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Review: Festival Ballet Providence Concludes Season Swimmingly with Exceptional, Enchanting LITTLE MERMAID

Review: Festival Ballet Providence Concludes Season Swimmingly with Exceptional, Enchanting LITTLE MERMAID

Festival Ballet Providence (FBP) closes its 40th season with a production that proves once again why this company enjoys a world-class reputation. The Little Mermaid, playing this weekend only at The Vets, showcases FBP performers at the height of their talents as dancers, as actors, and as storytellers.

The Little Mermaid is the original fish-out-of-water story, and this adaptation swims far more toward Hans Christian Andersen's influence than Disney's animated extravaganza. So while crustaceans aplenty skitter through the audience and in front of the footlights, none break out into Calypso-style musical numbers. Still, this staging (the New England premiere of Charlotte Ballet's original production) takes a lighter touch overall and features a much happier ending than Andersen's fairy tale.

This gentler approach lessens some of the story's tension -- the Sea King's dire warnings against the human world are never fully explored, the Sea Witch's dark magic reads as entertaining rather than dangerous, and "happily ever after" is attained in a heartbeat -- but not to the ballet's detriment. The Mermaid's journey from sea to shore remains a compelling one, and the tale is presented with sophistication and style.

Choreographer Mark Diamond uses very clever movements to tell underwater portions of the story. From schools of fish gliding gracefully on ocean currents to sea horses bobbing regally in their wake to slow green turtles plodding along the sandy floor, the performers fluidly and realistically mimic the motions of the creatures they portray. The Mermaid herself, played on opening night by Kirsten Evans, ingeniously swims through these early scenes borne by a group of dancers representing undertow.

The transition from tranquil undersea grottoes to sandy beaches above is handled especially well. The Mermaid's fascination with the human world draws her to the surface just in time to witness the Prince's sailboat being wrecked during a storm. To enact his rescue, Evans bobs and weaves through layers of undulating fabric that replicate the motion of wind-swept waves with exceptional realism and provide a sense of distance, speed, and perspective as she crosses currents.

Once ashore, Diamond's choreography takes on a more classically balletic tenor. The Mermaid and the Prince share an exquisitely lovely pas de deux at the top of act two, grand palace dances are stately and dignified, and the Officers of the Court steal the show with an outstanding display of strength and agility. Diamond crafted memorable and compelling spotlight numbers for the male dancers during the second act of The Little Mermaid, and David DuBois, Jacob Hoover, Cameron Morgan, Toleu Mukanov, Jordan Nelson, and Ty Parmenter marvelously rise to the occasion. Their highly skilled and entertaining performance rightly garners some of the most enthusiastic applause of the entire production.

The Mermaid proves a wonderful role for Evans. Her swimming scenes look effortless and graceful, even as the restriction of her costume's tail must require great core strength to manipulate and balance, and she expresses the Mermaid's curious personality with artlessness and vulnerability. Once the Mermaid gains her legs, Evans' pointe work is absolutely lovely -- clean and crisp -- and she partners brilliantly with Alan Alberto's Prince.

Alberto, as always, brings strength, poise, and outstanding characterization to his role. His every movement is packed with power, his partnering shows confidence and control, and his acting is genuinely warm as he engages with the storytelling. Still, this is a bittersweet performance: Alberto will take his final bow with FBP as The Little Mermaid's Prince. Alberto has been a mainstay for the company during his six-year run, demonstrating superior talent as a dancer and bringing his whole heart to the stage every time he steps into the lights. The Prince is a lovely and fitting character to farewell Alberto's time with FBP.

The world of The Little Mermaid comes alive through each individual populating the stage, from soloists to secondary characters. So while principal dancers twirl in the spotlight, gossiping servants peek out from behind topiaries and anthropomorphic anemone wave gently along the sea floor. In featured roles, Kathrine Bickford stands regal and distant as the Prince's Mother; Tegan Rich plays a jaunty, impish Sea Witch; Parmenter's forceful jumps and turns lend the Sea King an authoritative and commanding air; and Eugenia Zinovieva delivers an elegant, flawlessly controlled en pointe performance as the Prince's Fiancée. Dylan Giles provides a dose of humor and wonderful character work as the General, especially in his comically fraught interactions with Alex Lantz's Admiral and Joseph van Harn's Secretary General.

This Little Mermaid contains truly lovely visual elements. Alicia Colantonio's watercolor lighting design and Michael Baumgarten's subtly animated projections complete the aquatic scene to believable effect, and costumes and sets for this production simply dazzle. Aimee J. Coleman crafted second skins for the underwater creatures, ensembles that breathe and flow with their ocean setting, and then fashioned royally appointed gowns and military-style outfits for the characters on dry land. Howard Jones elevates the storytelling through his scenic design. The Sea King's throne room and the human palace's richly detailed ballroom are particularly breathtaking pieces of scenery.

The Little Mermaid elegantly concludes Festival Ballet Providence's ruby anniversary season. This production is certain to enchant younger audiences with its fairy-tale backdrop and its colorful characters, and discerning dance enthusiasts will unreservedly applaud the ballet's sophisticated choreography and skillful presentation.

Festival Ballet Providence's production of The Little Mermaid plays at The Veterans Memorial Auditorium (The Vets) through Sunday, April 29, 2018. Ticket prices range from $23-85; to purchase, call (401) 421-2787 or visit FBP's website at The Veterans Memorial Auditorium is located at One Avenue of the Arts, Providence, Rhode Island 02903.

Pictured: Kirsten Evans as the Mermaid. Photo Credit: Thomas Nola-Rion.

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