Jordan Nelson’s emotional return to the studio

Immediately following his release from Rhode Island Hospital on Wednesday, Jordan Nelson’s first stop was, you guessed it, Festival Ballet Providence. The hit-and-run biking accident several weeks ago may have left him with a broken clavicle and fractured skull, but it did not take away his determination to keep dancing.

Arm in a sling but eyes bright as ever, Jordan stepped into the studio for an emotional reunion. As he approached his usual position at the barre, Nelson broke into tears of joy, explaining just how much it meant to be back in the studio again.

While slowing practicing some doctor-approved pliés, Jordan opened up about his intense work to improve his physicality and technique throughout the month of June, and the hardest part of being in the hospital for eighteen days: not moving. In typical dancer fashion, Jordan is already planning his gradual return to training, one step at a time.

Jordan’s got his sights on the upcoming season, FBP’s 40th Anniversary. “There’s still so much work that we have to do, and only a few months left to prepare. I can’t believe I am able to get back to doing everything that I love with all of these dancers that I’ve been able to work so hard with this past year,” Nelson beamed, adding “we’re going to get to show audiences what we are capable of as a company, to an extent that I don’t think they’ve seen before.”

Jordan is certainly looking forward to the next few months, but in his not so distant future? “Seven Stars for a ginger biscuit, of course.” Pliés and pastries, just what the doctor ordered.

(L to R) FBP Board members Laurine Ryan Perry, Marie Weiss, Artistic Director Mihailo Djuric, Dancers Jordan Nelson, Kirsten Evans, Marissa Parmenter
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In the Spotlight: Danielle Davidson

Danielle Davidson, one of the area’s most respected local contemporary dancers and one-half of the groundbreaking duo “Doppelgänger Dance Collective” joins the faculty of FBP’s Summer Dance Intensive 2017, which starts next week. The four-week training program is the perfect venue for Davidson’s unique choreographic style, based in classical ballet but with a contemporary flare all her own. We asked FBP School student Mizuki Samuelson to sit down with Danielle and learn about her backstory and what inspires her choreography and teaching.

Danielle Davidson. Photo by Nikki Carrara.

Hi Danielle! To start, how did you get involved in dance?

I started dancing really late compared to most. I was 12, when I discovered dance.  My parents had me try out many sports: soccer, bowling, baseball. I hated it! And I was afraid of the ball. I would be spinning and swirling out in the field. One day, a friend at school told me about this dance class she was taking–a jazz class. I was interested so I begged my mother to sign me up. On my first day, the teacher was like “Oh you have a lot of potential. We’re gonna put you in ballet and in the performance group, tomorrow.” And I fell in love. Immediately, yeah.

So once you started taking classes, did you go straight to a professional school to train?

The training I was doing age 12 – 14, was at an amateur after-school program. It was Cecchetti ballet, jazz, modern. I went many nights a week because I was crazy about it. But I realized right away I wanted to do this professionally. So I auditioned for L’École Supérieure de Danse du Québec because I speak French and because the program offered full scholarships. I was 15 when I moved away from home and, yeah, living in an apartment with a couple other dancers…that was my teenage life.

Donizetti Variations. Image courtesy Balanchine Trust

When did you first start working with contemporary dance?

When I was about 21, 22. The transition was difficult. I didn’t know anything about floor work. [Laughs] I was so bad. Just dropping my bones into the floor. There is a professional series in Montréal programming at Circuit-Est. I basically taught myself by attending class daily for 2 or 3 years, Monday through Friday, every morning I’d show up to those classes, and mangle my way through. It’s a really elevated program and I just learned through practicing. I found that there was a lot more acceptance about your depth of physicality, not that I don’t have a lot of it, hahha, but it just felt more…honest. And human, authentic, and accepting.

What other companies did you work with?

I worked with an opera company in Hamilton, Ontario with Renaud Doucet who’s a brilliant choreographer. There were six dancers. They paid to move me to Hamilton, they paid for my apartment, it was a luxurious position. We toured all over. It was my first real commercial [job]. We were treated like royalty. It was lovely. Big change from a ballet company where you, you know, you have to kind of fend for yourself.

Photo by J. A. Dupont
Photo by J. A. Dupont

Then I moved to Toronto and worked with a company called Ballet Espressivo, mostly neoclassical ballet. Lines were still appreciated but there was less of the old romantic ballet stories and more present day conflicts. Like some of the work that Festival Ballet Providence is doing now, like Viktor Plotnikov’s work.

In my 20s, I changed companies almost every other year. I was still trying to figure out where I belonged, who I was, what made sense for me. I started to realize that the prestige mattered less than the creative process itself. I realized that, the rehearsal process, the creation of new work was more important to me than the prestige of touring or dancing with a well-known company. And actually, to be honest, touring kinda sucks. When you’re living out of a suitcase, it sounds glamorous, but it sucks. You miss your cat, your friends, grocery stores.. etc..  I was happy to stop, after all my early 20s, traveling all the time. I wanted to settle down.

I went back to Montréal in 2006. I started working with Lina Cruz, with a company called Productions Fila 13. Lina makes dance-theater, so it was this whole new experience for me. I was actually a part of the creative process. Her work tours internationally, so it’s really well supported and the company– what I loved about that job, was that the members of the company were like friends, family, people that I cared about. We were a solid team.

So do you feel like when you returned to Montreal in 2006, that was the first time you found a company that was right for you?

Yeah, it was the first time I found a company that nurtured my spirit, that felt like home, and that the work was really weird [laughs] but in a really exciting way, it made sense for my personality. I performed in this one piece where we were on all fours, licking a mirror reflection of ourselves. A small company of about six dancers– three men, three women. We were all really featured, always a soloist, you weren’t just a number. I really love that company. Dance-Theater makes so much sense to me.

As a dancer, what was the transition like to becoming a teacher and a choreographer?

Well,  right before my husband and I moved to Providence, my professional ballet school contacted me and said that they’d really love for me to come and teach. I was like [surprised look]. When I attended the orientation day it was so weird to be sitting on the side with the faculty, with people who had been my teachers. It changed everything about how I understand the dynamics between teaching and being a student. Like what it means to share your life experience and your life’s passion with people, especially younger than yourself,  who perhaps don’t quite yet know themselves.

It became a practice, every class I taught I learned more about how to share the essence behind why we do a dégagé. What does it mean that your lower half is going out into the world? You know, like the conceptual and philosophical reasons to move our bodies in space. Where the joy is and where the pain is. All that stuff helped me better understand why I dance.

When they asked me if I would set a piece on the dancers, I thought , Wow. I mean I don’t know. Do you really think I’m capable?.. It was that they believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself. They trusted that I could do it, so I had to prove to myself and them that I could. It seemed that I had a gift for choreography.

I always thought I was a dancer. And I can see that in my future, I’m going to be more of a choreographer. I’m already headed down that path. But for right now it’s important that I dance, that I teach and that I choreograph because all three, they communicate with each other. My dance experience teaches me about teaching. And the teaching teaches me about choreography. And the choreography teaches me—they all speak to one another in this really cohesive way that reminds me how everything is connected. In the universe. We’re all connected. And it’s just a beautiful, spiritual experience to have, to have so many outlets to come together. I’m sorry, is this really esoteric? [Laughs]

How would you describe your choreography? What is your process like?

Well, it’s all over the place. I’ve made some pieces that are very movement vocabulary-based, that are almost like feats of technique and virtuosity. I’ve also made quiet works that are sparse and take their time in horizontal space. But the vocabulary itself is somewhere between contemporary release technique and neoclassical ballet. I’ll give my dancers a conceptual task and they will generate some material that I will then completely take apart [laughs] and re-frame, but there is still an essence of them left. I’ll give little hints about what I want their performative state to be, but I hope for them to want and to find the journey within the piece for themselves. As for conceptually what types of work I make… A lot of it is about identity, transformation, struggle, community, definitely community, anonymity. All the works I’ve done have in some way been about those concepts.

What’s it like to be a female choreographer in the male-dominated field?

I find that in order to not let that fact of life get me down, I use the knowledge of this inequality to empower me. That we as a society have men still being paid more than women in all jobs, that men are still being valued as more successful…. it’s a travesty. But, instead of seeing it like I’m a victim and I’m defeated by being a woman, I see it as a challenge for myself to be the best that I can be. Regardless of how society or the systems that are in place right now are set up, I feel it is my duty to continue striving to do my absolute best and to share that with the world in the best way that I can. I see that horrible inequality as an opportunity for me to grow, to speak my truth and to fight the systems in place.

Shura Baryshnikov and Danielle Davidson. Promotional photos for Myths, Legends & Questions. Photo by Nikki Carrara.

Do you think being a woman has any influence on your own choreography?

Absolutely. I’m very interested in the ideologies of third wave feminism, and for example, the writings of Judith Butler. I think what’s important to me is equality, and justice, and the attempt to get as close to it as possible, in every climate and environment. Whether you’re a transgender individual or a straight white female, how you identify is what matters I think, that as humans we navigate life trying to remain true to ourselves and foster relationships of equality with everyone we encounter.. that’s what is important to me. So, I would say because I do identify as a woman, it’s glorious to know who I am and to be able to remain true to that. I wish that for everyone..That’s going to be a concept explored in our piece at Festival, definitely. (Editor’s Note: This new commissioned choreography for FBP’s Summer Dance Intensive will be performed at WaterFire on July 22 and at the FBP Black Box Theatre on July 29). 

Photo by Marc Pilaro

So would you say that your experience in theater informs your work as well?

Yeah, absolutely. The other thing is I’m an entrepreneur. Shura and I co-founded a company! And this is the magical transition that happened when I moved to Providence. When I was living in Montréal my husband was doing his B.A. When it was time to do his M.A. he said he wanted to transfer to a better known university. But I wanted to stay in Montréal. I loved the company I was working with, and I was happy. So he stayed for me, he stayed in Montréal for a few more years. But then he wanted to get his Ph.D. at an Ivy League university, so we moved to Providence.

I found a company in Massachusetts called Prometheus and I work with them. I just got lucky, finding a home, a family, a group of dancers that allow me to be part of the creative process, build the vocabulary, and work with guest choreographers. At the time, I didn’t feel that there was the type of dancing I wanted to do consistently here in Providence.

Then I met Shura Baryshnikov in a technique class and we just sensed the ‘doppelgänger-ness’ immediately. We sought out our dream choreographers, began fundraising, built Doppelgänger Dance Collective  (DDC) from the ground up and it has been really successful! So, all this to say, I initially moved here thinking that my dance career was over, that I would be gardening and crying into my flowers, but then, this new opportunity came, to be an entrepreneur, to be a woman building a company. We’re doing really well and I would have never ever thought of co-founding or directing a dance company. I would have never wanted to do the administration and the websites and the learning about technical direction and production design and dealing with presenters and the media. All of that stuff, it was never something I wanted, but I’m loving it. I’m learning so much about this other side of dance- arts-administration, things that I would have never learned as just a member of a company. So, Providence, in that respect, has given me this thing that I would have never imagined for myself. A real gift in learning.

I was just going to ask about your company with Shura! So what would you say is the idea behind Doppelgänger Dance Collective?

 The day Shura and I met, we just intuitively felt and knew that we’d met our match. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, we were at the same place. We were at the same age, we had a ton of different experiences and wisdom to bring to the table, but we were mirror reflections. We wanted to push ourselves and each other past our own limitations, breaking all boundaries and just being recklessly brave about what was possible for the arts community and for ourselves in Providence. We also wanted to foster the creation and performance of live music for our concerts, and give choreographers the opportunity to have their works presented, without having to self-produce. In a sense we are also curators. We’re doing it all. It’s crazy. I mean we have some help, we have a team of people who help us: a lovely intern, an amazing social media strategist, a technical director, etc..  but yeah… it’s crazy.

What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve worked on? Either your own choreography or things that you’ve danced.

I was a soloist in a piece choreographed by Thierry Malandain, the artistic director of Ballet Biarritz. He created a work for us called Gnossiènes, set to Erik Satie’s beautiful ‘Gymnopédies & Gnossiennes’ . I danced a trio with two men where I had to do this crazy acrobatic stuff. I was at once, a rabbit coming out of a magician’s hat, and also some sort of gymnast; I had to literally flip off the barre, I had to maneuver my hands on the barre as the guys swirled me around like a helicopter. The barre itself had on, one side the light and, on the other, the dark. I had to repeatedly try to get into the light because I was in the dark. It reflected the state of being or frame of mind, I was in at the time, and it just meant so much to me, emotionally, spiritually, physically… We performed that piece all over Europe, all over North America, that piece I have never stopped loving.

Davidson in Gnossiènes. Image courtesy Thierry Malandain, Ballet Biarritz.

Danielle Davidson will teach a master class and choreographic workshop July 8-9 at Festival Ballet Providence. Click here to learn more.

Interview conducted by FBP School student Mizuki Samuelson. In the Spotlight series edited by Kirsten Evans and Dylan Giles.

FBP School student Mizuki Samuelson

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In the Spotlight: Alan Alberto

From California to Miami, Russia, and Rhode Island (to name a few!), Alan Alberto has danced all over the world. We caught up with one of FBP’s leading men to find out how that path led to Providence, what his favorite roles are to perform, and even his best chimichurri recipe…

Alan dancing Pas de Trois in Act I of Swan Lake. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

Hey Alan! Let’s start with a bit of your background.

My family is Argentinean, I’m first generation born American. I grew up playing soccer and was a very athletic kid. I participated in theater and musical theater in school but didn’t begin any type of formal dance lessons until high school. I started dancing at the age of 15 in Miami.

So what was your training like?

I took my first formal ballet class on Valentine’s Day of 2003 at Mencia & Pikieris School of Dance. I knew immediately that I wanted to pursue ballet professionally. I auditioned for The Harid Conservatory and was accepted. I continued my studies at Harid for my Junior and Senior year of high school. Harid’s training is Vaganova, I enjoyed the training and after graduating wanted to continue my studies. I auditioned and was accepted to the Vaganova Ballet Academy (Academy of Russia Ballet) in St. Petersburg, Russia. I completed the upper school, Class 7 & 8, graduated in 2007.

Alan with his Level 7 class at the Vaganova academy in 2006
Alan with his teacher Umrijin, Level 7 class at the Vaganova academy in 2006

It sounds like your ballet training was pretty well-rounded! Do you think that made it a bit easier to transition in professional life? What was your experience like? 

My professional career began as a guest artist with Boca Ballet Theatre as Paris in Romeo & Juliet. After this performance I began my first season with Nashville Ballet in 2007. The transition from student to professional happened rather quickly and was challenging. There were high expectations and pressure to prove myself.

Wow, that must have been intimidating.

I had only been dancing for 4 years before I started working, I was very green but worked really hard. In 2008 I moved to NYC to expand my horizons and continue to grow as an artist.

You’ve had the experience of dancing in quite a few different environments. How do you feel these differing cultures have affected you as an artist?

I’ve been fortunate to have lived and danced in Russia, Florida, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Croatia, and Rhode Island. These experiences have been wonderful, I’ve met some really beautiful and talented individuals along the way. The differing cultures have broadened my perspective on life, understanding, worth, value, and has taught me gratitude.

Alan at Nashville Ballet

Lovely!  This is your fifth season with the company.  What do you like best about Festival Ballet Providence? 

I’m grateful for my work at FBP and the opportunities I’ve been given. I appreciate that we’re a small company and we get to dance a lot.

Alan as Prince Ivan in Mihailo Djuric’s Firebird. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
Alan as Prince Ivan in Mihailo Djuric’s Firebird. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

Speaking of opportunities, you’ve had the pleasure of dancing several principal roles with the company.  Do you have any favorites so far? 

Romeo, which I just performed last month, is my favorite so far. It’s a role that feels very natural to me and allows me to be genuine with my emotions.

I’ve enjoyed the process of working with such a positive and inspiring choreographer like Ilya Kozadayev. It’s great to work with an artist with such good energy, vision, and passion.

The story is moving, the music is beautiful, the collaboration with Gamm Theatre is exciting, and the choreography is organic.

Alan as Romeo in Ilya Kozadayev’s Romeo & Juliet

When you’re not dancing, you are pursuing your business degree at Johnson and Whales. Tell us a bit about why education is so important to you.

Education is extremely important to me. I really enjoy learning and strive to continue to grow every day of my life. I always knew I would get a degree in business, it just had to be the right place and the right time. After settling into my job at FBP, I knew the time was right. JWU is a great fit for me because of the adult program they offer in the evening, I can make it work with the FBP schedule. The business school offers a very well rounded business degree, my concentration is in Operations. I really enjoy business. I hope to translate the knowledge and network I’m building into my future career.

That’s so inspiring.  And as if a full time ballet career and school weren’t enough, you’ve also started your own business, Mesa Fresca. Can you tell us a bit about that and what the experience has been like? 

Mesa Fresca, the Fresh Table, is a food business my sister and I launched in 2014. We craft premium Hispanic cuisine with all natural & fresh ingredients, currently offering an authentic Argentine chimichurri sauce. Founded on family and community, Mesa Fresca aims to address the gap in the marketplace for authentic, fresh packaged Hispanic food. This summer we will be launching two new products. It’s exciting to see our business grow and expand.

Visit us today at @hopemain #meetyourmaker 10-2pm #localeats #localfoods #WarrenRI

A post shared by Mesa Fresca (@mesafresca) on

The experience has been wonderful. It’s been fun meeting people in a different community (outside of ballet), getting more involved with individuals working on food policy in RI, and learning from successful & passionate entrepreneurs.

How do you juggle all of that? 

I’m able to juggle all of it by keeping very organized and having a supportive family. I have a calendar where I make notes and plan my ballet, school, and Mesa Fresca schedule. My family and friends provide support which allows me to be successful.

Beautiful. So I have a jar of your chimichurri in my fridge and it is super yummy!  But I was wondering, what’s your favorite dish to make using the Mesa Fresca chimichurri? 

Chimichurri is traditional served over grilled meats. It’s great as a seasoning or marinade for steak, chicken, fish, or veggies. My favorite way to eat it is over sausages.

Here goes:

  • Grill Italian Sausages (Chorizo)
  • Lightly toast a French Baguette on grill (when the sausages are almost done)
  • Cut open the baguette (the long way)
  • Cut open the sausage (the long way)
  • Place sausage in the baguette
  • Drizzle chimichurri all over the sausage
  • Enjoy your Chorizo Sandwich! (Chori-Pan)


See Alan Alberto in Viktor Plotnikov’s Carmen March 24-April 7, 2017 and Boyko Dossev’s The Little Prince March 26-April 9, 2017.

In The Spotlight series is edited by Kirsten Evans and Dylan Giles.

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In the Spotlight: Jennifer Ricci

With more than 25 seasons at Festival Ballet Providence under her belt, Jennifer Ricci is the company’s most tenured dancer. She will be dancing the role of Juliet in one cast of Romeo & Juliet at The Vets, Feb. 10-12, but first we’re finding out where she started, how things have changed, and how the iconic Arabian costume in The Nutcracker got its signature shimmer and sparkle.

Jennifer Ricci and Boyko Dossev in rehearsal for Romeo & Juliet

Hi Jennifer! Tell us a bit about your background. You have lived in Rhode Island your entire life.  When did you start dancing? 

I have been involved with FBP for 38 years. I started taking lessons with the founders, Christine Hennessey and Winthrop Corey, when I was 4 years old. I had this problem with my elbow – the joint kept dislocating – and my doctor suggested I try ballet to strengthen the muscles around it. My mother had always wanted to dance as a child, so she signed me up, and I loved it from the beginning!

Jennifer (left) and sister Jaclyn

Your sister Jaclyn followed quickly after, right?  What was it like growing up dancing alongside each other?

Jaclyn was three years younger than me.  She started taking lessons at FBP as soon as she turned 4, but she progressed even more quickly than I did.  Soon we were both in the advanced level, taking class together.

You both joined the company at a young age as well.  What was that like?  Were you ever competitive?

Dancing with Jaclyn was an all around awesome experience. We are so different style-wise; I am more dramatic and mellow, and she was the dynamic jumper and turner. Because of our different strengths, we were rarely cast in the same roles.  Our work relationship was much more supportive than competitive.

Jennifer as Tatiana and Jaclyn as Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream

That’s so lovely.  Are there any experiences in particular that you treasure from the time when your careers overlapped?

I think the highlight for both of us was sharing lead roles in Christine Hennessey’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was the only time we were both cast as principals in the same ballet- as Puck and Titania- so that was a really pivotal moment for us.

Jennifer with sister Jaclyn
Jennifer (left) with sister Jaclyn

So cool that you were able to learn from the founders of FBP.  What was working with Christine Hennessy like?

Awesome! She was the most inspirational person, director, and mother figure.  Every aspect of her class was fantastic, you never wanted it to be over.  She was very upbeat and constantly leading you in a new direction.  Her criticism was constructive and positive- nothing to ever make you feel bad about yourself as an artist.

What was the actual transition from student to company dancer like for you?

Since I had already been taking class with the company, the transition into company life felt very smooth.  When I graduated from high school, I immediately joined the company. I was given an entry contract, meaning my shoes and costumes were paid for. I was 17 at the time, and since then I’ve kept every contract FBP has ever given me. That’s 27 years of contracts!

Your Arabian in The Nutcracker is exquisite.  Can you tell us a bit about what this role means to you?

Arabian was always my dream role as a child.  I would watch the company dancers perform it with my jaw wide open. Tall dancers were always chosen for the role and being petite, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be given the chance to do it. When I was 16, I decided to start learning it myself in the back of the studio, using the barre as a partner.

One day, Christine said to me, “I see you, little one, keep up the good work, you keep practicing!”  One of the company men volunteered to learn it with me, and we actually ended up performing in one of the Discover Dance performance!  It went extremely well, and that’s how I became the Arabian dancer.

Jennifer Ricci as Arabian in Nutcracker. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.

What an amazing story!  So how do you keep the role fresh, doing it year after year?

Well, I’ve danced the piece with 17 partners now, so I try to make it different for each person based on their personality. That way it’s never boring. It’s such a different dynamic with everyone!

Can you tell us a bit about that iconic costume?

Well, the first costume was made for me when I was 16 and it never fit very well. A few years later, my sister Jaclyn remade the costume with a smaller cut out on the top and used a few pieces of my grandmother’s costume jewelry to decorate it.  There’s her brooch on the top and a few necklaces on the pants. The costume is very special to me.

So you’ve lent your sparkle to Arabian in more ways than one!  Speaking of that sparkle, you are known for your acting skills. You have even had to do a few death scenes in ballets such as Scheherazade and Lady of the Camellias.  How do you prepare for a character role that involves a great deal of acting?

I find you need to know a little more about the character to take it to the next level.   Every character is different. For example, as Juliet, I’m supposed to be a young girl.  She’s not very experienced and has not yet been exposed to the pitfalls of life. What it really comes down to is experiencing a wide range of different roles, and really learning about the character before you begin.

Jennifer as Zobeide in Scheherazade

You’ve been with the company for quite some time.   How has the company changed over the years?

It’s changed drastically! When I joined, we were a much smaller company, primarily focused on classical ballets. I like the fact that these days we work with more modern and contemporary choreographers. It makes things a little more edgy and real. Sexy, sassy, you name it, bring it on! It’s a new age, and this kind of choreography is what the audience wants: something raw that they can relate to.

What are some of your favorite roles to dance?  What would you love do again?

Scheherazade, I love Scheherazade!  Oh, and I love Carmen!  I can’t wait to perform that again in a few months.

Jennifer Ricci & Mark Harootian, VIktor Plotnikov’s Carmen, 2005, photo by Thomas Nola-Rion
Jennifer Ricci & Eivar Martinez, VIktor Plotnikov’s Carmen, 2005, photo by Thomas Nola-Rion

Jennifer will alternate with Vilia Putrius as Juliet in Ilya Kozadayev’s Romeo and Juliet, February 10-12 at The Vets. Casting is subject to change without notice.

In the Spotlight series is edited by Kirsten Evans and Dylan Giles.

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In the Spotlight: Tegan Rich

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Tegan Rich dancing Spanish in The Nutcracker

Tegan Rich is in her sixth season with FBP, having started as a Trainee and risen through the ranks to become a company dancer. She has recently performed leading roles in ballets like Viktor Plotnikov’s Sharps & Flats and Andrea Dawn Shelley’s For Saskia. We sat down with Tegan to learn a bit about her background, some of her memorable roles, and more…

Hey Tegan!  Let’s jump right in.  You grew up in Florida and moved from home to train at the Miami City Ballet School.  What was that like?

Yes! My mom and I moved down to Miami for my sophomore year of high school. We had spent the second half of my freshman year driving two hours each way every Saturday for classes at the Miami City Ballet School. The training totally opened my eyes up to what the professional world of ballet is like. Like FBP, Miami City Ballet uses the same studios as the students do. Being that close to professionals was very inspiring for a young ballet student. I idolized the company and was able to watch them work, sweat, rehearse, cry and anything else that comes with a life of  professional dance.

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The Miami City Ballet is a Balanchine based company, and in that technique the steps are quicker, the musicality is different, the arms move differently, and the way you work your feet is much different than a Russian based training. I really loved this training, however. I like to jump and move quickly, both of which are often highlighted in Balanchine’s choreography.

The training and the teachers were very intense and demanded a certain level of professionalism, even as a student. I learned serious classroom etiquette and a sense of professionalism that I don’t think I would have learned if I had not made the move. I loved every minute of my time at MCBS and am so grateful for all of my teachers that I had while I was there.

You’ve been exposed to so many different dance environments!  After graduating from Miami City Ballet School, you were accepted into Fordham University.  Can you tell us about your time there and your decision to leave to focus on a more classical training?

While my time at the  Ailey/Fordham BFA program was very short, I truly believe that the classes I took, the choreography I learned, and the dancers I shared classes with really opened my eyes to a different aspect of the dance world and changed many of the ways I approached my dancing.While I totally loved living in New York City, going to college, and dancing at the Ailey School, as I got further into the semester, I started to realize that it wasn’t the best fit for me. I just felt that the ballet world was where I wanted to be.

And we are so glad you did!  Now, what brought you to Festival Ballet?

I actually had a teacher at MCB,, Alexandra Koltun (you might know her from those two giant pictures of her behind the front desk at FBP) who had guested with FBP for a few seasons and a massage therapist who used to dance with FBP as well. They both had mentioned Festival to me. When I left Ailey, I went back to Miami City to continue to train and get my ballet legs back underneath me.

I auditioned in Orlando for FBP’s Summer Intensive, and I was accepted on full scholarship. At the end of the program, Misha hired me as a trainee.

What was that transition into company life like?

The transition into company life was relatively seamless for me. I moved in with Kirsten Evans (hey, Kirsten!) we became fast friends and everyone else in the company was very warm and welcoming. It definitely took some time for me to find my own stride… I was injured the first three months of my first season so I didn’t feel like I was diving in head first with, but rather slowly easing in from the shallow end. As a trainee at Festival, you are required to take additional classes and it was these classes taught by Mindaugus that really helped me to better understand the technique that Festival was going for. Mindaugas allowed me to feel like I was still receiving training and guidance while also figuring out how to be my own teacher and critic, both of which are important things to learn in this line of work.

It must have been a pretty huge change to move from Florida to Rhode Island.  Did you have to adapt to a new culture here in Providence? 

Providence definitely has a different culture than South Florida. But I have never felt home sick since moving here. I think I was meant to be a New Englander. The only time I have second thoughts about that is mid-March while shoveling snow off of my car before work. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is how much less I sweat through the majority of the season. I’ve always been a “sweater,” ask my barre-mates, or anyone else, for that matter, but in the middle of the winter I find it is MUCH harder to get my body as warm and sweaty as I was used to feeling in South Florida. I found that socks, and heavy warm ups were not just a studio fashion, but a huge necessity for my muscles to feel as warm as I like them to feel.

Did the big move have any affect on your artistry as a dancer?

I’m not sure Providence alone changed any artistic aspects of my dancing, but with Misha’s direction and the inspiration of my colleagues, my dancing has definitely changed in a way that I can’t really put into words.

In terms of technique, did you have to make any major changes in your style coming from the Balanchine-based school at MCB to the FBP company?

The best part about this job is that there is no end to your technique or training. Yes, at some point, you can worry less about your technique and focus more on your artistry, but I don’t think you can find a professional dancer anywhere in the world that will say they have stopped working to improve their technique.

There is no settling or finality in ballet and I think that’s one of my favorite parts about it. The slower, more controlled, aspect of the Russian based training at Festival was definitely a shock to my system when I first joined the company, but I am so grateful for what it has taught me. I believe that it made me much stronger, and gave me a different way of approaching steps that proved to be very beneficial for me in the long run. But getting to do things like perform Allegro Brillante, are really special moments for me. It’s almost indulgent. I get to revisit some of my old “bad-habits,” and boy, does it feel good for a second.

 

And done! Cheers to a fabulous run, FBP! #AllegroBrillante

A photo posted by teganrich (@teganrich) on

Speaking of special moments, what has been a memorable role or career highlight for you so far?

I would have to say that Mother Goose was a very memorable role for me. I thought I was just dancing a goofy, bird, storybook character, but it turned out that I was taking on an acting role that I was completely unprepared for. I finally realized that I was going to have to be more “over the top” than any other role I’d danced before.

Also, getting to perform the role of Adela in Viktor Plotnikov’s The House of Bernarda Alba was a definite highlight. I had never performed a lead role in a contemporary ballet before, and one of the most challenging parts of Viktor’s work is to not indulge in the character aspect of the role and instead let the movement tell the story. Bernarda was such a different ballet than anything else I have ever done, I felt very honored to get to dance that role.

You were so fabulous in both of those roles!  In general, what sort of work do you enjoy doing most?

I really love contemporary work. It’s always fun to learn new choreography and learn how far you can push your body and explore movement that you didn’t know your body was capable of doing. I love more character based roles that challenge my acting ability. It’s always fun to become someone else on stage for a night! But I also love the classical work. Swan Lake gets me every time, the music is so beautiful and the corps work is so gratifying. And like I said earlier, anytime I get to do some Balanchine is a great day in my book!

Looking ahead now, what are you looking forward to in the 39th Season?

This season I was really looking forward to Allegro Brillante, and now I can happily cross that one off my bucket list! And now, I am really excited for Carmen choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov. Carmen is a ballet that I have always wanted to perform, and I have only heard wonderful things about Viktor’s interpretation of it, so all I can really is say, Ole!

When you’re not dancing, what are you doing?

When I am not dancing, I am usually whipping up something yummy in my kitchen, nannying for a couple of cuties, or exploring the wonderful little local shops at restaurants that providence has to offer.

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Tegan Rich and David DuBois dancing Spanish in The Nutcracker
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In the Spotlight: Boyko Dossev

Boyko Dossev, who has previously choreographed for FBP, is joining the resident company as a dancer and choreographer this season. We sat down with Boyko to learn a bit about his background, artistic philosophy, and more…

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Hello Boyko!  Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little about your training?

I completed my training at the National Ballet School in Sofia, Bulgaria.  I was very fortunate to be taught by an artist that was the embodiment of the Renaissance man. As a dancer, he was the prince. As a teacher, he is the living encyclopedia of ballet. My training is based on the Vaganova method, but in my dancing, I have been influenced by the French method as well.  This is largely because at the age of 17, I left Bulgaria to dance in France. After that, I danced in Germany as well.

You’re quite the globetrotter!  What was your transition into your professional career like?

My transition into the professional career was quite a shock to me. I was 17, completed two years of training in just one year at school and was getting ready to join Le Jeune Ballet de France in Paris, France. This company was one of the most prestigious ballet companies for young dancers in the world at the time and I was very fortunate to be chosen to join it. The shock came on multiple levels. First it was cultural. Moving and adjusting to Paris was not simple. Although it is the most beautiful city in the world, I had difficulties integrating there. Then came the professional shock. This was the first time that I had to really fight for my roles and not just expect them because I was hard working and talented. Also, coming from a Vaganova school, where everything is much slower, it was really hard to adjust to the fast and bravura French technique. Nevertheless, this experience was important because I was exposed to new , style, dance, and choreography and it was when I started to grow as an artist.

It sounds like you’ve learned how to adapt to new settings quite well. So what has it been like coming from Boston Ballet to our much smaller company at FBP?

There are no small stages and no small companies. Yes, when talking about the physical size there are differences, but these are differences based on resources and not integrity, quality, innovation, or abilities. The audience is the same. The work is the same. Our goal is always to be the best we can be and to enrich our audience and our communities. These days, the competition is stronger than ever. Everywhere there are great dancers and great companies- doesn’t matter the size. What I love about FBP, though, is that as a smaller company it has the potential to grow big. It has the energy and the artistic integrity to further develop the art and dance scenes in Rhode Island and to become an influential, innovative art institution not only in New England, but in the States as well.

And we are so happy to have dancers like you to bring all of your artistic influence to Providence and help us grow. How has dancing in all of these different environments affected you as an artist?

Yes, I am very fortunate to be influenced by so many cultures. As a child I grew up in Mozambique, Africa. That’s where everything started for me as a dancer and a choreographer. Later on, the Russian, French, German, and American cultures played a big role in my formation. Living in places like Paris, Dresden, Hamburg, Boston and D.C helped me see how small the world has become, especially the ballet world. I feel so fortunate and very grateful for this gift. One thing that I want to say here though, is that even gifts come at a certain price. The price I need to pay for this incredible gift is that I am far from all my close friends and that I miss them all very much.

Boyko with Giovanni Di Palma in “Phaedra” by Stela Korljan
Boyko with Giovanni Di Palma in Dresden, 2000. “Phaedra” Ballet by Stela Korljan
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“Over Again” choreography by Boyko Dossev, performed in Greece.

The sacrifices we make for ballet! Certain works that speak to us make it all worthwhile, though.  Can you recall any moments like this in your career so far?

Although I consider all my roles and experiences in ballet a highlight I think the true one is always the next one. Despite this, I feel very fortunate to have worked closely with John Neumeier, who has become my mentor as a leader and a choreographer. 

Dossev with Hélène Bouchet in John Neumeier's "Sylvia." Taken at International Ballet Competition in Varna where Dossev won Gold.
Dossev with Hélène Bouchet in John Neumeier’s “Sylvia”at the International Ballet Competition in Varna where Dossev won Gold in 2002.

Speaking of choreography…you’ve choreographed for FBP before and you will be creating a new ballet for our Chatterbox Series this season. What is your process like?

For me everything starts with the music. I think that the music is the base on which we can build upon. Use it as a guideline, reference, and an important medium through which we can communicate more than what the movement sometimes can. I also love the creative process and working with the dancers to explore new possibilities and true collaboration. I believe strongly in work that is based on partnership. I like to challenge my dancers and I like when they challenge me. It is only when we have a partnership and we become open to ideas that WE can truly innovate. 

What a lovely and logical approach! Let’s talk education. You have a degree in Communications from Northeastern. Juggling a professional ballet career with schoolwork is extremely demanding. Why was this so important to you?

I think there are two main reasons. The first is that my studies there opened a new perspective on how I see the world around me, our art form and particularly its future. I feel, in the ballet world we are still stuck in the past century when it comes to organizational culture, communication, and structure.Ballet needs to evolve, we need to evolve with it as well. The second reason this degree was so important to me is because I found something else that I’m very passionate about, something that inspires me to be a better human being, leader, dancer, teacher, and choreographer: this is the art of communication, and it is also what we do as dancers.

Boyko with Kathleen Breen Combes at Northeastern graduation earlier this year
Boyko with Boston Ballet principal dancer Kathleen Breen Combes at Northeastern graduation earlier this year

Very true.  So when you’re not dancing, what are you doing?

When I’m not dancing, I’m teaching and choreographing. Also, I love spending time reading, listening to music, being with family and friends and making my dreams come true. There are so many things to do and so little time!

Thank you so much, Boyko!

Catch one of FBP’s newest dancers, Boyko Dossev, onstage this fall.  Tickets and more information here.

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A word with Elyse Borne

The FBP company is preparing for its first Up Close on Hope program of the season, which will feature Allegro Brillante, one of the most popular works by George Balanchine, one of the single most influential figures in the history of ballet. Elyse Borne, former soloist with New York City Ballet and current répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, is responsible for staging the ballet for FBP. Company Dancer Kirsten Evans caught up with Elyse to get insights into Allegro, Balanchine, and more…

Elyse Borne
Elyse Borne, New York City Ballet

Hello!  Let’s just dive in: What makes Allegro Brillante different from other Balanchine ballets? Why is it special?

Allegro is not exactly different but incorporates the speed, clarity, technical difficulty, musicality, and neoclassical style so closely identified with Balanchine.

Your schedule is so busy!  You’re always traveling somewhere new to set another ballet.  Where else have you staged Allegro in the past?

I have actually staged Allegro for FBP before! I’ve also done it in San Francisco, Vancouver, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Singapore etc…..

That’s right, this wasn’t your first visit to Providence. What was your experience like working with the dancers of FBP this time around?

I had a great time with your dancers. They learned the choreography at breakneck speed and expressed a real interest in executing the ballet correctly.

If you could describe Allegro Brillante in 3 words, what would they be?

I would describe Allegro as fun, gut-buster, and energized!

What is your favorite part of the staging process?

I love walking into a studio where no one knows the steps and seeing it all come to life in just a few hours.

After retiring from NYCB, you were ballet mistress at Miami City Ballet for eight years and then San Fransisco Ballet for six.  You’ve been in the ballet world for your entire career, but now staging ballets, you have such a unique job.  How did you become a répétiteur?

I always had a propensity for learning quickly so this was a natural inclination. I gained a lot of knowledge being a ballet mistress and still face challenges with relish when I have to learn a ballet I’ve never staged. I feel honored and privileged to be allowed to stage Balanchine and Robbins.

What is it about the Balanchine style that you enjoy so much?

I think I must have grown up with Balanchine style in my blood. It is so natural for me. Dancing at NYCB was a dream come true.

Elyse Borne rehearses Apollo with George Balanchine.
Elyse Borne rehearses Apollo with George Balanchine.

You premiered in The Nutcracker with Mikhail Baryshnikov. What was that like? Do you have any favorite memories of working with Mr. Balanchine or at NYCB?

My scariest and favorite experience at NYCB was doing the Sugar Plum Fairy with Baryshnikov. Alone everyday for 5 days in a studio with the 2 of them, Balanchine and Misha. Awestruck and nervous and excited all at once. My memories go on and on. I think I will have to write a book! I was so lucky to work with such a genius.

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Elyse Borne and Mikhail Baryshnikov in George Balahchine’s Nutcracker

…and WE would love to read your book.  Thank you, Elyse!

Up Close on Hope runs Nov. 4-6 and 11-12 at the FBP Black Box Theatre.

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Elyse Borne with the FBP company
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