BWW Review: Festival Ballet Steps into Spring with Innovative UP CLOSE ON HOPE
Festival Ballet Providence closes its 2014-15 season with a showcase almost entirely composed of contemporary dances. All but two of the nine pieces included on the spring Up Close program are company- or world-premiere performances, demonstrating FBP's commitment to fostering new works while encouraging dancers and choreographers to explore and challenge boundaries.
Contemporary dance's unpredictable, abstract stylings are visually and thematically intriguing, though the atypical forms and often darker motifs contained in these works can distance an audience emotionally. Presenting such pieces "up close" in FBP's Black Box Theatre lends contemporary choreography an immediacy and relevance that cannot be replicated in a larger venue. The intensity of a dancer's performance is undeniable when executed mere steps away from the viewing audience.
Joseph Morrissey's Mein Weg opens the Up Close program and sets the tone for the pieces that follow. This innovative work features five dancers who randomly weave in and out of the performance area, all displaying a pattern of distinct arm movements. Though their steps seem bound for collision, they sweep past each other with nary a tap or a stumble. Movements that at first appear indiscriminate and disconnected suddenly link together in the space of a single turn or gesture, and the vision and flow of the piece take shape through an economy of motion. The use of sleek black costuming in Mein Weg accentuates the dancers' lines and directs focus onto the control these performers need to implement Morrissey's choreography.
Near Abroad, an abstract work by Sydney Skybetter, explores strength and synchronicity in complimentary motion. Alex Lantz and Ty Parmenter perform the piece, balancing, leaping, and artfully tumbling while nearly always in contact with each other. The dancers' entire beings seem to slacken during the rare moments their connection breaks, and only joining together again allows them to continue on. This piece is intriguing to contrast with Jaime Diaz's second-act Embers, which features Parmenter with Brenna DiFrancesco. Embers opens with a fleeting suggestion of lightness and joy between the dancers, but the character and expression of their relationship changes as their movements become more disjointed. By the close of the dance, even the simplest touch inflicts pain and isolation.
Parmenter's own choreographic work, Split Flap, is part of the program's first act. Company dancer Tegan Rich leads three reflections of herself (Louisa Chapman, Jaime DeRocker, Eugenia Zinovieva) in an upbeat routine of playful and acrobatic steps. As the shadows break away from their source, the quartet performs floor work and a series of extensions that demonstrate impressive endurance. Though the piece's mood turns more serious as it progresses, Split Flap remains approachable as the lightest of the program's contemporary works.
3•23, a second-act work choreographed by 19-year-old FBP trainee Jorge Rullán, also suggests shadows and mirroring, but this number strikes a far more primal chord as five dancers embody the palpable tension between synchronous and asynchronous movement. DeRocker and Alan Alberto break away from the larger group to partner in a duet fraught with passion and conflict.
For Susan, the first of two traditionally balletic pieces included in the spring Up Close, features choreography by FBP Artistic Director Mihailo Djuric. Alan Alberto and Ruth Whitney shine in this lyrical pas de deux, and the close-up nature of the Black Box enhances their performance by allowing the audience to appreciate details that would be lost in an auditorium setting. These include the duo's strength in partnering and impeccable footwork, as well as the connection between the dancers as they perform. Alberto and Whitney's complete commitment to the characters they portray is evident in their facial expressions, constant eye contact, and in the subtle ways they relate to each other through the dance.
All the Birds Become Silent to the Moon's Complaints is a thought-provoking choreographic creation by FBP dancer Vilia Putrius. This symbolic and thematically complex piece deals with lost love, isolation and entrapment, freedom and desperation. The central character (danced by Marissa Parmenter) is claustrophobically surrounded by enigmatic and menacing robed figures who roam around performing repetitive, aimless tasks. Attempts to break away from the figures' influence fail until only one - very final - option presents itself to the young woman. The Moon's Complaints opens and closes on this pivotal moment and, intriguingly, the oppressive robed figures fade away into nothingness once the fatal decision is embraced.
Putrius dances a smaller role in The Moon's Complaints, but she joins her husband Mindaugas Bauzys for a spotlight performance in Egidijus Domeika's Pas de Deux Romantique. Though this springtime Up Close is themed around contemporary works, the lyrical Romantique is the standout number of the entire bill. The intricate pointe work, gravity-defying leaps, and exquisite lifts included in Domeika's choreography are performed to utter perfection by Putrius and Bauzys. Witnessing such an array of balletic techniques executed at this level of mastery exemplifies what makes Up Close such an extraordinary and distinctive arts experience.
Viktor Plotnikov's Urban Shadows concludes the Up Close program with a return to the issues of reflection and parallel that appear throughout the program's abstract works. Shadows is a fitting finale, featuring two couples whose unexpected movements, unique positioning, and strength and endurance underscore the visceral impressions that characterize contemporary dance.
Festival Ballet Providence's Up Close on Hope will hold performances at the FBP Black Box Theatre, 825 Hope Street, through Saturday, April 25, 2015. Tickets cost $50, which includes a reception with drinks and hors d'oeuvres at intermission. To purchase tickets, call the box office at 401-353-1129 or order online at festivalballetprovidence.org.
Pictured: Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys
Photo by Thomas Nola-Rion