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
“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.
Chances are, you are probably aware that Viktor Plotnikov‘s thrilling, moving Coma returns to the stage as part of JuxtaPOSE at The Vets next weekend. This choreographic masterwork leaves audiences spellbound from the moment the curtain rises on a gripping, haunting scene.
Vilia Putrius is slated to reprise the role of “Black Angel” but for the most part, the cast of this ballet is entirely new to the ballet since the last time it was performed in Rhode Island, seven years ago. As we look forward to the ballet’s long-awaited return, here’s a look at what’s in store:
Rehearsals for Viktor Plotnikov’s “Coma” have been underway since the new year, and with each passing day the ballet – arguably the defining achievement of Viktor’s choreographic career – takes shape with impressive precision and breathtaking clarity.
JuxtaPOSE is right around the corner. And as we look forward to what is sure to be an extraordinary evening of dance, we get to take a stroll down memory lane with Coma, one of the best-loved ballets in the FBP repertory. Below, Dance Magazine writer Theodore Bale’s perspective on Viktor Plotnikov’s Coma from April, 2007.
Skepticism loomed when I heard that choreographer Viktor Plotnikov made a new ballet inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1978 film Coma. That is, until the curtain opened, and then I gasped along with the rest of the audience. From its first startling scene where suspended bodies float and sway horizontally to the simple tolling of bells, it’s evident that Plotnikov’s Coma is not merely a danced sci-fi thriller but rather an emphatic and deeply personal effort, realized with singularity and intelligence.
Experienced viewers could see both the classical legacy and a unique contemporary sensibility in Plotnikov’s latest dance. Those new to the ballet experience appeared to be won over as well, evidenced by the standing ovation at the conclusion of the premiere by Festival Ballet Providence.
We need more choreographers like Plotnikov, who revere tradition while forging a new language, and still command the attention of an everyday family audience. Well-organized into three movements (titled Our Dreams, Reality, and Their Dreams) and set to an assortment of passionate music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, Coma has no obvious narrative. It deals in polarities: horizontal against vertical, those traveling and those caught motionless, the praying and the ones being prayed for. The absence of plot keeps this ballet dreamy and imaginative, like the middle section of Fokine’s Spectre de la Rose. And as Coma progresses, it becomes apparent that polarity is embedded into the movement itself. A woman crosses the stage in a series of vigorous deboulé turns, but her elbows are at sharp 45-degree angles, pointed down, instead of the traditional soft oval. A quick set of petit jetés seems at odds with static, robotic gestures in an upper body. But it’s these sorts of contradictions that make Plotnikov’s work so compelling. When the dancers are traveling, they usually began with a vicious thrust of the arm to send them on their way. There is also daring floor work juxtaposed against the still bodies floating in the middle of the proscenium space. Ensemble passages for the nine dancers came in the form of interlaced duets performed in canon, or staggered unisons, organized in a seamless fashion that kept one’s eye moving from event to event without noticing entrances and exits.
What makes this work so exciting is Plotnikov’s skillful blend of cryptic, non-ballet movement and gesture with good old-fashioned ballet showmanship. In the second movement there is an unexpected lift – a ballerina stands triumphantly on a man’s shoulders as if she’s about to ascend into the realm of the comatose -but he isn’t yet ready to let her go. After a long stint with Boston Ballet as a principal dancer and now-and-then fledgling choreographer in Boston Ballet’s Raw Dance series, with Coma Plotnikov proves himself to be deeply accomplished.
Freelance writer and dance critic Johnette Rodriguez went back through her archives and notes to give us a preview of Scheherazade and Soledad, part ofUp 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.
“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.”
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:
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.
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.
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).