”

The company dynamic truly is familial. This season made new parents of three of the dancers and staff; on any given day, there will be babies in the studio or offices during rehearsal time. Dylan even brings his dog, Calvin, to work with him. After performances, many of the dancers can be found hanging out together at Ivy Tavern just down the street from the FBP studio.

“A lot of other companies can take it way too seriously and they don’t really allow themselves to develop the relationships the way that we have,” said Kirsten. The company dancers range in age from 17 to 44, with varying levels of experience. The younger dancers who are just beginning their professional ballet careers tend to look up to their older colleagues, some of whom have danced all over the world. “Ballet forces you to grow up at a very young age so everyone’s very mature and responsible. To be a professional at 17, you have to have the mindset of someone who is at least 25. So, we’re all mentally at a very similar age,” said Kirsten.

This night marks the last performance of the season, and it is almost show time. Guests pick up their tickets at the front desk, then walk down the hallway to the Grand Studio. The building has been spruced up for the show with fairy lights hung along the corridor that leads to the black box. On their way to their seats, guests see dancers getting ready in Studio 1, putting on makeup in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror, listening to iPods and stretching. Then they walk by Misha’s office, where the Artistic Director himself can be seen through the glass window, sitting at his desk as usual with the computer screen reflecting in his glasses.

Rows of chairs have been set up on risers in the Grand Studio and black curtains obscure the cinder block walls and the barre. Dancers wander onto the de facto stage and warm-up casually before the audience. Some are in costume, some wear sweats. It is all out in the open; they stretch, practice jumps and turns, chat and joke with one another all as the audience files in. Jaime, the Ballet Master, struts into the studio. He greets some of the dancers and exchanges a secret handshake with Kirsten before taking a seat.

Though the space is the same, the energy in the building is a far cry from the mood before morning warm-ups. Though there is laughter, many faces are serious. One of the dancers sits on the stage lacing up her pointe shoes with meticulous concentration.

The lights are lowered, and Misha, wearing a black t-shirt and grey pants, walks before the audience, mic in hand. He introduces the show, cracks a few jokes, and retreats to a corner where he will operate the light board for the evening.

In the studio atmosphere, the anticipation feels like that before a recital in an elementary school auditorium. But then, the dancing begins.

Five dancers wearing matching skin-tight black costumes take the stage in the first piece. It is a frenzy of robotic movements and intense music. The dancers march across the floor with their spines ramrod straight, sometimes disappearing offstage and returning moments later. Their facial expressions are severe. The lighting is low, and their shadows jump off of the walls.

When the music stops, the lights are raised and the five dancers step forward to take a bow, all smiles.

Each piece is dramatically different from the next. Kirsten, wearing a flowy peach-colored dress, and her partner Alex, in tights and a billowing white shirt, dance a classical pas de deux, full of elegant twirls and graceful lifts. Other pieces are contemporary, hardly resembling ballet. In “Split Flap,” four female dancers dressed in matching powder blue sweaters, underpants and kneepads mimic one another to snappy music.

Each dance is a story of its own—they are haunting, sweet, traditional and quirky. After each piece, the dancers step forward and bow to fervent applause.

The last piece before the intermission is the one with the red elastic chord. This time, there is no tripping over the strand, nor any unwanted tangling. The dancers execute precisely. The dance itself is like a world of its own—it is almost an entirely different entity from the one the jumble of steps that they practiced weeks ago in this very space.

At the end of the show, the entire company takes the stage for a final bow. They have all changed from their costumes into street clothes. In jeans and sneakers, they are hardly the picture of ballet dancers.

“Anyone can feel something watching a ballet performance and anyone can feel something different than the person sitting next to them,” said Kirsten. “Not only is the audience getting something, but the dancers are really just living. None of us can imagine any other way of expressing ourselves or letting out frustration or really any emotional form—Any kind of emotion would be bottled up without any physical way to release it. I’m sure any dancer would feel the same way—we’re just movers….It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

For Misha, the meaning of dance has evolved over many years. Whereas once he was allured by the self-discipline and difficulty of the task, he sees ballet now in a bigger picture. “Now there is a big appreciation and a love for the art form and trying to keep it alive. You know, to pass this passion and love or whatever to someone else with the hopes it is going to last for another 300, 400 years or longer. And to excite the people around,” he said. “Before we start talking, before we start singing, before we start playing the instruments, it was all done by the gestures. And also it represents being alive, being able to move.”

It is late now, and Hope Street is quiet. A young man in jeans and sneakers walks with hunched shoulders by darkened storefronts on his way to the bus stop. He passes beneath a streetlight, which casts shadows on his face as the stage lights did only moments ago. Now, in plainclothes, he is anonymous. Passers-by will see him as another exhausted college student or a waiter returning home after work. They cannot hear the music that runs through his head or see the steps he re-imagines as he walks. They know not the hours of rehearsals he has put in over the past months, or the relief he feels for the freedom of summer. But across the city, dozens of ballet-goers remember the way he moved onstage tonight. Couples will recall excitedly this lift or that sequence on the drive home, aspiring young ballerinas will pin ticket stubs to bulletin boards. They won’t remember his name, but they will remember how they felt—for a brief moment, swept away in the dance.

This article was originally published online in East Side Monthly. Zoe Gates is an undergraduate student at Brown University studying journalism.

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SDI 2015 ready to make a splash

FBP’s summer is about to heat up with the start of our Summer Dance Intensive (SDI), drawing 90 students (!!) ages 9 through pre-professional. The program attracts dancers from around the region and across the country (as far as Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee!). The program is made up of two separate courses: a 4-week advanced course (Senior) running July 5-Aug. 1 and a 2-week intermediate course (Junior) running Aug. 3-Aug. 14.

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SDI 2014 students prepare for open rehearsal at Waterplace Park Basin stage. Students will perform again this year on Aug. 1

FBP’s summer course has always been a diverse, enriching curriculum, incorporating many hours of classical ballet training with conditioning, pilates, yoga, and much more. Twenty current and former dancers make up the SDI 2015 faculty; many are FBP dancers and there’s also guest faculty from BalletMet Academy, UNH Dance Department, The Limon Company and Boston Conservatory.

Students will learn a wide-ranging repertoire, including Swan Lake Act II and an excerpt from Jose Limon‘s “A Choreographic Offering.” (Video sample below)

Each program will perform at the FBP Black Box Theatre, and the Senior program will also close with a once-in-a-lifetime performance at Waterfire Providence on August 1st.

But it’s not all buns and leotards. The students will kick back on weekends with special trips including an outing to Jacob’s Pillow for Daniil Simkin’s Intensio, a trip to the Pawtucket Red Sox, and a pool party!

We’ve got a great group together for #fireworks at India Point Park! #FBPSDI #happy4th #happy5th?

A photo posted by Festival Ballet Providence (@festivalballetprovidence) on


So keep an eye out for our students around town who will be sporting these awesome new shirts designed by embee studio. We can’t wait for SDI 2015 to start up on Monday. Happy 4th of July…see you all next week!

Design by Embee Studio
Design by Embee Studio

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SDI Supply List

SUPPLY LIST

The following list of items should be taken to the studio each day:

___  Ballet slippers

___  Pointe shoes (applies to those students who are already dancing on pointe)

We recommend a minimum of 1 pair per week; students should bring additional

shoes if they go through them quickly.

___  Character shoes (1.5” or 2” heels with strap)

___  Black Leotard for Seniors (studio – embroidered and any camisole or tank that the student owns)

___  Burgundy Leotard for Juniors (studio – embroidered and any camisole or tank that the student owns)

___  Tights –Pink

___  Jazz pants (optional)

___  Black character skirt (Festival Ballet uniform)

___  Warm up clothes (leg warmers etc.)

___  Black footless tights

 

MAKEUP KIT (for makeup lecture) Please note: not needed on the first day of class

___  Blush

___  Liquid liner black                                                  

___  Eyebrow pencil

___  Lipstick

___  Lip pencil liner

___  Mascara

___  Eye shadow – Light complexion: dark and light brown; white and off white; pink (no frosted shadows)

Dark complexion: lavender, purple, blue, white and off white; pink (no frosted shadows)

___  Face powder

___  Makeup remover

___  Moisturizer

___  Facial wash

___  Foundation

___  Concealer

___  1 set of eyelashes plus glue

HAIR

___  Hair nets several

___  Bobbie pins

___  Hairpins

___  Comb and brush

___  Hair elastics

___  Gel and spray to hold hair

 

 MISC

___  Needle

___  Thread

___  Tape

___  Band-aids

___  Running Shoes

All items should be personalized with permanent marker and/or laundry ink.

 

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Fiestaval! Snaps from the party of the season

We had a blast at our end of season party Fiestaval last weekend! Thanks to everyone who came out to party with us and support the great work that we do in the theater and off stage!

Thanks to Liam Louis/ElleVignette Impressions for photographing the party!

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New works and fresh perspectives

The final program in our season is around the corner (Up Close on Hope, April 10-25), and though the end of the season is in sight, the company is as busy as ever preparing for a wide-ranging show. This third installment of our popular black box theatre series features a total of nine pieces, seven of which are either world premieres or company premieres. Here are a few highlights:

“NEAR ABROAD” BY SYDNEY SKYBETTER

This will be the FBP choreographic debut for Sydney Skybetter, a contemporary choreographer and recent recipient of RISCA fellowship. Sydney’s choreography has been performed around the country, most recently at the Kennedy Center, Boston Center for the Arts, and Jacob’s Pillow. Near Abroad premiered at the Dance Theater Workshop in Manhattan and was originally a dance for a man and a woman. For FBP, Sydney is adapting Near Abroad – a physically intimate yet emotionally distant pas de deux – for two men. The work references the antithetic impulse to contain yet remain separate from one another, exploring the physicality of partnership and loss.

Rhode Island premiere

Below, the choreographer performs in Near Abroad at Jacob’s Pillow in Beckett, Mass.

 

“MEIN WEG” BY JOSEPH MORRISSEY

Joseph’s choreography has been featured in recent Up Close on Hope programs (“In Passing” pictured below). Mein Weg “lays bare the ultimate stretch and strength of the body, something that classical dancers often work to disguise” according to Robert Wesner, Artistic Director of the Neos Dance Theatre, the company for which Mein Weg was created for in 2011. Set to Arvo Pärt‘s eerie and powerful score of the same name the piece makes use of a dynamic classical ballet technique throughout its intricate solos and duets. Five dancers are on their own individual path while intersecting with each other at diverse moments in time and space. Translated from German, Mein Weg means “my way.”

Rhode Island premiere

Alan Alberto and Ruth Whitney in Joseph Morrissey's "In Passing." Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
Alan Alberto and Ruth Whitney in Joseph Morrissey’s “In Passing.” Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

“ALL THE BIRDS BECOME SILENT TO THE MOON’S COMPLAINS” BY VILIA PUTRIUS

It has been a few years since long-time company dancer Vilia Putrius choreographed for her colleagues, and with this new work, Vilia makes an impressive return. All the birds is a drama following a girl from youthful innocence to womanhood and into a tragic descent into self-loathing, and eventual suicide. Throughout the emotional piece, her “former self” haunts her as other dancers symbolizing temptation, obsession, addiction torment her. The gripping scenario plays out against a heart-wrenching aria by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.  The translation for the Portuguese aria is below:

Evening, a rosy, slow and transparent cloud
Over the space dreamy and beautiful
The Moon sweetly appears in the horizon,
Decorating the afternoon like a nice damsel
Who rushes and dreamy adorns herself
With an anxious soul to become beautiful
Shout all Nature to the Sky and to the Earth!
All birds become silent to the Moon’s complains
And the Sea reflects its great splendor.
Softly, the shining Moon just awakes
The cruel missing that laughs and cries.
Evening, a rosy, slow and transparent cloud
Over the space dreamy and beautiful…

World premiere. Dedicated to former Lithuanian National Opera & Ballet Theater principal dancer Jonas Katakinas.

Below, the Villa-Lobos aria, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

“3•23” BY JORGE RULLÁN

3•23 is the professional choreographic debut of FBP trainee Jorge Rullán. The piece premiered as a last-minute addition to FBP’s recent program JuxtaPOSE at The Vets. Jorge – just 19 years old – proves he is a budding talent with powerful, moving choreography in this group work set to a dynamic and stirring score by German composer Nils Frahm.

 

Up Close on Hope Program 3 runs April 10-25. Visit our website for more information or to purchase tickets online.

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Announcing Assaf Benchetrit as Guest Faculty for SDI 2015

 

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Assaf Benchetrit began his dance and music studies at the Rubin Academy for Music and Dance in Jerusalem, Israel. Upon graduation, he danced with the Jerusalem Dance Theater, the Panov Ballet, and later with The Israeli National Ballet Company. During his military service, Assaf received the “Remarkable Dancer” prize from the Israeli government which allowed him to continue dancing while serving. After completing his military service, he arrived to United States to dance with companies such as The Joffrey, Metropolitan Classical Ballet, Alabama Ballet, and Gelsey Kirkland Ballet. Throughout his career, Assaf toured through England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and numerous other countries. He performed lead roles in the majority of renowned ballet productions such as Swan Lake as Siegfried, Don Quixote as Basilio, La Corsaire as Ali, La Bayadere as Solar, Coppelia as Franz, Sleeping Beauty as the Prince, the title-role in Petrushka, and a number of George Balanchine works including Apolloin the title-role, Donizetti Variations and the Nutcracker as Cavalier. Assaf holds a joint B.S in computer science and B.F.A in dance degrees with academic honors from Montclair State University, and an M.F.A degree with academic honors in dance from Hollins/ADF/Frankfurt. He was a faculty member at Columbia University (Barnard College), Rutgers University, Montclair State University, and Raritan Valley Community College, where he taught ballet, mens’ class, pas de deux, variations, and modern dance. He is currently Assistant Professor of Dance at UNH.

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