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BWW Review: Festival Ballet Providence Stages Ethereal, Effervescent THE LITTLE PRINCE

BWW Review: Festival Ballet Providence Stages Ethereal, Effervescent THE LITTLE PRINCE

Festival Ballet Providence (FBP) opens its Black Box Theatre to imagination and adventure with an utterly captivating staging of The Little Prince. This charming piece is based on the best-selling children's book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. All those who have read and loved The Little Prince will be delighted with FBP's production as characters nimbly step off the page and cunning effects transform the Black Box space into a number of exotic - even extraterrestrial - new lands.

The Little Prince is part of FBP's chatterBOXtheatre series, a special run of shows geared toward introducing younger audience members to the beauty of ballet. Still, seasoned dance lovers shouldn't let the shorter run time (and shorter seat mates) deter attendance. Boyko Dossev's gorgeous choreography for The Little Prince shows off the finest, most sophisticated skills of FBP's dancers, and the company dazzles with a compelling and complex performance. In a season dedicated to celebrating FBP's ruby anniversary, The Little Prince stands out as a real gem.

The story unfolds through the reminiscences of the Aviator. Years prior, he crash landed in the Sahara and, looking grimly out over the shifting sands, expected complete isolation as he worked to repair his aircraft. Yet, to his great astonishment, an otherworldly little boy soon approached him. The curious youngster asked more questions than he answered, but the Aviator eventually learned that this "Little Prince" was the sole inhabitant of a tiny asteroid orbiting Earth. The Prince tended the asteroid - cleaning out its volcanoes, pulling up encroaching Baobab plants, and coddling his beloved Rose - before the longing for knowledge and exploration drew him from his home. A flock of birds carried him from one small planet to the next until he finally arrived on Earth and met the Aviator, the Snake, and the Fox.

FBP's production of The Little Prince translates the novella's always enchanting, often philosophical characters and scenes effortlessly to the stage, first through dance and movement, and then through the use of very clever, very well-wrought stage effects. The company's artists are truly at their best here. Brenna DiFrancesco perfectly captures the Little Prince's childlike wonder in her facial expressions and body language, and she also conveys the character's more mature meditations on the bonds of friendship and the shades of loneliness with each person or creature the Prince encounters. DiFrancesco demonstrates a remarkable range of skills and styles as the narrative unfolds through dance, and she partners expertly with numerous other cast members during this performance.

The other dancers take on dual roles in the course of storytelling, while Dossev's inspired choreography aids them in expressing their characters' vibrant and unique personalities. Alan Alberto plays the Aviator - who recaptures his long-abandoned imagination and facility to dream after meeting the winsome Prince - with a real sense of wonder and he revels in the persona of the regally stuffy King, monarch and lone resident of the first planet the Prince visits after leaving home. Ty Parmenter once again demonstrates his marvelous gift for characterization as he performs both the elegant Rose and the jauntily self-absorbed Conceited Man. Eugenia Zinovieva leads a garden full of flowers in a dreamy tango as the Prince discovers his own Rose's origins. Tegan Rich brings oodles of personality, not to mention sprightly footwork, to the comic Tippler and the wily Fox, and Lauren Mead utterly shines en pointe as the sinuous, mesmerizing Snake and the staccato-stepped Businessman.

Other company members - Azamat Asangul, Katherine Bickford, Dylan Giles, Jacob Hoover, Hannah Klinkman, Elizabeth Mochizuki, Cameron Morgan, Jordan Nelson, Dara Nicole, Morgan Pedersen, Linnea Wahle, Gwynn Wolford, and Melissa Wong - work in tandem to form a varied collection of ideas and objects, setting the mood and tone for each scene in the story. These dancers use shape and movement to evoke the weightless flight of birds, the quiet majesty of the starry night sky, the imminent danger of encroaching Baobabs, society's stuffiest and most restrictive of conventions, and the heady fragrance of roses drifting through a well-tended garden.

The world of The Little Prince also comes alive through a collaborative multimedia presentation. Much of the visual design for this show was created by FBP's own company members (including Hoover and Parmenter, along with Victor Plotnikov and Zev Hoover), with WaterFire Providence also contributing to scenery. Enchanting stop-motion animation features the watercolor artwork of Michele Gutlove, Valerie Tutson offers warm and appealing narration, Maxime Goulet provides the production's original music, and Alicia Colantonio's lighting design illuminates the Prince's interplanetary journeys. Costumes by FBP artistic director Mihailo Djuric both bring to life de Saint-Exupéry's illustrations and suggest the nature of more abstract characters, such as the Rose, the Snake, and the Birds.

The Little Prince is a sure-fire new classic for Festival Ballet Providence. chatterBOXtheatre shows offer a limited schedule and last season's run of The Little Prince played to sold-out audiences, so act quickly to reserve tickets for upcoming performances.

Festival Ballet Providence's chatterBOXtheatre production of The Little Prince plays at the company's Hope Street Black Box through Sunday, March 11, 2018. 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.

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Pictured: Kailee Felix. Artwork by Michele Gutlove. Photo by Zaire Kacz.

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