BWW Review: Festival Ballet Providence Opens 40th Season with Spunky and Sparkling PIPPI
Festival Ballet Providence kicks off its Ruby Anniversary season with a jolt of pure sunshine. Pippi Longstocking, the beloved red-headed heroine of children's fiction, dances into the limelight at the company's Hope Street studio to share adventures - and misadventures - with her friends and neighbors.
Pippi is part of FBP's chatterBOXtheatre series, a special run of shows aimed at introducing younger audiences to live ballet performance. At chatterBOX, children are encouraged to interact with the dancers, so laughter and ongoing commentary from youthful viewers is to be expected after the house lights dim. Still, with such a dazzling display of color, light, and motion before them, many of the littlest balletomanes wind up sitting hushed and spellbound as the story unfolds.
Though chatterBOX shows do keep a younger audience in mind in terms of content (fairy tales and classics of children's literature are standard fare) and a shortened run-time, there's nothing "kiddie" about the fine quality of these productions. The level of difficulty and professionalism in the dancers' performances is on par with any other works FBP produces, and the company's commitment to excellence in storytelling is clear in every scene. Pippi is a delight for the young and young at heart.
Colleen Cavanaugh truly captured the spirit of Astrid Lindgren's enduring Longstocking stories through her lively and vibrant choreography, and Ballet Mistress Leticia Guerrero brilliantly restages Cavanaugh's work for the company's current run. The unconventional Pippi may make a muddle of social graces, but she nonetheless endears herself wherever she goes, righting injustices and making the most unlikely of friends along the way. FBP's production translates Pippi's boundless exuberance and artless positivity seamlessly from page to stage.
Tegan Rich leaps into her role as Pippi, expressing the character's spirit and attitude down to the tips of her trademark red pigtails. Rich's portrayal - vivacious and buoyant - blends playful step sequences with excellent acting skills to demonstrate Pippi's remarkable strength and trademark spunk. Alex Lantz and Elizabeth Mochizuki play Pippi's dearest friends, Tommy and Annika Settergren, and their facial expressions alone tell so much of this story. As Rich's Pippi blithely jumps from one scrape to the next, Lantz and Mochizuki's looks of wide-eyed astonishment and delight serve as relatable touch points for audience members. The duo also shows great talent in their partnering work, so much so that young onlookers audibly exclaim as Lantz propels Mochizuki's leaps to soaring heights. In another memorable choreographic piece, Rich, Lantz, and Mochizuki join forces to turn the simple act of making pancakes into an acrobatic art form.
Rounding out the Settergren family is the siblings' longsuffering mother, and Katherine Bickford's fine, nearly constant pointe work underscores her character's position as "responsible adult" both by adding to her physical height and by distinguishing her more poised and graceful movement.
The rest of the narrative unfolds as Pippi encounters an assortment of friends and foes in Villa Villekulla. Her care for her monkey sidekick (adorably played by Catherine Galipeau) and concern for a picked-on village boy (CameRon Morgan) establish her kindly nature early on, but a trio of local bullies (Jacob Hoover, Olivia Kaczmarzyk, and Gwynn Wolford) is speedily neutralized by Pippi's scrappy fighting skills. A pair of snobbish society ladies recoils in horror as Pippi inadvertently decimates Mrs. Settergren's dainty tea party (Kristy DuBois and Dylan Giles keep their noses suitably midair throughout). Menace and high comedy come into play as bumbling thieves (Alan Alberto and Azamat Asangul) try burgling Pippi's case of glittering gold coins, while inept local police (David DuBois and Jordan Nelson) periodically attempt to rein Pippi in with slapstick results.
Pippi's top-quality production values complete the whole package. Though sets are spare in the Black Box environment, Christine Huddleston fashions the world of Villa Villekulla using choice pieces loaded with whimsical detail. Huddleston lets that same charisma translate into the show's brightly hued costumes, collaborating with Janna Pederson to create Pippi's patchwork styling, the ladies' fussy teatime frocks, and the monkey's charming fur suit.
Festival Ballet Providence's chatterBOXtheatre production of Pippi plays at the company's Hope Street Black Box through Sunday, October 8, 2017. Ticket prices range from $15-25; to purchase, call (401) 353-1129 or visit FBP's website at www.festivalballet.com. The FBP Black Box Theatre is located at 825 Hope Street, Providence, RI 02906.
Pictured (L-R): Elizabeth Mochizuki, Tegan Rich, Alex Lantz
Photo by Ty Parmenter