Meet our Nine(!) New Dancers

Festival Ballet Providence’s 41st season is about to be underway as the chatterBOXtheatre opens with Robin Hood this weekend. Just like this world premiere production of a classic tale, so much of this season mixes the familiar and beloved with the fresh and new. Our programs feature treasured classical ballets alongside daring contemporary works and bold new creations from our audiences’ favorite choreographers. We are also celebrating artistic director Misha Djuric’s 20th year at the helm (complete with an exciting evening of dance planned for November 3), while also welcoming nine new dancers making their debut with the company this season!

Get to know the newest members of the FBP family before you spot them on stage:

COMPANY DANCERS

Jay Markov

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Photo: Nathaniel Solis

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Previous Schools: Master Ballet Academy, San Francisco Ballet School
Previous Companies: Ballet Arizona, Los Angeles Ballet
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“I look forward most to the ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ program in February and Swan Lake in the spring.

Charlotte Nash

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Photo: Kenneth Edwards

Hometown: Seattle, WA
Previous Schools: Pacific Northwest Ballet School, San Francisco Ballet School
Previous Companies: Houston Ballet, BalletMet
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“I’m looking forward to performing Serenade because I love dancing Balanchine ballets.”

João Sampaio

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Hometown: Três Rios, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Previous Schools: Núcleo de Dança, Carlos Henrique Bonforte Balletarrj School of Dance
Previous Companies: Tulsa Ballet
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“I’m excited for the chance to learn Balanchine’s Serenade–it’s sure to help me get through the cold New England winter!”

 

APPRENTICES

Jessica Alvarez

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Photo: Michael Woodall

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Previous Schools: Master Ballet Academy
Previous Companies: commercial dancer with Bloc LA
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“I am most excited to perform in Swan Lake and Serenade for this season.”

Emily Lovdahl

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Photo: Marc Darling

Hometown: Racine, WI
Previous Schools: The Studio of Classical Dance Arts (WI), Milwaukee Ballet II, BalletMet Trainee Program
Previous Companies: Nevada Ballet Theatre
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“I’m looking forward to so many things this season! Dancing Serenade (with NBT in 2017) is one of my favorite memories and I can’t wait to revisit it! I love Swan Lake and am really excited to be part of the company all coming together on this iconic ballet. I’m also really excited to explore the contemporary rep and challenge myself in that facet of my dancing!”

 

TRAINEES

Athina Alimonos

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Photo: Michael Cairns

Hometown: Hadley, MA
Previous Schools: East Street Ballet, Massachusetts Academy of Ballet
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“I’m most excited to continue developing myself as an artist through the diverse repertoire Festival Ballet Providence has to offer.”

Nora Ambler
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Hometown: Cambridge, MA.
Previous Schools: Fresh Pond Ballet, Boston Ballet School, Orlando Ballet School
Previous Companies: American Repertory Ballet.
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“This season I am most excited for the opportunities I will have to meet and learn from new dancers, teachers and choreographers. The repertoire here is very diverse, and I am looking forward to being exposed to so many different styles!”

Sara Clarke

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Photo: Mark Santillano

Hometown: Vernon, CT
Previous Schools: Connecticut Concert Ballet, Mercyhurst University
Previous Companies: dancEnlight, Lake Erie Ballet
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“I am excited to be joining a company with such a vast repertoire so I can explore different movement vocabularies and expand my artistry. I’m also excited to dance a Balanchine work for the first time and to dance in Swan Lake”

Julia Guiheen

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Photo: Maximilian Tortoriello

Hometown: Madison, NJ
Previous Schools: Studio Allegro School of Ballet, Butler University
What are you looking forward to this season with FBP?:
“I am looking forward to working with lots of new choreographers as they create and set their work on the company. I’m also excited to get to know, dance with and learn from the other FBP dancers!”

 

 

 

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“Ballet in the Library” Goes Under The Sea

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Here in the Creative Capital, art is constantly being imagined, created, and shared. One of the greatest gifts an artist can give is to inspire and educate developing young minds to dream up the next masterpiece. At FBP, we are dedicated to helping raise the next generation of artists in Providence with our extensive outreach program.

This season, FBP has brought enchanting dance experiences to hundreds of children in Rhode Island through our “Ballet in the Library” series, sparking the fire of passion in the hearts of countless youth along the way. In preparation for one of the most whimsical ballets the Company has ever taken on, Little Mermaid, a team of dancers led by Outreach Director Valerie Cookson-Botto will be popping up in libraries in Providence, Cranston, Jamestown, North Kingstown, and Peach Dale to perform an interactive reading of Little Mermaid. These fun events are the perfect way to get your littles excited for the ballet, while engaging in your community arts scene and exposing your children to art in a unique, approachable way.

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Of course, community engagement is all about sharing the experience of dance with those around you, and dance is all about moving your body- so it wouldn’t be a proper FBP Outreach event without some dancing! FBP dancers will teach the children to move like they are underwater, practicing the movements of a variety of sea creatures to create an original ocean dance.

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What’s a little pop-up party without a craft, right? Children will be invited to make their very own fish to take home with them- and then bring along to the theater to see FBP’s Little Mermaid live on stage April 27-29! Fin-tastic fun for the whole family!

For a schedule of FBP’s “Ballet in the Library” series, see below:

North Kingstown Free Library- Tuesday, 4/17; 10am

Peach Dale Library- Wednesday, 4/18; 10:30am

Jamestown Library- Wednesday, 4/18; 2pm

Cranston Central Library- Thursday, 4/19; 10:30am

Rochambeau Library-Tuesday, 4/24; 10:30am

Washington Park Library- Tuesday, 4/24; 1pm

Mount Pleasant Library- Wednesday, 4/25; 10am

Olney Library- Thursday 4/26; 10am

Wanskuck Library- Thursday, 4/16; 1pm

For tickets to FBP’s Little Mermaid, 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.

5 Questions for “Little Mermaid” Choreographer Mark Diamond

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In just a few short weeks, FBP will make a splash at The Vets, bringing Mark Diamond’s bubbly adaptation of Little Mermaid to the stage for the first time in New England. Before taking on his current role as the director of Charlotte Ballet II, Mark Diamond danced with several professional ballet companies in Europe and the US, including Hamburg Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, andPittsburgh Ballet Theater. Today we are sitting down with the choreographer to learn a bit about his version of the classic fairytale…

Hello, Mark! Let’s dive in (ha). What inspired you to create a ballet version of Little Mermaid?

When Charlotte Ballet asked me to create a family ballet, I felt that the Little Mermaid was a great story because of the juxtaposition of two worlds, the land and the sea. And also, because it is a love story.

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That beautiful opposition between land and sea must have posed some unique challenges in terms of choreography. How did you go about creating an underwater world? 

The idea of the sea (and under the sea) is that everything is constantly moving with natural beauty; which is what dance is about. The dancer playing the little mermaid can never stand or walk while under the sea; so I have men carriers, which I call the Undertow run and carry her about the stage. Costumes are flowy and representative of different sea elements and creatures. And of course the lighting and projections emphasize the exaggerated colors of the water, and of the constant movement.

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Sounds lovely! Can you describe the high-tech elements that were recently incorporated in the show?

The use of projections on top of the scenery really helps with the constant flux of visuals that are under water.

*Pro Tip: For an inside look at the making of the Little Mermaid costumes which include one-of-a-kind 3D printed elements, click here!*

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There seems to be a shift in technique used from the dancers under the sea versus those on land. What can the audience expect to see in terms of style? 

In general, the movement under the sea is natural or, in the style of contemporary dance; especially for the Undertow men. The dance styles utilized in the land scenes are all classical or “character” dance.

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Little Mermaid is such a classic story. What elements of the original story did you incorporate and what did you make your own? Did the popular Disney adaptation inspire you in any way?

I have followed the story from Hans Christian Anderson (whose works are always a bit dark and depressing) as closely as possible but not always in the details. In dance we always have to take some artistic license to make the translation work.

“I have made the interpretation more colorful and joyful and have incorporated elements of joy, yearning, humor and hope.”

I have choreographed a few storybook ballets and I always try to totally avoid any adaptations used by Disney. I also felt it would be very irresponsible to ask families to bring their children and serve them the ancient, dismal and depressing ending that Hans Christian Anderson used.

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Both creativity and balance are so key when it comes to making something exciting and original for children. The Company has been looking forward to bringing this ballet to life! Thanks, Mark!

To see Little Mermaid make a splash on stage, click here for tickets.

Photos via Charlotte Ballet.


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.

Welcome yon Tande

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FBP’s Up Close On Hope (UCOH) series is all about showcasing emerging choreographers in collaboration with our versatile company of dancers to produce a uniquely intimate experience. This month FBP welcomes two new choreographers to our UCOH roster. Today we are welcoming yon Tande, local performance artist and choreographer, to the FBP family.

yon Tande works in the areas of “performance, exhibition, curation, and education”. He has performed with a number of professional dance companies including Martha Graham Dance Company, and has taught internationally at an impressive collection of institutions including Peridance Center, Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, and The Ailey School. yon Tande earned a B.F.A. in Theatre Arts/Dance (Howard University), an M.F.A. in New Media Arts and Performance (Long Island University) and is presently an Institute for the Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts Driskell Fellow.  That’s quite the resumé!

Bringing his worldly talents to Providence, yon Tande has worked as the Dance Manager for AS220, choreographer for Trinity Rep’s A Christmas Carol, and is currently the Program Director at the Southside Cultural Center of Rhode Island. Today we hear from yon Tande himself, all about his background, creation process, and the poignant adaptation of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”, coming to the Black Box Theater this March…

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Hello, yon Tande! Let’s start at the beginning. What is your first dance-related memory?

Performing for my entire family around the house as a young boy, dressed in all kinds of get-ups that I could put together. Also, being the only boy in a dance class full of young girls and not having any sense of discomfort.

Haha! Your sense of self is still so strong and inspiring. How has your experience performing and working with so many incredible dance companies shaped you as an artist? 

It has given me the opportunity to experience a range of approaches to creating dance from the highly reverent to the supreme irreverent. This has nurtured in me the importance of being true to my particular voice and the necessity to continue to nourish my artistry.

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So were you always interested in creating movement?

I have always been a creator of movement. From my early young teen years of dancing in the circles of Chicago House clubs, to the more formal training in dance studios, I have always loved creating movement. In my years as a young choreographer, discovering my vocabulary was difficult, but the basic idea of creating movement always provoked my interest as a means of sharing my point of view about the world with the world.

I love the idea of choreography as a medium for commenting on the world, to the world. What is your choreographic process like?

Working on my independent projects, I have found that I can have a more flexible process of seeking, crafting and throwing away. Working as a guest choreographer means that time is a premium, so I have to come in much more prepared with specific ideas to share. I love to collaborate with dancers, as I am very interested in how they respond to the same ideas that I bring to them.

How does music speak to you?

I have always thought of music in dance like a score for the environment, in that it frames the particular scenario that I’m working to create rather than completely dictates what is happening. I am more interested in how music functions as dynamic rhythm and how that instigates me to create.

“That’s why I love the Stravinsky Rite of Spring; its absolutely driving dynamic is invigorating.”

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We are so excited to share your work with the FBP audience for the first time ever! What has your experience working with the dancers of FBP been like so far? 

Due to the state of dance presently, I think versatility is expected more now than in the past. It has been very interesting to witness the translation of my dance language through the dancers’ bodies. This, for me, is a key component to working as a choreographer.

I like to leave space for the dancer to bring their whole self to the process. I have never been interested in the dancer trying to do exactly what I do; I want to know how the dancer’s body understands the information. I have found this to be the case at FBP. Time is limited, so efficiency is paramount, nevertheless, when the dancer finds a way to put their “stank” on the movement, that’s awesome and exciting.

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Their “stank”, haha- I love that! The piece you are taking on for Up Close On Hope, Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”, is so iconic. How are you using the work of other artists to inspire and help guide you through this momentous undertaking?

Well, you know, this is the “golden fleece” of contemporary choreography. It is the “sacred” cup that eventually, we all drink from (in some way, shape or form). The music is innovative, challenging and frightening, everything that intrigues me as a creative. So many choreographers have created their version that it’s difficult not to refer to all the versions I have seen.

Nevertheless, I decided once it was confirmed that we would do this, I was not going to look at any other Rite of Spring. But, of course, that music comes on, and all the versions lying dormant in my memory start to come up, especially that of Graham’s (whose I am so close too and Bausch’s, whose I love so much). However, what I am mainly inspired by is ritual. Ritual is a recurring factor in all my work, as it communicates in a clear and simple way.

“The narrative embedded within ritual asks us to focus on the dance in a different way, not as just movement, but as human communication- a need, a desire, a function.” 

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We are so excited to bring your work to the FBP audience for the first time! What can the audience expect to gain from seeing your work at Up Close On Hope?

The legend of Rite of Spring is so great, in that it incited the audience to reject it vehemently. I wonder what that would be today. What would it take for an audience to be so strongly moved by concert dance today. The audience should see/feel rhythmic articulation, group cooperation, bold dynamism and hopefully things I don’t even know. Maybe they will gain an urgency about being alive.

“I want the audience to be moved: kinesthetically, intellectually, and soulfully. I hope that it engages the audience so fully that it infects them with the desire to seek out dance and performance and to get involved.”

 

Beautifully put. Why do you feel that collaboration and creation are important in a small community like Providence?

This is how we get to know each other, it is how we begin to see each other in our truths. If we never endeavor to work with folks and create together, we cannot experience the broadest sense of humanity. Even working in likeness tempts the fate of difference. What if I discover this person actually does not share the same values, what now?! In this process of collaboration and creation the sharing of resources, itself, becomes a value.

 

Thank you, yon Tande!

To see yon Tande’s “The Rite of Spring” at Up Close On Hope, 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.

Say Hello To Kurt Douglas

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FBP’s 40th Anniversary Season continues with the second installment of Up Close On Hope (UCOH). FBP’s Black Box Theater series has become known for presenting world premieres from emerging choreographers in an intimate setting. Next month, Up Close honors that tradition by introducing the FBP audience to two new UCOH creators. One of those choreographers is the brilliant Kurt Douglas.

Currently serving on the faculty at Boston Conservatory, Kurt Douglas has shared his talent with a number of renowned dance companies including Limón Dance Company, Ballet Hispanico, and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. Douglas has performed on stages all across the globe, and was given the prestigious Princess Grace Award recognizing exceptional professional dancers in 2002.

We checked in with Kurt to hear a bit more about his background, his experience touring the world with the Tony Award-winning musical A Chorus Line, and what it’s like working with the dancers of FBP on his latest creation…

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Hey, Kurt! Let’s jump right in. What is your first dance-related memory?

My earliest memory was from my first year as a student at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High school of Music Art and the Performing Arts in NYC. I remember sneaking up to the top floor dance studios to watch the senior dance majors during their Martha Graham Technique Classes.

“It was like watching electricity fly through space. I was inspired, I was hooked.” 

Wow. It seems you really were hooked- from there you earned your B.F.A. from Boston Conservatory and your M.F.A. at Hollins University. How do you think this education shaped your career as an artist? 

Investing in my education has given me an opportunity to gain perspective into the possibilities of what movement can evoke. I was able to learn from my professors as well as from my colleagues.

“Observing and learning from the journey of my fellow students inspired my creativity and empowered my own agency.”

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I love the idea that observing can be very empowering. So when you started dancing professionally yourself, how did that part of your career influence your expression as a choreographer?

Working with these incredible companies has helped me gain tools while I continue to develop my own choreographic voice. The experience and growth I gained from touring the world and experiencing other cultures can never be replaced. For that I feel truly blessed.

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Your career has been very diverse. What was it like to tour the country performing the Tony Award-winning musical A Chorus Line and how did this differ from the previous companies you were a part of?

The biggest difference was the amount of performances per week. With A Chorus Line we performed 8 shows a week compared to 2-3 shows a week while in the other companies. Getting to perform A Chorus Line was an amazing experience. The most challenging parts were vocal maintenance (taking care of my voice) and keeping the show feeling fresh after 250 performances. The best rewards were performing at the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. The time I spent in these countries taught me so much about myself.

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And now we are so lucky to have you in our lovely little corner of the world! What is your favorite part of the creation process? 

My favorite part is working in the studio with the artists. I love trying to figure out solutions to complex choreographic challenges while in the rehearsal process.

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How has your experience been working with the dancers of FBP? 

“Working with the incredible artists at FBP has been truly rewarding. The dancers energy and commitment to the process is astounding. Each dancer brings their unique and rich movement history to the process and I can’t wait to share it with the Providence community.” 

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Thank you so much, Kurt!

To see Kurt’s world premiere at Up Close On Hope, 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.

Live Music Brings New Dimensions To Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale”

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Next weekend’s “Director’s Choice” program is packed with all kinds of excitement- an iconic classic, a Tony Award-winning choreographer, a world premiere- but there’s one thing everyone is buzzing about: LIVE MUSIC.

FBP’s brand new adaptation of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale will feature inventive choreography by Viktor Plotnikov, spoken word narration by local actor Nigel Gore, and live music on stage, played by a septet of musicians from the Rhode Island Philharmonic under the expert direction of Alexey Shabalin.

The Russian-born musical genius has received a number of impressive accolades celebrating his talent, from distinguished awards in Moscow to special performance opportunities here in the United States. Shabalin is currently a violinist with the Rhode Island Philharmonic and Artist-Director of the RI Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. Shabalin has also devoted much of his time to working with aspiring musicians at prestigious universities including Brown University, MIT, Providence College, and Rhode Island College. We caught up with the accomplished conductor to get the inside scoop on this exclusive collaboration…

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Hello Alexey! We are so honored to have you on our “Director’s Choice” artistic team. How did you get involved in this collaboration with Festival Ballet Providence (FBP) and The Soldier’s Tale?

 

The community of musicians and artists here in RI have a tight connection, so I got to know Mihailo Djuric a long time ago. It’s a great pleasure and a privilege for me to celebrate this special occasion – the 40th anniversary of Festival Ballet.

 

Thank you for helping us celebrate! Now, I have heard multiple versions of the Soldier’s Tale score using different combinations of instruments. Will the “Director’s Choice” audience be hearing the original version of the score? 

 

Yes. There are many versions of The Soldier’s Tale- the play, suite, trio- but there is not a ballet version. In 1918, [Igor] Stravinsky wrote the score for the play The Soldier’s Tale and revised some of the movements several times. In 1924,  J.& W.Chester  published the final version of the score. Later on, Stravinsky recorded his composition 3 different times using the 1924 version of the piece. We will also be using the original 1924 version of the score.

 

And what about the changing instrumentations? It seems the arrangements evolved with the piece over the years. How is it decided which instruments will play?

 

As Stravinsky said: “The discovery of the American Jazz has affected my life to the greatest degree. My piece [The Soldier’s Tale] uses the same instruments as they did in jazz of early 20th century, with the exception of saxophone, which was replaced by bassoon”.

 

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How much of the score has been modified to accommodate Viktor’s vision for this new adaption?

 

“The involvement of this new component, the art of ballet, gives this composition a new dimension.” 

 

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It’s such a special treat for the dancers of FBP to perform to live music. Have you worked on this sort of collaboration or conducted for a ballet before? 

 

I am symphony orchestra conductor, so this is a totally new experience for me. Now I am dealing with the syntheses of expression of human body and art of sound. I enjoy it very much!

 

What are you most excited about for this production?

 

 We are very excited to present to the audience the different vision of  The Soldier’s Tale as a world premiere ballet. I think for all artists, it’s essential to present something that the audience has never seen, heard, or read before.

 

That is so true. But Stravinksy’s scores are notoriously challenging to perform. How are you working to make sure everything goes smoothly with the dancers and musicians?

 

All of the musicians are great professionals from the RI Philharmonic, and I believe that we will be able to overcome the many difficulties of the score. Without exaggeration, I can say that the score of The Soldier’s Tale is a concert for seven solo instruments- violin, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, double bass and percussion- as well as a narrator.

 

Stravinsky himself said: “My musical ideas of the ’20s were directed towards the style of instrumental solos. The sound characteristic of the The Soldier’s Tale is the fiddling of the violin and the rhythmic patterns of the drums, the violin is the soldier’s soul, and the drums are delivery”.

 

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Thank you, Alexey!

 

To see Alexey and the dancers in action, and hear the magnificent musicians performing Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale live on stage, 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.

How To Stage a Tony Award Winner’s Choreography

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Brenna DiFrancesco and Ty Parmenter rehearsing Christopher Wheeldon’s The American.

It’s a new year andFestival Ballet Providence (FBP) is hard at work preparing for February’s ambitiousDirector’s Choice program. The evening will include three different ballets, one of which- entitled The American– is a company premiere. In fact, this performance will mark the first time a full-length work by world famous Tony Award-winning choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, has ever been performed in Rhode Island.

To stage the ballet, former New York City Ballet dancer Michele Gifford has traveled to Providence several times over the course of FBP’s 40th Anniversary Season.  The American will surely bring FBP to new heights, with stunning choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and music by Antonin Dvorák. This technical piece will challenge the Company’s musicality and teamwork like never before. We sat down with Michele to find out about her ballet career, Christopher Wheeldon’s creation process, and what FBP will bring to this special ballet…

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Michelle Gifford. photo by Edwin Watson Photography.

What is your first dance-related memory?

My first memory was as a young girl. I was very upset that my bunny ears wouldn’t stand up straight…we were doing Alice in Wonderland.

You performed with New York City Ballet (NYCB) for twelve years. What was your time with the company like? 

My time at NYCB was amazing, but of course it wasn’t all candy-coated. It was hard work all day, every day (and night!). There was no down time unless you were on a layoff period and even then most of us performed as guest artists in other places.

I was with NYCB at a very special time, because Balanchine dancers [dancers who worked directly with George Balanchine] were still there and dancing a lot. I got to see these people in rehearsals and live onstage- not just in a video. Such an amazing and special time.

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Gwynn Wolford and David Dubois rehearsing Christopher Wheeldon’s The American.

You’ve mentioned being cast as the “jumping and turning girl” quite a bit at NYCB. Did you enjoy that type of movement, or did you crave more languid roles? Did you have a favorite role to perform?

I only wanted that shift as I got older. While I was in NYCB I knew that these were my roles and really enjoyed those parts. I also enjoyed when guest choreographers came in and chose me to do different things.

Extending your style challenges another facet of you as a dancer and as a person.

You have been staging works by renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon for some time now. When did you two first meet?

I met Chris when he was a dancer with The Royal Ballet and I came in to take company class there.

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Beth Mochizuki and Cameron Morgan rehearsing Christopher Wheeldon’s The American.

What is Mr. Wheeldon’s creation process like?

He is very fun in the studio and always wants the best for the dancers as well as the piece. He is also extremely musical.

How would you describe the ballet being performed by FBP, The American

I always feel like the pas de deux is like spun sugar: delicate but light with a sense of breath. It’s really elegant. It also reminds me of a lazy summer day.

I think the music drives the ballet and if you just sit and listen to the music, the choreography just makes sense in so many ways.

This piece is rarely performed by professional companies. What do you think FBP will bring to the piece? 

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Olivia Kaczmarcyk, Ty Parmenter, Tegan Rich, and Jordan Nelson rehearsing Christopher Wheeldon’s The American.

I think FBP will bring an excitement to the ballet simply because they do not have the opportunity to perform this kind of work often, so it’s fresh and new. Doing The American will make the FBP dancers better because it’s a challenge and one only continues to grow as an artist and person by doing ballets that challenge them. 

 

In what ways will The American challenge the dancers of Festival Ballet Providence?

I think that the challenge for the dancers is making the piece a group effort. Everyone has to be 100% involved the whole way through.

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FBP Artists rehearsing Christopher Wheeldon’s The American.

What do you hope Providence audiences will take away from seeing this ballet? 
The audience will hopefully walk away not only with fantastic music to hum but also a sense of brightness.

Thank you, Michele! To see The American and the rest of the exciting Director’s Choice evening, click here for tickets.

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FBP Company Artists and Artistic Staff with Michele Gifford.

 

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.

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.