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…
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.
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 TheNutcracker. 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).
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 Nutcracker, Giselle, Les Sylphides, Esmerelda, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.