BWW Review: Festival Ballet's Exceptional UP CLOSE ON HOPE

BWW Review: Festival Ballet's Exceptional UP CLOSE ON HOPE

Festival Ballet's productions are always exciting and beautiful, but the UP CLOSE ON HOPE series is a rare treat. Unlike the lavish productions at PPAC or the Vets, these are small, intimate performances of works one might not see anywhere else. This spring's UP CLOSE program showcases the best of what Festival is all about with two stunning pieces featuring new choreography, new musical arrangement and hauntingly beautiful performances from our local dancers. This program is a rare treat in that it leaves the viewer emotionally disarmed, but still wanting more.

The program consists of two world premiere pieces: Lady of the Camellias, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; and The House of Bernarda Alba, based on the play by Federica Garcia Lorca. Both pieces are haunting tales of love and loss, but despite those similarities are presented so differently that the contrast is almost a jolt to the audience. Lady of the Camellias is a gorgeous, more classically choreographed piece with explosive jumps and romantic pas de deux whereas House of Bernarda Alba showcases movement that is almost mechanical and clockwork, but equally effective for the storyline.

The Lady of the Camellias is the story of a courtesan known around town for the camellia blossoms she wears in her hair. Tragically, she is also ill, and though she finds true love, she still cannot reject the financial support of her current escort, and she ends up spurning her lover in order to save his reputation. The choreography of this piece alternates between slow, languid dances between the lovers, and the grand ballroom style dancing at the parties our characters attend. What is particularly compelling about this piece is the way that they've taken Regency style dancing with men and women standing in two lines and transformed that into a stunning spectacle of leaps and spins that feel larger than life in the tiny space that is the black box theatre on Hope Street.

The true shining moment in this production is when the courtesan and her lover have an extended pas de deux that is so hauntingly beautiful members of the audience were gasping. Jennifer Ricci and Mindaugas Bauzys seemed to melt into each other. Ricci, in particular, managed to convey such sweetness and strength it made her ultimate demise that much more haunting. Bauzys is always a joy to watch, in any performance, and he was a charming romantic hero with a flawless performance.

The House of Bernarda Alba is starkly different, but equally tragic. Bernarda Alba is a woman who has been widowed twice, and who decides to institute a eight year mourning period for herself and her five daughters. The dancers all wear stark funeral black with white faces, and there is a scrim in one corner of the stage projecting other scenes giving background to the story. The movement in this piece is haunting and striking. The daughters line up with their heads one on top of the other to create a terrifying visual of stark white faces lorded over by their equally scary mother, played by Melissa Parmenter. Vilia Putrius plays the equally domineering servant who seems to be calling down the will of god to help control the young women in the household. Of course, teenage girls will be defiant, and as the family structure starts to inevitably break down, Bernarda Alba loses her grip on her daughters, resulting in tragedy.

This is a haunting production, but is truly indicative of what excellent dance can do. There is very little that is pretty about this piece, but it is thoroughly compelling. The movements are large, but awkward, and the daughters almost resemble marionettes manipulated by their controlling matriarch. Despite this, there is nothing that feels cartoonish, thanks in large part to the fantastic original score by Sonya Belousova. The visuals, dance and music all come together to create something that will linger in the viewer's mind for a long time.

UP CLOSE ON HOPE is exciting dance at its best. It's awe-inspiring to be able to sit so close to these amazingly talented dancers, but the intimacy of the space creates an intense experience that every ballet fan should experience at least once.

UP CLOSE ON HOPE is showing March 4 & 5; 11-13 FBP Black Box Theatre 825 Hope St Providence, RI 02906 with tickets available at or by calling 401-353-1129

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From This Author Andria Tieman

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