In The Spotlight: Eugene Lee

eugene2

The original creation of FBP’s The Widow’s Broom brought together local and international artists to the East Side of Providence for the excellent purpose of superlative collaboration. One of those master artists was Rhode Island resident and Tony Award-winning set designer Eugene Lee. With an impressive resume boasting BFA degrees from the Art Institute of Chicago and Carnegie Melon, an MFA from Yale Drama School, three honorary Ph. D.’s, and three Tony Awards for Bernstein’s Candide, Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and Wicked, it’s no wonder Lee was inducted into The American Theater Hall of Fame.

Eugene Lee is currently the production designer for NBC’s Saturday Night Live in New York City as well as the resident set designer for Trinity Repertory Company here in Providence. Before he headed to Wickford to check on his sailboat, I checked in with Lee to find out what makes him tick…

Son brings witch's broom to widow, Heather O'Halloran and Jennifer Ricci, photo by Thomas Nola-Rion

How did you first become interested in set design?

Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and my parents were very into theater. My dad acted on occasion, and my mother made props. I was always terribly fascinated by theater.

My high school had two sides of the building- one for athletes and one for Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). My identical twin brother went toward the latter, but I knew I wanted to be involved in theater somehow, so I wasn’t quite sure where to go. It took a while of experimenting to figure out how to do it.

You have been designing the sets for Saturday Night Live (SNL) since the now-famous show’s inauguration. How did that gig come about?

I was doing a musical on Broadway and living on a sailboat here in Pawtuxet Cove. I got a call one day and it was NBC saying, “We’re doing this new comedy variety show and the producer [Lorne Michaels] would like to meet you.” I didn’t know anything about television, but I thought “What’s the harm?” Now all these years later here I am…be careful what you wish for! These days I’m also doing The Tonight Show and Late Night!

Wow, that’s a lot of work in New York City! So nowadays, how much time do you spend in New York versus Providence?

Well, for the past decade I would say, I take the Acella into the city on Wednesday for an SNL read-through that happens at 3 o’clock, then we work really hard. On Saturday night we do a dress rehearsal and then the live show. After that I have a car with a longstanding driver, Sam, who comes from Rhode Island and picks me up at 11 o’clock at 30 Rock and drives me home in the middle of the night.

So between all of that, how did you become involved with FBP’s The Widow’s Broom?

My wife knows Chris [Van Allsburg] from their time at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design]. Chris and I had always talked about doing a Nutcracker together and we finally just did, which is great.

We’re hoping to bring the new Nutcracker to Providence very soon! But The Widow’s Broom happened much before that…

Yes, it was the first time in a long time that I actually collaborated with another designer. Chris is a very precise guy, he does beautiful drawings. I enjoyed working with him a lot.

Hat and Cape Falling
Illustration from The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg.

What was your favorite part of the process?

The best part of doing the whole project was Chris [Van Allsburg], because we finally got to work together a little bit. He really is a beautiful illustrator.

I love how simple the sets for The Widow’s Broom are. What was your approach in creating them?

I always say, “Less is more, except when more is better.”

Widow, Leiticia Guerrero, rejects the Broom, Gleb Lyamenkoff, 5768

Words of wisdom indeed. Thank you so much, Eugene! See these sets in action at The Vets next weekend- click here for tickets!


 

This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, as well as the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.

Advertisements

Letters From Chris Van Allsburg

As a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and former East Sider, The Widow’s Broom author Chris Van Allsburg is no stranger to Festival Ballet Providence (FBP). In fact, his daughter and I forged a dear friendship training together at the FBP School. When I heard FBP would be opening its 40th Season mainstage performances with a book written by her father, I reached out to my friend for advice on the best way to reach Mr. Van Allsburg for an interview. Apparently, his preferred method of correspondence is a handwritten letter. Being partial to analogue communication myself, I decided to conduct this week’s interview via snail mail…

FullSizeRender 12

You studied art at the University of Michigan and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), but not the medium you are most known for (illustration). What initially drew you to sculpting and how does your experience in sculpture inform your illustration?

I chose to enter art school on a whim, an impulse. I had not taken art in high school, so I arrived at the University of Michigan with very poor drawing skills. Convinced that my fellow students drew so well because they were born with gifts I did not posses, I concentrated on sculpture. In doing so I was able to call on skills I had acquired as a young boy building ship and airplane models.

So then, how did your transition into this sort of foreign Author/Illustrator role come about? 

Following my graduation from RISD, I set up a sculpture studio. Because it was not adequately heated in the evening, I needed another place to expend my creative energies. I set up a drawing table in my apartment and drew pictures. These pieces had a narrative quality and I was encouraged to show them to publishers. This lead to the publication of my first book, “The Garden of Abdul Gasazi”. I returned to my sculpture studio when I completed [the book], but gradually over the next 5 or 6 years ended up spending more time writing and illustrating, ‘til finally, I was no longer a sculptor.

Illustrations from Chris Van Allsburg’s “The Widow’s Broom”

Where did the inspiration for The Widow’s Broom come from?

Sometime in the late 1980s, a young animator who worked at Disney approached me about the possibility of working together. He was involved in developing digital animation, and felt my work might lend itself to reinterpretation using this new technology. We decided which of my titles might be best to use and I think we settled on “Wreck of the Zephyr”. Unfortunately, this young Disney animator lost his job, and the project died.

Some time later he got in touch with me with the good news that he’d found a new job up north in San Francisco. He suggested collaborating once again, but this time wondered if I would write something that showcased the technology. I had seen samples of digital animation, and felt it could effectively present objects as life like beings. I started thinking about household objects that might have a secret life or personality, and was attracted to the possibility of a living broom. This naturally led to the rich folklore about witches and brooms. The original story was more about the broom and was welcomed by the young animator. Unfortunately, he’d changed jobs again and was now at a little place called Pixar that was developing its own stories. So the animator, whose name was John Lasseter, eventually went on to make Toy Story and could not make use of the broom story. I felt it had potential as an illustrated book so rewrote it with the in mind, focusing less on the broom.

Illustrations from Chris Van Allsburg’s “The Widow’s Broom”

Wow! That’s pretty wild. What was your initial reaction when Misha approached you about making the book into a ballet? 

I had seen enough ballet to know it is not capable of presenting a narrative in specific terms. Absent a libretto, the range of interpretation is, to say the least, broad. So as a storyteller I had some skepticism. Once I accepted the idea that an audience can acquaint themselves quickly with a ballet’s story in the program notes, I was more open to the idea and excited about the staging and choreographing of key moments in the story.

Costume Sketches from FBP’s The Widow’s Broom

 

I think Viktor Plotnikov’s choreography is extremely well suited to this story. How familiar were you with Viktor’s style? Did the production match your vision as it came to fruition?

Widow and Sleeping Witch, Jennifer Ricci and Marissa Gomer, photo by Thomas Nola-Rion,  The WIdow's Broom.jpg
Jennifer Ricci and Marissa Parmenter in The Widow’s Broom

I had seen some of Viktor’s work at Festival and liked it. What I appreciated in all my collaborators was originality and an intent in doing something that was not conventional. My knowledge of ballet was not sufficient for me to be able to envision the production before it happened, but I was happy with what I finally saw.

Several of your books (Jumanji, The Polar Express, Zathura) have been made into films. Did you find the process of creating a ballet around one of your stories to be quite different?

I contributed some ideas about costume and story. Obviously, my relationship to Festival Ballet and the attitudes of Misha and Viktor gave me an opportunity for input that does not exist in the movie business, where rights holders and writers are marginalized by a system that places all authority, even over creative decisions, in the hands of the studio. 

What do you enjoy most about collaborating with the other artists?

Collaboration creates diversity in your imagination. The monoculture of your self-generated creativity receives a catalyst, a stimulation, for ideas that would otherwise not happen.

 

To see The Widow’s Broom at The Vets October 27-29, get your tickets here.

 


 

This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, as well as the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.

Imagination in Motion

IMG_7944

As the summer heat rolls off and crisper temperatures rattle fallen leaves, a fresh season offers new opportunities to grow. Exciting development is in store for all children entering the school year, but studies suggest those heading to the ballet studio after class may have an upper hand.

In addition to the obvious physical benefits of ballet, significant positive effects on the developing brain have also been linked to studying dance. Of course increased range of motion, strength, and endurance come along with practicing ballet, but the advantages go far beyond the body. The faculty at the Festival Ballet Providence School (FBP School) aims to enhance those assets to bring an even higher level of learning to our students.

IMG_7501

Focusing on balance and posture boosts a child’s awareness, heightening the ability to control spacial and bodily awareness both in and out of the studio.

In each class, ballet students learn different combinations of steps to create choreography, exercising their ability to recall information and form muscle memory.

The building of a child’s musicality, a crucial element in studying dance, has been shown to yield an increased comprehension of math skills in students. Counting music and matching dance steps to specific phrases teaches students to work with numbers in a fun new way.

IMG_2517

Dance classes provide the outlet for self-expression that is crucial to maintaining a child’s mental and emotional health. The FBP School fosters a community of creation, allowing students the freedom to bring their imaginations to life.

Self-Discipline is paramount to a proper ballet education, and at our school students are encouraged to celebrate their dedication to this historic art form, whether their involvement be recreational or pre-professional.

IMG_7898-Edit.jpg

Teamwork and cooperation are vital tools in the ballet world. The FBP School instills these virtues in all of its students, emphasizing the importance of respect, acceptance, and collaboration.

FBP School Director Mary Ann Mayer believes an excellent dance education provides children with limitless benefits outside of the studio:

“For many students, their experience at FBP has helped them become more disciplined, focused, organized and confident in other aspects of their lives. We hear this expressed by parents and students from all divisions within our program, from our adaptive dance program to our young children’s program. We are thrilled that dance has had such a positive impact in our community and we will continue to strive to provide a quality of dance education while supporting our students and families individual goals,” Mayer says of the program.

 

It’s not too late to get in on the learning! What are you waiting for? Join the FBP School’s ongoing enrollment at the Hope Street studios this season. Call (401) 353-1129 or visit our website for more information.


This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, ballet educator, and the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.

In The Studio: New Faces

DSC00126
Azamat Asangul, Linnea Wahle, and Louisa Mejeur.

The Company is back in the studio, and Festival Ballet Providence (FBP)’s 40th Season has officially begun. Classical melodies, both familiar and foreign, flood the freshly renovated halls. New faces mix in with old as FBP embarks on a year of transition. State-of-the-art lights paint the Grand Studio. Classical scores boom from updated sound systems. Every finger tip points to something or someone new.

We’re welcoming three new dancers to the ranks this year. Say hello to Azamat Asangul, Linnea Wahle, and (welcome back) Louisa Chapman Mejeur!

DSC00174.jpg
Asamat Asangul

Name: Azamat Asangul
Hometown: Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic (Central Asia)
Previous Schools: Bishkek Choreographic School and Vaganova Ballet Academy (Saint Petersburg, Russia)
Previous Companies: Moscow City Ballet, Kyrgyz National Opera and Ballet Theater, Universal Ballet ( Seoul, South Korea) Russian National Ballet (Moscow, Russia), Ballet Idaho (guest artist) Charleston City Ballet (guest artist) Island Moving Company (Newport, RI)
What are you are most excited for this season at FBP?
I am excited about the upcoming season with FBP because of the new opportunities and artistic guidance Misha is bringing. He is very supportive of all the dancers, and I am confident he will provide the best possible experience for the company’s 40th anniversary. His goals and vision for the future of the company are really exciting, and I feel very lucky to be here during this special time.
I am really looking forward to every show this season because we will be working with several choreographers I have never had the opportunity to work with before. Each program has such a great mix of classical, modern and contemporary work, which is one of my favorite parts about this company.

DSC00239
Linnea Wahle

Name: Linnea Wahle
Hometown: Town of Sandwich, Massachusetts
Previous School: Atlantic Coast Academy of Dance
What are you are most excited for this season at FBP?
I’m most excited to learn new choreography with such talented dancers and to perform with my first company!

DSC00189
Louisa Chapman Mejeur

Name: Louisa Chapman Mejeur
Hometown: Midland, TX
Previous Companies: Nashville Ballet, BalletMet, Virginia Ballet Theater, Todd Rosenlieb Modern Dance, Festival Ballet Providence
What are you are most excited for this season at FBP?
Working with the artistic staff. I danced with Festival for three years before dancing in Virginia for the past two. I really missed Misha and the artistic vision he demands of all of his dancers. It makes all the difference to work for someone who is invested in the heart of your dancing and not just clean steps. The same holds true of the ballet master and mistress.
The Repertoire! Wow, what an incredible season this will be! I missed dancing resident choreographer, Victor Plotnikov’s movement. It is a favorite treat for my body and I am excited he has two pieces on the bill. In February the company will perform pieces by George Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon, both master dance makers of their day. Performing rep like that is a dream for any dancer and I feel like a lucky duck to be here for it!

To see these new dancers in action, check out our season tickets!


 

This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, as well as the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.

In The Spotlight: Choreographer Colleen Cavanaugh on Pippi


Tegan Rich as Pippi
Tegan Rich as Pippi. Photo by Zaire Kacz.

Festival Ballet Providence has had the pleasure of working with the talented Colleen Cavanaugh for many years, but one of our favorite ballets of her bold invention is Pippi. Originally created in 1999, it is a joy to bring this peppy ballet back to life for our youngest Providence audience this season. We sat down with Colleen to discuss her inspiration for the show, Pippi as a role model, and her advice for your dancers who may be interested in choreographing…

Did you read the Pippi Longstocking books growing up?

I absolutely loved Pippi Longstocking books growing up. She was another red haired, freckled face girl with pigtails and she had a boldly independent, adventurous life. There were always exciting scenes, lots of humor and of course her loyal friendship with Anika and Tommy.

227239_557c44e6124042cbc4c3b683031e47c0

“As a young girl I loved the adventure and comedy. As a professional grown woman and mother I loved the boldly independent role model Pippi represents for young girls.”

What was your inspiration for Pippi?

Pippi is a fun loving inspiration. She is brave, loyal, kind and colorful. She certainly is no shrinking violet. When I created the ballet, my daughter Grace was 5. Already boldly independent, perhaps she was also a little of my inspiration.  Grace was the monkey in the original cast.

The sets and costumes are so fun. Can you tell us a bit about those? 

The sets and costumes were designed by a good friend Christine Huddleston. Chris was a RISD graduate and had designed toys at Hasbro.  She also had several small children. The creative process was so much fun. I remember sitting around looking at her beautiful sketches and brainstorming with her. I love the house structure. One side is Pippi’s front porch and when it’s turned around, there is the whimsical kitchen (the setting of the infamous pancake fight).
Both Chris and I had read Pippi growing up. Chris’s daughter Annie also played the monkey.

IMG_0302
Alex Lantz, Tegan Rich, and Beth Mochizuki rehearsing the “Pancake Scene” in Pippi.

That pancake scene is hilarious! We love sharing a ballet with a strong female lead, especially when it’s one created by such a lovely local lady. When did you start choreographing? 

I started to choreograph when I was in NYC dancing. Ironically when I returned to RI for medical school and residency, I started to choreograph more seriously. I found that choreography was a fulfilling combination of movement, music and spacial design. Sometimes music was my inspiration and often I chose important social and health related themes. Choreography was another way of delivering a message.

What advice do you have for a female dancer who might be interested in choreographing but is intimidated by the male-dominated field?

It’s true that it is a male dominated field but medicine was also a little like that. Although I’m a little reserved, I’ve always gone after what I believed in.

My message to dancers considering exploring this is that they just need to go for it. Don’t let others discourage you. I absolutely hate when other people tell me or others that something is impossible or that they will never succeed.

IMG_0173
Tegan Rich rehearsing Colleen Cavanaugh’s Pippi.

“Life is short and we only have one chance so if it’s something they are considering, try it. Gather a few friends to try things on. Encourage feedback from other and always keep your vision. Be like Pippi!”

That’s actually great advice for all daunting ambitions in life. How has this ballet changed each time it has been brought back to the stage?
It’s wonderful to see Festival Ballet Providence dance Pippi. Leticia Guerrero, the original Anika, is devotedly setting it. Each dancer interprets characters in their own way. There are always new comical nuances which are delightful. It’s a demanding ballet for Pippi but what’s really important is the acting and the development of all the characters.

What do you hope families will take away from this show?
I’m hoping families will be entertained, will fall in love with Pippi and will return home with a little more enthusiasm, humor and kindness.


 

This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, as well as the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.

Farewell to a Fond Friend

Ed Fogarty with wife Gail Higgins Fogarty at FBP’s Black & White Fete, May 2016. Photo by Liam Louis.

From the stage, the audience is darkness. Looking out through bright spotlights, individual spectators may not be seen, but those with exceptional passion can be felt. When Edward Fogarty was in the audience, his energy was impossible to ignore.

At the end of every performance, just as the spotlights dimmed, Ed Fogarty rose before the house lights. Curtain call was his time to shine. Ed’s unbridled enthusiasm for “his dancers” poured out of him. His wild applause erupted through the theater, punctuated by his signature “Bravo!” and a few rogue whistles.

Ed’s animated post-show appreciation was rivaled only by his excitement pre-season. He worked tirelessly as a dedicated benefactor, serving almost 30 years on the Board of Trustees, currently as the body’s Vice President. One of Ed’s most notable traits was his genuine desire to get to know every dancer. He was truly invested in the company as a collection of artists, inspiring Festival Ballet Providence’s contribution to the community throughout the years.

Ed Fogarty’s generosity of both heart and spirit will flood the halls of FBP for years to come, followed closely by the warm echo of his familiar “Bravo.”

The Company dedicates its 40th Season in  memory of our dear friend Edward Fogarty, who died August 31, 2017. In honor of his affinity for creation, FBP has established a new works fund to support the development of new choreography for the Company he so loved. For those who would like to attend, the funeral service for Edward Fogarty will be held Tuesday September 12, 2017, 10:00am at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, 57 Cole Ave., Providence, RI. Visitation will be held Monday September 11, 2017, 4:00pm-8:00pm at Skeffington Funeral Home, 925 Chalkstone Ave., Providence RI. In lieu of flowers, the Fogarty family has requested that donations to Festival Ballet Providence be made in Ed’s honor.


 

This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, as well as the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.

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


 

This post was written by Kirsten Evans. The author is in her eighth season as a Company Dancer with Festival Ballet Providence. She is also the Company PR & Communications Assistant, as well as the writer of a personal blog, Setting The Barre.

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

Facilitating the Future

FBP Company in rehearsal in Studio 2. Photo by Kirsten Evans.

On a given day, the Festival Ballet Providence studios would echo with sounds of music and dancing as rehearsals and classes unfold throughout the day. But recently, the sounds of power tools pierce through an eerie silence, as contractors replace old flooring and install new equipment and fixtures while the FBP company and school are mostly on break.

It’s all part of a multi-year renovation project that we are embarking on, to enhance the experience of our Black Box Theatre patrons, FBP School students, and company artists.

Goals for Phase I of the plan (September 2017 completion) include:

  • Black Box Theater lighting system overhaul
  • Audio system upgrade
  • State-of-the-art projection system for multi-media projects
  • Repairs to main corridor and theater entrance
  • Cosmetic and structural improvements to exterior
  • Replacement of dance floor in Studio 2

Subsequent phases are still in the planning process and will include even more expansive improvements to the building and infrastructure.

The Phase I renovations total $120,000 and about half of that is being subsidized by a Cultural Facilities matching grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) which allocates funds specifically for these renovation purposes. The funds originate from a 2014 Creative and Cultural Economy bond referendum, approved by Rhode Island voters. The bond focuses on the preservation of historical sites as well as the improvement and renovation of nonprofit artistic and performance centers throughout the state.

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js

But the grant requires 1:1 matching by the recipient organization, meaning we need the help of our audience and supporters to get us to our goal. Now through June 30, the first $59,552 in donations made to the “Cultural Facilities” capital campaign will be matched dollar-for-dollar.

The FBP studios and Black Box Theatre serve as a destination for artists and arts enthusiasts. This ambitious new undertaking will ensure its future as an artistic landmark for generations to come.

Click here to make a contribution to the Cultural Facilities Capital Campaign.

Books for the Ballet

This weekend, FBP School will be holding a special fundraiser at Barnes & Noble in Warwick. Funds raised will go toward the Christine Hennessey Scholarship Fund, a need-based tuition assistance program for the FBP School. The fundraiser runs 10:00am-7:00pm on Sunday May 7, 2017 and continues online through May 11, 2017; you must mention the fundraiser at checkout.

Click Here for the PDF Flyer | Click here for Online Shopping instructions

We asked company dancers and FBP School faculty to give us some recommendations, for aspiring dancers and lovers of dance.

We encourage you to stop by on Sunday, or shop online next week. It’s also the perfect time to get your Mother’s Day gifts!

Alan Alberto, Company Dancer

Basic Principles of Classical Ballet
By Agrippina Vaganova

This is a book that I purchased years ago, when I started ballet, as a reference to proper technique. I hope this is helpful and inspires.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/basic-principles-of-classical-ballet-agrippina-vaganova/1018887376?ean=9780486220369

 

Valerie Cookson-Botto,  Educational Outreach Coordinator

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina Young Readers Edition
By Misty Copeland

A great biography for young dancers. Recommend for grades 5-9.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/life-in-motion-misty-copeland/1123673642?ean=9781481479790

 

 

Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet
By Gail Grant

My go to dictionary for classical ballet technique. 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/technical-manual-and-dictionary-of-classical-ballet-gail-grant/1100927644?ean=9780486218434

 

 

 

Honk!: The Story of a Prima Swanerina
by Pamela Duncan Edwards, Henry Cole (Illustrator)

A perfect story for preK-3 dancers.  This story has become a beloved part of our outreach program.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/honk-pamela-duncan-edwards/1111741943?ean=9780786812981

Cinderella
by Sarah L. Thomson, Nicoletta Ceccoli (Illustrator), Charles Perrault (Text by)

A beautiful telling of the classic fairytale with the opulence of the high courts of France.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cinderella-sarah-l-thomson/1107756321?ean=9780761461708

 

 

Swan Lake (Vienna State Opera Ballet) DVD
Director: Truck Branss Cast: Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Natalya Makarova

Watching any and all of the grand ballets performed by the great dancers of all time is always inspiring and educational.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dvd-swan-lake-rudolf-nureyev/3627393?ean=0044007340448

 

Boyko Dossev, Company Dancer

Man of La Mancha

This is one is one of my all-time favorites. It inspired me when I was a kid, we had it on one of those old music discs, I grew up with it and I am who I am in part thanks to this.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/man-of-la-mancha/8846608?ean=0886919485622

Kirsten Evans, Company Dancer, SDI 2017 Faculty

The Widow’s Broom
By Chris Van Allsburg

Anything by Chris Van Allsburg (obvs), but I’ll definitely be pulling out my copy of The Widow’s Broom soon…

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/widows-broom-chris-van-allsburg/1101707141?ean=9780395640517

 

 

 

Peter and Wendy: Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up
By J. M. Barrie

Peter Pan has always been one of my favorites, and now it hold a special place on my bookshelf 😉

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/peter-and-wendy-j-m-barrie/1117501921?ean=9781468149821

 

 

Dylan Giles, Company Dancer, Marketing Director

Writing in the Dark, Dancing in the New Yorker
By Arlene Croce

Arlene Croce is arguably the single best writer on dance in the 20th Century. Her insights were at once poignant and arresting, training a penetrating eye unlike any other on a rapidly changing art form.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/writing-in-the-dark-dancing-in-the-new-yorker-arlene-croce/1102895077?ean=9780813029139

 

Balanchine Variations
By Nancy Goldner

This is a great book about choreographic icon George Balanchine. It’s a biography of sorts, told through the lens of his works, from the earliest surviving work Apollo (his eighty fourth piece of choreography!) to the blockbuster Jewels and the jaw dropping Ballo Della Regina. A concise encapsulation of a prolific choreographer.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/balanchine-variations-nancy-goldner/1101627527?ean=9780813032269

 Debbi Leahy, FBP School Faculty

Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches
By Lindsay Guarino (Editor), Wendy Oliver (Editor)

“A must-read for all dancers as the invaluable historical references and in-depth coverage of the different jazz forms cannot be found in such detail in any other book on the market today.”

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/jazz-dance-lindsay-guarino/1115445880?ean=9780813061290

 

 

An Evening with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (DVD)

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs some of the works that have won them wide acclaim, including “Divining” and “The Stack-Up.” Music is provided by many artists, including Laura Nyro and Alice Coltrane.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dvd-an-evening-with-the-alvin-ailey-american-dance-theater-thomas-grimm/3875015?ean=0807280045390

 

Ailey Ascending: A Portrait in Motion
By Alvin Alley America Dance Theater, Andrew Eccles (Photographer), Anna Deavere Smith (Foreword by), Judith Jamison (Preface by)

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this dazzling book includes both original black and white and full-color photographs by Andrew Eccles.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ailey-ascending-alvin-alley-america-dance-theater/1120080542?ean=9780811864800

Revelations: The Autobiography of Alvin Ailey
by Alvin Ailey, A. Peter Bailey

This stunning autobiography relates the powerful story of one man’s painful search for identity despite a lifetime of remarkable achievement.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/revelations-alvin-ailey/1112961209?ean=9780806518619

Marissa Parmenter, Company Dancer, SDI Director, Interim Development Director

Dancing in the Wings
By Debbie Allen, Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)

Sassy worries that her too-large feet, too-long legs, and even her big mouth will keep her from her dream of becoming a star ballerina. So for now she’s just dancing in the wings, watching from behind the curtain, and hoping that one day it will be her turn to shimmer in the spotlight.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dancing-in-the-wings-debbie-allen/1100734286?ean=9780142501412

The True Memoirs of Little K: A Novel
By Adrienne Sharp

Exiled in Paris, the frail, elderly Mathilde Kschessinska sits down to write her memoirs. A lifetime ago, she was the vain, ambitious, impossibly charming prima ballerina assoluta of the tsar’s Russian Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/true-memoirs-of-little-k-adreinne-sharp/1100247224?ean=9780312610715

 

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
By Michaela DePrince, Elaine Deprince

The extraordinary memoir of an orphan who danced her way from war-torn Sierra Leone to ballet stardom, most recently appearing in Beyonce’s Lemonade and as a principal in a major American dance company.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/taking-flight-michaela-deprince/1118138587?ean=9780385755146

 

The Black Dancing Body: A Geography From Coon to Cool
By B. Gottschild

What is the essence of black dance in America? To answer that question, Brenda Dixon Gottschild maps an unorthodox ‘geography’, the geography of the black dancing body, to show the central place black dance has in American culture.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-black-dancing-body-b-gottschild/1123546314?ean=9781403971210

Ty Parmenter, Company Dancer, FBP School Faculty

A Choreographer’s Handbook
By Jonathan Burrows

A Choreographer’s Handbook invites the reader to investigate how and why to make a dance performance.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/choreographers-handbook-jonathan-burrows/1100516695?ean=9780415555302

 

 

Brontorina

by James Howe, Randy Cecil (Illustrator)

My son Miles is always so happy when she gets her shoes.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/brontorina-james-howe/1100832769?ean=9780763653231

 

Gwynn Root, Company Apprentice

The Saturdays
By Elizabeth Enright

This series was one of my favorites… I identified with the younger sister Randy, who was a tomboy and clumsy, and wanted to be a ballet dancer.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/saturdays-elizabeth-enright/1102326775?ean=9780312375980

 

 

Eugenia Zinovieva, Company Dancer

Illustrated Ballet Stories
By DK Publishing, Introduction by Darcey Bussell (former Royal Ballet principal)

I loved this book when I was a kid.