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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.