Let’s Hear It For The Boys

Think ballet is just for girls? Think again!

For far too long, society has suggested that pursuing a passion for dance is off-limits to boys. It’s all pink tutus and pointe shoes, right? Well, the 17 male ballet students at the FBP School are busting that myth!

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Week after week, the growing number of male Festival Ballet Providence (FBP) School students are proving that ballet is for boys at every level. Starting from the youngest dancer to FBP School’s rising senior, these students are working every day on their coordination, strength, musicality, and stamina. With dedication and endurance, they are knocking down stereotypes about male dancers, demonstrating that ballet is for everyone. All you need is inspiration to move.

Leading the way are FBP’s 11 professional company men, who are busy lifting ladies up over their heads to show just how strong male ballet dancers really are:

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Also paving the path are these successful FBP School alumni….

Graduate Brandon McGuirk’s experience in the studios at FBP prepared him for his current role as a Company Dancer with Roxey Ballet Company in New Jersey. Brandon reflects fondly on his eight years in the FBP School, where he felt especially influenced by guidance from FBP’s company dancers.

FBP School Graduate Brandon McGuirk

“It was awesome being a part of the school, because a lot of the FBP company dancers did help me and teach me how to do steps the proper way. I always felt that Festival provided such an uplifting environment in which I was able to take class to the best of my abilities.” -Brandon McGuirk

Another FBP alum, Joseph Lynch, has taken what he learned from his seven years at the FBP School to his role as a dancer for Ballet West II in Salt Lake City, Utah. Joe also had some great things to say about his training in Providence.

FBP School Graduate Joseph Lynch

“FBP school opened the door to my future. It introduced me to a new world, that eventually became my life. Getting to work with the Company showed me that I wanted to make this my career, and they helped me get here.” -Joseph Lynch

 

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To get the inside scoop on this growing legacy, we talked to a few of our current students about their time in ballet class.

FBP School Student Cole Previti with teacher/Company Dancer Azamat Asangul

“Ballet makes me happy. I like it because I get to move my body,” one of our youngest dancers, six-year-old Cole Previti, said when asked what dancing means to him. 

But it’s not all about the physicality. Ballet student Jack MacDonald also finds a sense of mental balance through ballet.

FBP School Students with teacher Azamat Asangul (left), Student Jack MacDonald practicing his tendu (right)

“I like ballet class because of how they teach it. I think it helps me focus.” Jack said of his experience, adding, “It seems like there aren’t too many boys [men] in ballet.  But I think that’s cool.  It makes it special.”

 

And there you have it. So what are you waiting for? It’s never too late to join these boys and sign up for classes! For our current class schedule, curriculum, and all other school information, click 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.

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University Orthopedics: Keeping Dancers on Their Toes

Everything is beautiful at the ballet, right? Well, most of the time it is, but what happens behind the scenes to keep the Festival Ballet Providence (FBP) dancers dancing? Blood, sweat, and University Orthopedics!

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Equally as important as rehearsing and stretching, rehabilitating is an integral part of a dancer’s routine. Dance is the only art form in which the human body is the  complete medium: the instrument, the canvas, and the clay. Keeping a dancer’s body safe while it executes the incredibly difficult movements seen on stage is no simple task. Fortunately for FBP, the expert team at University Orthopedics has our backs. And hips. And feet…

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A few weeks ago, physical therapists at University Orthopedics conducted fitness consultations with the artists of FBP to assess the health of each dancer’s body. Through a series of physical evaluations, the dancers tested their stamina, strength, and power to determine their current state of physical fitness. The team at University Orthopedics combined the data gathered from participants with their extensive knowledge of the human body to tailor personalized wellness programs for each individual dancer.

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The benefits of University Orthopedics sponsorship of FBP are limitless, but the Company’s Physical Therapist in Residence, Jennifer Davis, is perhaps the most meaningful. A former professional ballet dancer herself, Jen Davis fully understands the unique stress being put on a dancer’s body. She says:

“On-site physical therapy for Festival dancers is so important.This is a small company and Misha counts on each member. Avoiding dance injury, or addressing it quickly, enables dancers to perform at their best, helping to ensure both their personal achievement and also the company’s success.”

Jennifer Davis visits the Hope Street studios once a week to treat the dancers, ensuring minor irritations do not become full blown injuries. Of her experience with treating the Company, Davis says, “My job is to help these elite level athletes address the bumps, bruises, irritated tendons and stuck vertebra before daily issues develop into ongoing problems. The energy here is positive and constructive. The dancers have prepared for years to reach this level of dancing professionally. Everyone is striving to do their best work.”

“I am so glad that University Orthopedics has made it possible for us to work together to help these dancers stay in the game and perform at their highest level.”

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To see the strong dancers of FBP in action, purchase tickets for the Company’s 40th Anniversary Season 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.

5 Questions for a Choreographer

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Ilya Kozadayev is quite the jet setter. Before retiring from the stage to focus on choreographing, Kozadayev trained at the Vagonova School in St. Petersburg, Russia, The School of American Ballet in New York City, the Academy of Ballet in Colorado and graduated from the John Cranko Ballet Academy in Stuttgart, Germany. After performing with an impressive array of professional ballet companies from Boston to Houston, Ilya served as Assistant Professor of Ballet at the University of Oklahoma School of Ballet.

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Currently in his first year as a member of the Dance Faculty at North Carolina School of The Arts, Ilya Kozadayev has made several trips to Providence in recent years, creating some of FBP’s most memorable story ballets including Hansel & Gretel and Romeo & Juliet. This season, Ilya departs from this narrative approach with his gripping Symbiosis, coming to Up Close On Hope this week. Let’s dive into some details…

So Ilya, let’s start from the beginning. When did you first feel inspired to create choreography?

I think I was 12 or 13 when I created a solo for myself and performed it in my middle school concert.

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What is your process like? Are you driven by the music first or a specific concept?

My process is different for every piece that I do. I usually develop a concept and then look for the music (or silence) to fit it.

Where did the inspiration for Symbiosis come from?

The inspiration for Symbiosis actually came from the idea of dance itself, and its requirement of close physical and physiological support, particularly in contact partnering.

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Symbiosis will feature a unique use of the new lighting in our Black Box Theater. Can you tell us a bit about how lighting, in tandem with costuming, music, and other elements, contributes to your overall vision as a choreographer?

I think that the beautiful new lighting in the Black Box Theater are an important part of this work. Lighting, costume and music are vital parts of the whole for me- the “ total work of art”. All of these elements are essential in setting the environment of that which is happening on the stage, thus creating a complete vision; an experience which the viewer can then freely enjoy and interpret.

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What do you think the dancers at FBP can bring to this piece? 

I always enjoy working with the dancers at FBP. They learn the work fast and interpret the choreography with dynamic yet sensitive approach. It is beautiful to watch.

To see Ilya’s piece at Up Close On Hope this month, head here or call (401) 353-1129 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.

 

In The Spotlight: Mary Ellen Beaudreau

With the first mainstage program in the books, the Company is already looking ahead to the first installment of its popular Black Box Theatre series, Up Close On Hope, opening in just two short weeks!
The Company is thrilled to welcome Festival Ballet Providence (FBP) School alumna Mary Ellen Beaudreau back into the studio as a choreographer for this month’s Up Close On Hope program. Since graduating from FBP School, Mary Ellen has traveled the world dancing with an impressive roster of professional companies and working as movement director for several different organizations. Beaudreau has also earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance from The Juilliard School in New York City as well as a Masters degree in Choreography from Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. She is currently the Director of the Brooklyn Ballet School. We sat down with this ambitious artist to hear all about her roots, her return to FBP, and the inspiration behind her newest creation…
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Mary Ellen Beaudreau, photo by Oriel Pe’er.
What is your first dance-related memory? 
I remember when I was about 3 years old being completely enchanted watching the dancers on the Lawrence Welk television show. Most people will recognize the parody of the Lawrence Welk show from Saturday Night Live, but for the 3-year-old me, it was magical, joyful and exciting to watch, especially with my grandparents. 
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Mary Ellen at age 8
 
When did you begin training at the Festival Providence School? 
I started training at Festival Ballet Providence at the age of 12 after watching FBP’s The Nutcracker. I knew that I wanted to dance professionally and I understood that FBP had the best training to get me there. I was a determined kid and despite my parents reservations about the unknown future of a dancer, I forged ahead and trained every day after school (providing that I maintained straight As in school of course).
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Mary Ellen in her first tutu, age 15 performing Paquita at the Festival Ballet Providence School
What was your time in the school like? 
It was intimidating at first when I arrived. I didn’t know anyone and recognized that I didn’t fit into any social clique, but I was at peace when I danced. I focused on my teacher’s corrections, improving in class and getting to understand the craft rather than trying to be “cool” to fit in with my peers. 
 
You were so focused! That’s wonderful. Did you get to perform with the company while you were here? 
Yes, as a student, I had the pleasure of performing in the corps de ballet in The NutcrackerGiselleLes SylphidesEsmerelda, and even went on tour with the company.

It was a thrill to learn from [FBP Artistic Director] Misha Djuric and the company members. I will never forget their support and guidance in becoming a professional dancer.

 
Were you always interested in choreographing? 
Instinctively I always knew that I needed to express my inner thoughts, ideas and creative impulses through movement. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I could be a choreographer because as a student, my main goal was to become a professional dancer. As I continued to work as a classical and modern dancer in the field I realized more and more that my creative voice needed to be expressed.

As a female dancer, I found that female voices are often suppressed in a creative project and I wanted to change that opportunity not only for myself but also for other women in the profession.

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Video-Fashion-Dance Collaboration with fashion designer Jenny Lai, NOT fashion line, photo credit: Lydia Bittner-Baird
 
Yes! We are so excited to be able to present so many talented female choreographers at FBP this season. So, after graduating from FBP and working professionally, you went back to school to earn several degrees. Why was furthering your education so important to you?
I believe that as artists – whether we are performing or creating- we need to be informed and well versed in all aspects of our craft. After working with San Francisco Ballet, I wanted to have a greater understanding of the scope of American dance. The Juilliard School was an incredible resource for me to investigate and learn from some of the finest teachers in our country – learning modern and ballet techniques, anatomy, music theory and dance history. After performing with a number of companies and choreographing and movement directing for theatre and opera works, I realized that I had little time to investigate my craft. Attaining a Master’s Degree in Choreography at Laban in London felt superfluous at first, but I realized that studying theories, researching other artists’ creative processes and writing a thesis helped me to organize and thoroughly investigate my ideas more fully.
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Mary Ellen at The Julliard School, age 22, photo by Norbert De La Cruz III
 
You have performed with several different companies including San Francisco Ballet, Charlotte Ballet, Pilobolus Dance Theatre, RUBBERBANDance Group, Trey McIntyre Project and Sidra Bell and Dancers, to name a few. How did your experience dancing in different environments shape your artistry as a choreographer?
I am attracted to the unknown and often go towards the things I fear the most and I always want to learn something new. Gaining precision, hard work, and dedication from being a classical ballet dancer first, I had the tools needed to thrive in any challenging situation, because I knew I could rely on my own will power to make things happen. It was a struggle as a classical dancer to embrace the different modern dance techniques and methods that were thrown my way throughout my career, but I was determined to find out what worked with my body. Pilobolus Dance Theatre in particular redefined my idea of what dance was and could be. For the first time, I didn’t need to fit into any particular aesthetic, but I needed to be really strong and have a lot of trust in the dancers I worked with. The idea that every show included and supported everyone on the creative and production team was very appealing to me especially coming from a classical background where everyone is fighting to reach the top in a hierarchical setting.

I think that every experience that I had and continue to have informs the work that I do – from working on a construction crew in Montreal to teaching children in South Africa, I try to absorb the environments and cultures that I experience.

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Mary Ellen at Charlotte Ballet in 2009, photo by Christopher Record

 

That’s really beautiful. So after all of that traveling, how does it feel to be back at FBP, this time choreographing?
It feels surreal sometimes walking through the halls again, and also a bit like I am coming home after 16 years of being away. I have so many memories growing up and discovering my life’s passion at Festival Ballet. It is wonderful to work with the dancers now and see where Misha’s vision for the company has grown. I greatly appreciate his support of me throughout the years and his trust in me to choreograph on FBP this season. It’s been a pleasure to work with the dancers. I am enjoying every minute.
 
Can you tell us a bit about your new work for Up Close On Hope? What is the inspiration?
My new work, Swimmers Suite, is inspired by my late grandmother and native Rhode Islander, Marjorie Burgess Houston, who we affectionately called “Gummy.” She was born in 1921 and spoke fondly of her summers swimming and camping on the Rhode Island beaches in the 1930s with her family. Her outlook was always positive despite living in a time sandwiched between two wars. A survivalist and generous soul, Gummy persevered and brought joy and humor to every life she touched.
 
Your creative process is very unique. Can you tell us a bit about that?
The choreographic process for Swimmers Suite was constructed with the 18 dancers in the room. Much of my choreography is developed from the creative input of the artists I work with – every voice and body in the room is important to building a new piece. It’s been exciting to see the dancers work together in new ways and develop a real camaraderie in the piece.
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Ballet Confessions (choreography & creation by Mary Ellen Beaudreau, premiered at Judson Memorial Church in May 2014), photo credit: Lydia Bittner-Baird

To see Mary Ellen’s Swimmers Suite and the rest of the exciting program at Up Close On Hope, click here for tickets or call FBP at (401) 353-1129.


 

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.

Ask Viktor Anything

For the latest episode of our “Locker Room Talk” series, the Communications Crew tested the multi-tasking skills (and patience) of Festival Ballet Providence (FBP) Resident Choreographer Viktor Plotnikov: We decked out the men’s locker room in Halloween decor, set up a pumpkin carving station, and handed the choreographer a tiny plastic knife and a trick-or-treating bucket of questions sourced from all of you! There is not nearly enough time for all of Viktor’s creative genius in one short video, so we’ve transcribed the rest of the interview here for you. Let’s see how he made out…

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How is choreographing movement for a broom different than making steps for a human character?

Well, bringing the broom to life was actually a big challenge. First of all, the Broom’s movement resembles a lot of human characteristics. When it meets the Widow’s son, the Broom tries to behave like a kid. So, the choreography has to have elasticity to show that the Broom is alive. But the choreography also has to represent the rigidity of an object as well as the agility of what this broom can do, and I think that’s the magic.

Would you rather get a pumpkin spice latte or go apple picking?

I love apples. I grew up picking apples- we had a garden with an apple tree there. I haven’t gone apple picking in a long time. That would be a treat.

[Carves a hole in top of pumpkin]

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How did you find FBP and why did you want to choreograph for them?

In Boston I was trying my hand in choreography with little pieces in different workshops. Misha came to see these workshops and one day just called me. He wanted me to choreograph a big piece- Carmen- and I almost fell on the floor. I got so nervous.

That was in 2003. I started working with the company then and that’s how it went. So really Misha found me and gave me the opportunity to do a bigger work here. It went rather well, I think.

If two witches watched two watches, which witch would watch which watch?

I would say that the first witch would have to watch the watch of the second witch. And yeah, like that. So the witch would have to watch the watch of the witch which watched the watch of the witch before that witch. [Laughs]

[To the crew] Guys, this is so much fun! I’m definitely going to buy myself one of these kits.

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What was it like working with Chris Van Allsburg, Aleksandra Vrebalov and Eugene Lee?

That’s an awesome question. All of them are so inspiring. Chris Van Allsburg was so fantastic. He’s like a little kid. He was so inspired. So alive!

Eugene Lee was so fast. He presented the whole structure of the sets as a mock up in a small box, like a miniature stage. That was a lot of fun, to look inside and sort of walk through.

Working with Aleksandra was my first time actually working with a composer. It was really cool, because we could collaborate so much. If I needed a section to be a certain length, she was able to accommodate that. It was really awesome.

The whole process was really inspiring. It was a lot of teamwork and collaboration.

[Turning his gaze back to the pumpkin] Guys, I’m going to cut my hand off!

Uh oh. Let’s talk inspiration. Where do you get your inspiration from?

From space! [Laughs] I think inspiration sits within us all the time, it just has to be activated. Sometimes you already have the story cooking in your head, so you get excited. Sometimes you have a piece of music already, so then you have a base to create from. It’s all about being inspired in a different way.

[Viktor turns around his half-carved pumpkin] 

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Look, look, look, look, look, you see? [Laughs] It’s not that clean, but it’s coming along. 

How do you feel when you see your choreography being performed on stage?

I used to panic for the final element, until I learned that then it’s in the hands of the dancers. When it goes on stage, the dancers are responsible for it. It’s still stressful, but not too much.

Was “The Widow’s Broom” the first storybook ballet that you choreographed?

No. Well, there was Carmen, then…yeah it’s the second. [Laughs] Ta-da!

Have you choreographed any other story ballets since?

Yes, Cinderella. And Romeo & Juliet coming up at First State Ballet Theater in Delaware this March.

Which of your ballets are you most proud of?

I think the one I did for one of the workshops way back in Boston. It’s called “State of Mind”. I like that piece the best not because of the movement, but because the idea was bold. I was not afraid. Later, I guess all choreographers do this, we end up sticking to what we know to a certain degree. But choreographing “State of Mind”, I was really experimenting with what I could do.

I’m more interested in the work itself in the studio. The process is much more interesting than the final result. For me, I don’t have that excitement once its over. When the last step is created in the studio, that’s when I give birth to my baby. 

[Revealing his finished pumpkin to us] Here! That was the last question and it’s done. [Imitating a ghost] Ooooh!

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To see “The Widow’s Broom” on stage, click here for tickets or call (401) 421-ARTS.


 

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.

11 Reasons You Need To See “The Widow’s Broom”

You already know this show is a festive Halloween treat, but in case you need some convincing, here are 11 reasons to see Festival Ballet Providence (FBP)’s “The Widow’s Broom” this weekend…

  1. Get your daily dose of art. Celebrate 40 years of culture in Providence as Rhode Island’s premiere ballet company makes this season’s mainstage debut in its 40th Anniversary Season with “The Widow’s Broom”.

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    FBP Company Dancers rehearsing “The Widow’s Broom”
  2. Witches and pumpkins and ghostly brooms, oh my! “The Widow’s Broom” is the perfect way to get ready for Halloween night, complete with a coven of creepy cool witches.

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    A few of the “Widow’s Broom” witches sweeping up at Providence Waterfire’s Fireball event.
  3. Enjoy the adventurous tale that has already captivated hundreds of students across the region! Children will love seeing this story (and the enchanted broom himself!) come to life through movement.

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    FBP Dancer Louisa Mejeur getting witchy with the 2nd grade class at Paul Cuffee Charter School as part of the Company’s Community Outreach Program
  4. Behold the bewitching scenery from Eugene Lee, the designer of Broadway’s Wicked. Maybe the Tony Award-winner has a thing for witches

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    Davide Vittorino, Heather O’Halloran, Jennifer Ricci in FBP’s “The Widow’s Broom”, photo by Thomas Nola-Rion
  5.  Indulge in the ingenious choreography of FBP Resident Choreographer Viktor Plotnikov. Watch an enchanted broom come to life before your eyes!

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    Viktor Plotnikov watches FBP rehearsing “The Widow’s Broom”
  6. Hear the spellbinding music by Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov. Did you know the young composer was only 21 when she wrote the original score for FBP’s “The Widow’s Broom”? Charmed!

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    illustration from The Widow’s Broom, by Chris Van Allsburg.
  7. Fall in love with the charming story from Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg, and see how the children’s book author/illustrator- famous for his clever characters and detailed drawings- helped bring this classic tale to life.

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    Chris Van Allsburg’s The Widow’s Broom on display at the Lincoln School Book Fair
  8. Enjoy an experience in the heart of historic downcity with a visit to the impressive theater at The Vets. That gilded proscenium hugging the stage, though!

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    photo of The Vets stage via thevetsri.com
  9. Magic tricks and sweet treats are sure to delight the whole family with dazzling holiday fun! Children and those young-at-heart will awaken their imagination as this spooky story unfolds on stage.

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    Jennifer Ricci reading Chris Van Allsburg’s The Widow’s Broom at the Lincoln School Book Fair.
  10. Witness the accomplished Company Dancers showcasing their talents and expressing their artistry in this emotional and uplifting performance.

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    FBP Company Dancers rehearsing “The Widow’s Broom”
  11. Whether you are a native Rhode Islander or a new-kid-on-the-block, FBP invites you to dive into the Creative Capital by embracing this visionary dramatic production!
Widow and son dance, Leticia Guerrero and Emily Bromberg, The Widow's Broom, photo by Thomas Nola-Rion, 400 dpi
Leticia Guerrero and Emily Bromberg in FBP’s “The Widow’s Broom”, photo by Thomas Nola-Rian.

For tickets to “The Widow’s Broom”, click here or call 401-421-ARTS.


 

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: Eugene Lee

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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. Lee’s Tony Award-winning Wicked creations and critically acclaimed The Widow’s Broom designs prove he certainly knows his way around witches. 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 Acela 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.

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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.

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…

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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?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.