A Look Back at a Busy Outreach Season

Valerie Cookson-Botto
Educational Outreach Coordinator

I truly love what I do.

As Outreach Coordinator, I connect schools and the community with the art of ballet and bring it into places where it would be almost nonexistent otherwise. I can’t think of another job that would give me more satisfaction.

I work with artists and educators to spread the work of FBP and the power of dance into the community, as well as bring young audience members to see a ballet for the first time. In 2016 we brought over 3,000 students to main-stage ballet performances, presented lecture demonstrations to 1185 students and engaged 368 children at local libraries.

Nutcracker season is by far our busiest time of year, even though we have programs running year-round. The annual Nutcracker performance in December is accompanied by a wide variety of outreach events. We are able to connect with literacy standards in the school and community library story hours. As a classical ballet, The Nutcracker opens discussions about pointe shoes, tutus, pantomime, pas de deux, to name a few.

Library outreach workshop

Library outreach workshop

Our Library Workshops reach some of the youngest and neediest students in Rhode Island. For many children, this is the first time they get a chance to turn movement into storytelling and see ballet dancers. As we pass around pointe shoes for the children to touch and FBP ballerinas appear in their tutus en pointe, the wonder in their eyes fill us all with joy.

We also hit the road to visit schools, preparing students for their field trip to see The Nutcracker. For many of these students, this field trip is often their first time in a grand theater and their first time to see a ballet. While presenting a lecture demonstration at a kindergarten in Central Falls, one of the students gasps and called out, “Wow. I have never seen a real ballerina before. She is beautiful!” As we capture the attention and imagination of the students, we also teach them about theater etiquette and the history of ballet. We connect the performance they are going to see with their academic work in the classroom.

Outreach event at St. Pius V school

Outreach event at St. Pius V school

Ultimately, the most exciting outreach event is the actual performance at PPAC, where you can feel the energy from the moment the kids arrive. I have the privilege of seeing the excitement as they come off the bus and watch children’s faces come alive and their eyes widen as they experience the breathtaking size and ornate embellishments of the theater. When the students take their seats and the curtain goes up, these students are engaged for two hours in the magic of the ballet.

Their letters back to the company tell us that they are watching, listening, and relating to what they see on stage. They tell us that they are amazed a ballet can tell a whole story without any words and that dance can express emotion. They are inspired by the athleticism of the dancers and special theatrical effects of the production.

Every encounter I have with young audience members reinforces the importance of what our outreach does for the community. There is a need for dance in our schools, and school students need to experience the performing arts at the highest level.

Many years ago our FBP’s Artistic Director, Mihailo Djuric said to me that kids are the hardest audience to perform for because they are so honest. If you aren’t performing at a high level, they will become disinterested and let you know. If you are keeping them engaged, you know you are doing well. By the responses we receive from our young audience members, I think we are making quite an impact.

Valerie Cookson-Botto is Educational Outreach Coordinator for Festival Ballet Providence. To learn more about out Discover Dance programs, click here or email discover@festivalballetprovidence.org


A new telling of an age-old story

By Ruth Davis

One of the works being presented during Up Close on Hope this November is by award-winning choreographer Ty Parmenter, who is also a company dancer. This will be the fourth piece he has created for our Up Close on Hope series.

This work is most unique – a collaboration between Ty and local storyteller Valerie Tutson. Valerie has been entertaining and performing in schools for more than 25 years and is the founder of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers Association and the Funda Fest, a local storytelling festival. The choreography is set to Valerie’s rendition of an African folk tale of How We Got the Stars.



Ty said, “This collaboration began when Misha asked me if I’d be interested in working with text.” He continued, “I had been thinking about using narrative in my work, and thought it would be a great opportunity to work with a storyteller. Previously I had created a work using dialogue from an old movie and poem my sister had written, so I was all ears to hear what Valerie and I could do together.”

Valerie was thrilled to be working on this project with Ty. “I usually work alone, so I was excited about the opportunity to work with another artist. And this is great.”

Ty and Valerie met to listen to her recording of the story. She said, “I saw Ty’s brain go clickity-clickity-click.” She added, “I can’t wait to see what Ty is going to do with it, whether he’ll have a direct response to the story or an interpretation.”

Ty was also thrilled. He said, “It’s a beautiful story with lovely underlying themes about lightness and darkness, and there’s a wonderful line where Valerie says there’s always light on the other side.” Ty added, “Valerie’s recording is stunning – she has a phenomenal way of speaking.”


When asked about the process of creating a ballet set to text, Ty said, “Overall, the beginning process of choreographing to music or text is very much the same. I’m discovering that in the later stages of creating, the text wants you to be more intentional.” He continued, “With music, there are demands but with text, there’s only one way to interpret those words. On the other hand, as a choreographer, I try not to rely solely on the narrative, but to let the audience bring their own sensibilities to what they’re seeing.” Ty added, “This balancing act is quite a challenge, that’s what’s great about it.”

Explaining how the piece has been unfolding, Ty said that in the early stages of rehearsal, he didn’t play the story for the dancers.  “I told them what they’re in for, that there would be no music.” Gradually, he started to introduce the words and elements of the text on top of the dancing so that the dancers could find their own connections.


The four dancers in the piece will perform to the recording with the exception of a special night when Valerie will perform the story live. Ty added, ‘It will be great for the dancers to perform to the recording, but also it will be great when Valerie is there live – her presence will add a whole other element.  Who knows, she may not perform the story exactly the way she recorded it.”

See Ty Parmenter’s new work at Up Close on Hope, Nov. 4-6 and 11-12, 2016. Ruth Davis manages Public Relations for FBP.


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.

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.

Elyse Borne with the FBP company


A long read and a sharp eye

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

Zoe Gates

FBP Company in rehearsal for Viktor Plotnikov's Coma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SDI Supply List


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

___  Ballet slippers

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

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

shoes if they go through them quickly.

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

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

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

___  Tights –Pink

___  Jazz pants (optional)

___  Black character skirt (Festival Ballet uniform)

___  Warm up clothes (leg warmers etc.)

___  Black footless tights


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

___  Blush

___  Liquid liner black                                                  

___  Eyebrow pencil

___  Lipstick

___  Lip pencil liner

___  Mascara

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

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

___  Face powder

___  Makeup remover

___  Moisturizer

___  Facial wash

___  Foundation

___  Concealer

___  1 set of eyelashes plus glue


___  Hair nets several

___  Bobbie pins

___  Hairpins

___  Comb and brush

___  Hair elastics

___  Gel and spray to hold hair



___  Needle

___  Thread

___  Tape

___  Band-aids

___  Running Shoes

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



Fiestaval! Snaps from the party of the season

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

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


New works and fresh perspectives

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


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.



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

Rhode Island premiere

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


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


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


Announcing Assaf Benchetrit as Guest Faculty for SDI 2015



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


Find out more about SDI’s new Director…

Marissa Parmenter - Company Dancer

Marissa Parmenter returned to Festival Ballet Providence after having danced for the company from 2002-2006. Her most memorable FBP roles were Pingril, the witch in The Widow’s Broom, Finger Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, and the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet. Before returning to FBP she danced for Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater and BalletMet Columbus. In 2008, Ms. Parmenter was honored to participate in Paris’s prestigious L’Ete de la Danse with Les Grands Ballet. She has performed as a guest artist with many companies in the US including Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance, and Boston Ballet.

Ms. Parmenter has been fortunate enough to create works with leading choreographers, Ohad Naharin, James Kudelka, Mauro Bigonzetti, Edwaard Liang, Dominic Walsh and Viktor Plotnikov. She has also had the pleasure of performing works by icons such as Christopher Wheeldon, Jiri Kylian, Balanchine, Sir Frederick Ashton, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano and Alejandro Cerrudo.IMG_0222.jpg

Ms. Parmenter has previously been on faculty at BalletMet Academy and Passe Dance Center. She has been a guest teacher for Rice University, Sam Houston University, University of Houston, and Wheaton College. Ms. Parmenter has been awarded the Sono Osato and the Caroline H. Newhouse grants for dancer higher education. Her choreography has been performed at Hollins University and at Wheaton College.

Ms.Parmenter received her MFA from Hollins University in collaboration with the Forsythe Company in 2014 and is on faculty at FBP School as well as Artistic Assistant and Director of FBP School’s Summer Dance Intensive. She is married to FBP dancer Ty Parmenter and they have a beautiful son, Miles.



Viktor Plotnikov’s “Coma” – Dance Magazine’s perspective

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.

Coma will be presented as part of JuxtaPOSE at The Vets, March 13 and 14. More information and tickets: http://www.thevetsri.com/events/detail/festival-ballet-providence-presents-juxtapose.

Lauren Kennedy and Henry Montilla in Viktor Plotnikov's Coma. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.
Lauren Kennedy and Henry Montilla in Viktor Plotnikov’s Coma. Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion.