Johnette Rodriguez previews Soledad and Scheherazade

Freelance writer and dance critic Johnette Rodriguez went back through her archives and notes to give us a preview of Scheherazade and Soledad, part of Up Close on Hope, Program 2, running Feb. 6-14.

Mihailo Djuric’s Soledad (1996) is set to the expressive tango music of Astor Piazzola, and it tells the story of a widow trying to come to terms with her grief as the world goes on around her (four other couples). The principal ballerina – Vilia Putrius – partners admirably with a straight-backed chair (the four other couples also utilize chairs) until a mysterious man in black (the memory of her dead partner), danced by Mindaugas Bauzys, appears. Their pas de deux is brilliant, as she swerves to the ground in a half-dozen variations and each time is drawn back up by him. The couple’s dancing has always been packed with emotional fervor but never more so than in this piece.

(Note: Ms. Rodriguez’s interpretation of Soledad is a common one, no more and no less valid than the perceptions of others who may believe Mr. Bauzys’ character is not necessarily dead, though he has no doubt departed Ms. Putrius in at least some sense.)

The second ballet is even more intense, though it is also somber — in this case a stolen love — but in Scheherazade (2005), choreographer Gianni di Marco drenches every movement in sensuality. The story involves a sultan and his harem and the sultan’s brother (Zeman), who informs him of an affair between his favorite wife Zobeida (danced by Jennifer Ricci) and one of the slaves (danced by Alan Alberto). A trap is set, the lovers are caught and the consequences are not pretty.

But the ballet itself is beautiful, in the sinuous arcs of the harem girls’ arms, in the high leaps by Zeman, in the dramatic gestures of the Eunuch and in the lovely and tender 10-minute pas de deux between Zobeida and her “Golden Slave.”

Former Boston Ballet soloist Gianni Di Marco spoke during a rehearsal break about his interpretation of what had been a standard piece in the repertory of the Ballet Russes. He mentioned clarifying the characters’ motivations, for example, making Zeman a bit in love with Zobeida and making the Eunuch more of a storyteller and jester. Di Marco also wanted to bring his own vocabulary of steps, so different from the original production, into this new Scheherazade.

“I made the duet with Zobeida and the Golden Slave more intimate, a little sexually avant-garde,” he noted, “because we live in a different age now. People see reality shows and want to be part of it. I wanted this to be as if the audience saw themselves involved in this relationship, for them to relate to it more.”

Thus, when that enchanting in-the-garden motif begins in Rimsky-Korsakov’s music, Zobeida walks toward the Golden Slave and he lifts her onto his thighs, holding her as she faces front, running his hands along the side of her face and down her shoulders. He bends her back across one knee and she touches her hair, then her heart and moves away. He undulates toward her, caresses her, lifts her, and twirls her when the music flutters. She revels in her own sexuality as she swipes the front of her foot across the back of his knee. And finally, the two of them are on the floor as she rolls over him and then he over her.

Jennifer Ricci and Alexander Akoulov in Scheherazade. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion
Jennifer Ricci and Alexander Akoulov in Scheherazade. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion

“In trying to bring emotional feeling into movement, you have to make the dancers understand what it is about,” Di Marco emphasized. “A rainbow has to have different colors. This time you have to feel sad; this time you have to feel happy. I want to create dancers who are well-rounded and true to the art form.”

And if everything is not tied up in neat bows at the end of a ballet such as Scheherazade, that’s part of Di Marco’s intent: “It’s important to go home thinking about it. We live in a society where everything has to be instant coffee. It’s nice to live with a question, because we don’t usually want to try to figure it out.”


SHE MOVES: Jessica Howard

Jessica Howard
Jessica Howard

Beneath the Surface (Glamour Girl) is a solo inspired by the fact there is no unchanging self. To investigate this further and bring the concept to life in the performance the process was about uncovering the conscious moving body in how movement creates an image world or how the external world invokes movement choices. It was a discovery on how certain movements inspire thoughts or emotions and then as the performer how to translate and project that internal dialogue to the audience. Even though the movement is choreographed the beauty in performing is that constant metamorphous of each moment in the performance in that a movement might trigger a different thought/feeling or visceral response and/or how a external sensations (i.e. the room, the audience, the smell… all these stimuli) change the dynamic of how the movement is executed in that moment.

Jessica Howard. Photo by Kiqe Bosch
Jessica Howard. Photo by Kiqe Bosch

She Moves: A dance concert to benefit the Women’s Center of Rhode Island is a collaborative effort bringing together eleven of the strongest female voices in the Rhode Island contemporary dance community. Feb. 15, 6:00pm.

Learn more and purchase tickets on our website.


SHE MOVES: Andrea Dawn Shelley

Andrea Dawn Shelley
Andrea Dawn Shelley

After receiving an invitation to participate in She Moves, I wanted to seize this opportunity to create something new and use a piece of music that has been playing over and over on my playlist for about a year now. This new work, Deluge of Discontent is absolutely, 100%, musically driven. Inspiration is being drawn from the discord I continue to feel while listening to Philip Glass’, Etude No. 6. Being a long time disciple of Glass, I have always been seduced by his music because of the passion that his melodies ignite inside. His constant metronome, which is present in each and every score, never grows tiresome to my ear. It is this pulse which evokes excitement and always presents me with endless choreographic possibility. The music clearly tells a story and I’ve yet to decide what that story is; the story his music is prompting me to tell. However, the phrase “windows of appearances” keeps playing over and over in my head. Windows of appearances…

I am currently in the creation process and by choice, have yet to put the three dancers I’m using (including myself) in the same room. I’ve been working with each dancer separately to develop individual material and create a subconscious disconnect among the three. I anticipate that this disconnect will lend itself to the discord I’m seeking. This is also a new pairing of three very different dancers, with three very different voices; another source of endless inspiration. I will be as pleasantly surprised as the audience to see how this story unfolds. There will be an emotional journey of unrest, a discontented human affair constantly interrupted by a deluge of music and movement by an external party. I look forward to sharing this work in an intimate setting and look forward to how the environment will affect both the dancers and audience.

Photo by S.G.Hering
With Alan Alberto. Photo by S. G. Hering.

Listen to Philip Glass’ Etude No. 6:

She Moves: A dance concert to benefit the Women’s Center of Rhode Island is a collaborative effort bringing together eleven of the strongest female voices in the Rhode Island contemporary dance community. Feb. 15, 6:00pm.

Learn more and purchase tickets on our website.

Visit Andrea’s website.


Two hot numbers for a cold winter

Tonight, temps are plunging to almost zero degrees, but you’d never know it from the rehearsals going on at the FBP Studios. The company is preparing two ballets for a special winter installment (Feb. 6-14) of its popular Black Box Theatre series Up Close on Hope. In an unusual departure from the “mixed repertory” type of program (which often consist of as many as twelve unique works); this program will present just two pieces:

Music: Astor Piazzolla
Choreography: Mihailo Djuric

Meaning “loneliness” in Spanish, Soledad is a spicy group work for five couples. Set to the stirring tangos of Astor Piazzolla, the work is brimming with latin flare and exciting choreography. Choreographed originally in 1995, the piece has endured thanks to clever musicality and timeless staging.

FBP company men in Soledad. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
FBP company men in Soledad. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

FBP Company women in Soledad. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
FBP Company women in Soledad. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

Music: Rimsky-Korsakov
Choreography: Gianni Di Marco

Without a doubt, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is a symphonic masterpiece – a composition as familiar as it is dramatic. Gianni Di Marco‘s 2005 ballet adaptation brings the rich drama to life in stunning, tragic detail. The passionate but forbidden romance of Zobeide and her lover, the Golden Slave, plays out with breathtaking spectacle. Longtime FBP dancer Jennifer Ricci, renowned for her portrayal of Zobeide in previous stagings, will reprise the role.

Jennifer Ricci and Alexander Akoulov in Scheherazade. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
Jennifer Ricci and Alexander Akoulov in Scheherazade. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

Jennifer Ricci and Alexander Akoulov in Scheherazade. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
Jennifer Ricci and Alexander Akoulov in Scheherazade. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

BELOW: Listen to the epic score, as performed by the Vienna Philharmonic (while Di Marco’s adaptation leaves the score largely intact, it does omit some sections):

Tickets are available online, by phone (401-353-1129) or in person (825 Hope Street, Providence, RI 02906).


Family Portraits

As you may know, the FBP family has gotten a little bit bigger in recent months. Three of our staff recently gave birth to new babies, within just days of each other! Congratulations to company dancers Ruth Whitney and Marissa Parmenter (and her husband Ty Parmenter, also an FBP dancer), and ballet mistress Leticia Guerrero.

Naturally, we couldn’t turn down the chance to get all the moms, dads, and their babies in one place for what probably goes down as the most adorable and heartwarming photo shoot we’ve ever done!



Dance is about stirring in our audience thoughtful insight. For as many seasons as we can recall, arts writer Johnette Rodriguez has been watching, thinking, and “writing in the dark” as fellow dance critic (now retired) Arlene Croce once said of the practice. Her insight is spot-on, at times picking up on aspects of the performance even the dancers themselves had hardly considered. Recently out of a job, we just couldn’t bear to let an Up Close on Hope pass without hearing from her and gaining her valuable perspective on our work.

When Mihailo (“Misha”) Djuric, artistic director of Festival Ballet Providence, made the decision in 2003 to include a program of short pieces presented in the company’s studio on Hope St., he had several goals in mind: to give audiences a chance to see dance up close; to introduce them to new and upcoming choreographers; to give new dancers an opportunity to shine in a classical dance segment; and to give company members a venue to present original work. Thus, the Up Close on Hope series was born, with a fall and spring program extending over four weekends. The current fall program continues November 14, 15 and 21.

In this program, Djuric has featured a new-to-FBP choreographer, Ilya Kozadayev; two Boston-based choreographers who’ve created pieces for Up Close since the beginning and gone on to do full-length dance concerts: Gianni Di Marco and Viktor Plotnikov; an impressive four-movement piece by company apprentice Louisa Chapman; and one by company member Ty Parmenter.

Sandwiched among the seven contemporary pieces are two from the classical repertoire: the “Peasant pas de deux” from Giselle (choreography by Marius Petipa after Jules Perrot), and the “Seventh Waltz” from Les Sylphides  (choreography by Mikhail Fokin). The former has folk elements throughout, including little hops and hands on hips. And, as with any pas de deux, there are alternating solos by the male and female dancers, showing off their jetés and their pirouettes.

The waltz, set to Chopin, is as romantic as can be, with veteran FBP soloist Vilia Putrius in a long white tutu, looking like a puffy cloud as she perches on the shoulder of partner Mindaugas Bauzys, also a long-time FBP soloist and now on staff as the ballet master. Their flowing waltz steps are punctuated by lovely arabesques and gentle turns.

In stark contrast, Putrius and Bauzys present one of Kozadayev’s two premieres, Moonlight, as a couple filled with pain and sorrow, set to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, itself a dark and brooding piece. Hunched shoulders, sharply angled arms, Putrius burying her face in Bauzys chest for a moment, and he lifting her awkwardly bent body with one arm—all convey a sense of anguish and inconsolable loss.

The other heart-wrenching piece is DiMarco’s premiere of Voices in Your Head, a trio that portrays Alex Lantz with two women (Louisa Chapman and Emily Loscocco) pulling at his thoughts and feelings, driving him to rub and shake his head to rid himself of them. But, like the ancient Harpies, they circle him, sit on top of him on the floor, whisper in his ear, taunting and tormenting him. All three dancers are mesmerizing.

Kozadayev’s second piece, Molto Expressivo, is precisely that: two couples clasp and unclasp each other, as the male dancers lift and catch their female partners with her knees thrown around his torso or her body held straight in front but upside down. Arms are sometimes flourished in waves, with “much expression,” and sometimes just stretched up exuberantly. It’s a fluid and captivating work.

Plotnikov’s premiere, with original music commissioned from Sonya Belousova, is called Surrogate, and is embellished with the modern touches this choreographer likes to draw on—a bit of mime here, a touch of hip-hip there. The women may have pink tutus and point shoes, but they have sheer black leotards under the pink and their feet splay out flat when lifted by a male dancer. They are sometimes held up by a hank of hair or dragged by one foot, adding to the marionette effect. Like an abstract video, the six dancers create shifting scenes and poses, smashing clichés with every step and stance.

Choreographer Viktor Plotnikov (left) with FBP Company in rehearsal for "Surrogate."
Choreographer Viktor Plotnikov (left) with FBP Company in rehearsal for “Surrogate.”

Parmenter uses an unusual audio from the ’47 film Fear in the Night for a long stretch of his Glauben Sie Mir (Believe Me!). The three dancers (Alan Alberto, Vincent Brewer and Tegan Rich) convey appropriate suspense and fear (hand clasped over another’s eyes, running in large arcs) and a desperate sense of being inside a dream not of their own making.

Chapman’s four-part dance, The Elements, is broken into Earth, Water, Fire and Air. The first, with nine dancers, is appropriately “grounded,” with the sound of pacing feet and an occasional pause for a hug or a greeting with another of the humans passing by. The second is a sensual evocation of water, with undulations of arms and torsos, and with bodies (Putrius and Alan Alberto) gliding over one another.

The third has Parmenter and Harunaga Yamakawa with flickering fingers, stretching arms and vertical jumps, in flame-like energy. The fourth has five dancers in a V-formation, arms held wing-like, tipping from side to side, riding the air currents, as migrating geese or ducks will do. At times their shoulders round and their hands flutter, as they change direction, or they open their arms wide and dip down. This dance is such fun to watch, as the bird-like dancers re-create so many different flight movements—we seem to feel the Air beneath their wings.

FBP Company women in rehearsal for "The Elements, Air."
FBP Company women in rehearsal for “The Elements, Air.”

Last, but certainly not least, Djuric has reprised an alluring duo of his own, set to Schubert, called Tender Delusions.  Alex Lantz is an expressive dancer, and he partners well with Kirsten Evans, as the two recreate a relationship that tugs and tears, as they try to put it back together.  Djuric’s sculptural sense is stunning: when Lantz lifts Evans while they’re both on their knees; when he carries her as her legs bicycle in air or sets her down, as her legs go into a split on the floor.

Djuric’s piece, as many throughout this program, is emotional tension made visual in dance. And Festival Ballet Providence’s Up Close on Hope series never disappoints on that score.

– Johnette Rodriguez


Louisa Chapman’s “The Elements”

Louisa Chapman, FBP Apprentice

My inspiration for The Elements came from observing and interacting with nature. I saw the wind catch leaves on a tree during a walk and saw ripples echo from my hand as I swam in a river this summer. I began to crave capturing these moments in movement. I also wanted to challenge the dancers. We are always dancing through air but I asked them to examine, what it would feel like to dance through water or through smoke? The greatest challenge has been that honesty in the choreography and dancing for each element.

Up Close On Hope is a great performance to have such a piece in. The mixed program allowed me to approach each element differently. Someone may like one section but not another. The close proximity of the audience also allows a greater participation in the performance. I hope it encourages them to make greater connections between the pieces and their own experiences.

Louisa Chapman’s “The Elements” first premiered this summer at the Birkshire Choreography Project. See the FBP company premiere at Up Close on Hope, Nov. 1 – 21.

Louisa Chapman in rehearsal for her work, The Elements.
Louisa Chapman in rehearsal for her work, The Elements.


Ty Parmenter’s new work “Glauben Sie mir”

Ty Parmenter, Company Dancer
Ty Parmenter, Company Dancer

My piece for Program 1 of Up Close on Hope is titled Glauben Sie mir. The piece is for three dancers one woman and two men and is danced to music by Mozart as well as dialogue from an old film. I like to think of it as a reflection on my life at this moment. My wife and I have recently returned to Providence after being away for the past eight years. As well at the beginning of the creation we were expecting our first child, and now we have a beautiful son. So needless to say, a lot of changes some familiar and some not so have helped shape the work.

It has been difficult to make the switch between choreographer and dancer in Up Close on Hope Program 1. It’s a very different focus that I have to have. When I’m in the front of the room creating I am not only managing the three dancers in front of me but I’m trying to navigate the music, think of how the dancers should be dressed, the lighting; all the while I’m creating movement that looks good on the dancers while staying sincere to what I’m trying to convey. As a dancer I’m focused just on executing the movement given to me as best as I can whether it’s in a solo or when I’m working with a partner.

Ty Parmenter, re-joins FBP after dancing at other companies. He was a dancer from 2003-2006. He and his wife – Marissa, (also a FBP company dancer) – recently celebrated the birth of their first baby, Miles.

Ty and Marissa with their son Miles


Hitting the ground running

FBP’s 37th Season gets off to an impressive start with a brand-new program of Up Close on Hope, running November 1 – 21.

The program features a total of nine works, including four World Premieres, two Company Premieres, one new commissioned musical score, and two new additions to the FBP’s growing choreographic team. This Up Close on Hope promises to be one of the best programs ever, jam-­packed with tender romance, raw emotion, striking contemporary works and stunningly danced classical works.

Jennifer Ricci as Giselle and Gleb Lyamenkoff as Albrecht. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
Jennifer Ricci as Giselle and Gleb Lyamenkoff as Albrecht. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

On the classical side, the program offers a famous pas de deux from Act I of GisellePeasant Pas de Deux. Also on the bill is the seventh waltz from Chopiniana (Les Sylphides), a poetic ballet by Russian choreographer Michel Fokine set to the hugely influential romantic composer Frédéric Chopin.

Choreographer Ilya Kozadayev makes his Up Close on Hope debut with two powerhouse ballets. Moonlight – a World Premiere – is a beautiful contemporary pas de deux set to the iconic and moving “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven. His second contribution, Molto Espressivo, is brimming with powerful partnering for two couples; the ballet was originally choreographed for Houston Ballet.

After making her FBP choreographic debut with Living Room Vignettes in March, 2014, Louisa Chapman returns to Up Close on Hope with a four-part ballet titled The Elements, conceptually and choreographically exploring water, fire, air, and earth. At the premiere of Vignettes, RI NPR’s Bill Gale said “there’s passion and budding talent” in Chapman’s work (read the full review of that program).

Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Viktor Plotnikov's "Orchis." Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Viktor Plotnikov’s “Orchis.” Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

Viktor Plotnikov is back with a brand-new work set to a brand-new commissioned score by Sonya Belousova. The duo worked together on FBP’s groundbreaking collaborative Orchis in 2012, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to partner again on this new ballet. Part of the inspiration for the ballet’s movements comes from a music video that Viktor choreographed this summer, for Boston-based band The Bynars, which featured two FBP dancers – Alex Lantz and Kirsten Evans. It’s not often that music videos feature ballet with this much skill and focus, but this one definitely hits the mark:

There’s much more in store for the first of three Up Close on Hope programs this season. Get the dates and purchase tickets or subscriptions online (with our snazzy new online system) on our website –> HERE

Read the press release [PDF] for a full listing of choreographers, composers, and works.


A final farewell to SDI 2014

With the summer coming to a close, we asked Alan Alberto to take one final look back at FBP’s Summer Dance Intensive 2014.


Alan Alberto, FBP Company Dancer
Alan Alberto, SDI 2014 director

As the Summer Dance Intensive (SDI) 2014 at FBP comes to a close after 6 successful weeks I would like to congratulate everyone involved on a job well done. The students of the SDI 2014 performed wonderfully at WaterFire and the FBP Black Box Theater.
The Senior Program hosted 59 students from June 30th to July 26th and culminated with a collaborative performance at WaterFire. The Junior Program hosted 48 students with 2 final performances in the FBP Black Box Theater on August 8th.

Approximately 200 dancers from around the country auditioned for the SDI 2014. Auditions were held in 12 major cities around the U.S. The SDI 2014 National Audition Tour was sponsored by Motionwear. More than 100 male and female students attended the SDI 2014 from around the U.S. Nine students received full/partial tuition scholarships and several other students received financial aid to attend the program.

The Senior Program students were given the opportunity to perform at Providence’s acclaimed WaterFire. The evening was sponsored by RI Defeats Hep C. Our collaboration was a contribution of 5 dance pieces in a series titled “The C Project.” (Read more about The C Project from the contributing choreographers).

Artists from the FBP Company, Beth Mochizuki and Alex Lantz, joined the Senior program students for this special performance at Water Place Park. The goal of this collaboration was to promote awareness for recent discoveries in curing the Hepatitis C virus, through music and dance. The students performed wonderfully and were the talk of the town. WaterFire was attended by thousands of spectators who left in awe of our performance.

SDI 2014 students perform at WaterFire. Photo by John Simonetti.
SDI 2014 students perform at WaterFire. Photo by John Simonetti.

FBP company dancers Alex Lantz and Elizabeth Mochizuki perform at WaterFire. Photo by John Simonetti.
FBP company dancers Alex Lantz and Elizabeth Mochizuki perform at WaterFire. Photo by John Simonetti.

This was my first summer directing the SDI at FBP and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. It has been a true pleasure to work with all of the students, faculty, staff, volunteers, WaterFire, Motionwear, LaBrie Dance, and everyone who contributed to making this summer a success. I’m looking forward to seeing you again next summer!

Alan Alberto
SDI 2014 Director