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BWW Review: Inspiring APOLLO and Creative BACH SUITES Take Center Stage at Festival Ballet's UP CLOSE

Festival Ballet Providence once again opens the doors to its studio and rehearsal halls for the company's celebrated Up Close on Hope series. The "up close" forum has become a staple of FBP's season and one much anticipated by Rhode Island audiences. The agility and devotion each dancer brings to the stage are appreciated all the more when performances take place only an arm's length away.

Ave Maria starts off the program, a brand-new piece that debuted two months ago at the MAE Organization's Gala. This rendition of "Ave Maria" comes from the rock opera Gubec Beg, and Viktor Plotnikov's choreography well suits the arrangement's intriguing blend of both reverent and edgy tones. Dancers Eugenia Zinovieva and Alex Lantz weave in and out of steps that are synchronous and complimentary; their duet has a distinctly contemporary flair overall, especially in the shapes and forms they achieve, though other elements speak to the fluidity of classical expression. This duality matches the piece and the dancers' strengths, bringing tension and appeal to the performance.

For Bach Suites, the billed feature of the first act, FBP partners with Community Music Works to bring live music to the black box theater. Cellist Adrienne Taylor joins the dancers for three pieces in the series, and from the first pass of her bow across the strings, it is clear the Hope Street studio was made for live music. The acoustics in the room amplify each rich, vibrant piece Taylor plays, the notes seeming to dance in the air alongside FBP's artists.

Bach de Soul Times Six by choreographer Spencer Gavin Hering is a cleverly conceived work for six dancers. Brenna DiFrancesco, Dylan Giles, Olivia Kaczmarzyk, Jacob Hoover, Elizabeth Mochizuki, and Harunaga Yamakawa perform a precise series of movements that are sometimes in perfect unison - the half-dozen artists acting as one cohesive unit - and other times staggered, with one dancer starting a domino or waterfall effect as the remaining artists, in perfectly timed intervals, mirror the same motion. Bach de Soul provides the dancers with opportunities for engaging partnering work as well.

Playing by Ear appears, at first, a straightforwardly charming addition to Suites. Zinovieva and Ty Parmenter take the stage representationally attired as a cello and bow, and their steps are tied to the familiar strains of Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude. But the piece steadily gains maturity and depth as the dancers interpret the very vibrations of the notes as they come through the body of Taylor's instrument. Mihailo Djuric's memorable choreography allows Zinovieva and Parmenter to personify the dance between the cello's bow and its strings; indeed, Zinovieva sinks to rest as Taylor sets her instrument down on stage, and Parmenter walks into the wings with the musician as the piece concludes.

Parmenter takes the choreographer's chair for Wrest, a quartet spotlighting Kaczmarzyk, Yamakawa, Tegan Rich, and Gwynn Root. Wrest is a study in intensity and focus, with each duo working seamlessly together while acting independently of the other pair. This makes for an intriguing visual and one crafted to its best advantage for performance within the confines of the black box space; the impact of the partners' interactions, especially when communicated through the sharp nudge of a foot or a quick head tap, would lose immediacy and effect in a larger venue.

For Saskia, the final selection in the Suites, is a deeply emotional piece by choreographer Andrea Dawn Shelley, and made all the more impactful by the "up close" environment. This gripping work delves into the heart and soul of Saskia van Uylenburgh, wife of the celebrated Baroque artist, Rembrandt. Three of the couple's four children died in infancy, and Shelley deals with Saskia's heartbreak and turmoil in the face of such great loss. For Saskia evokes the swaths of darkness and bursts of vibrant color found in Rembrandt's great paintings, with Lantz, David DuBois, and Jamie DeRocker garbed in solid black and Marissa Parmenter, as Saskia, arrayed in sunny hues. Hannah Ross shares the stage with the dancers, ominously hooded as she accompanies the quartet on viola.

Parmenter shines in this piece, capturing all the anguish of a mother's loss not only in the steps of the choreography (her motions convey her heart being ripped from her chest, her mind unable to comprehend loss after loss, the physical act of birth leaving her arms always empty), but also in every aspect of her expression, from her broken, ragged breathing to the intensity of grief in her eyes each time Ross' instrument again foretells the approach of death.

Up Close's second act is entirely devoted to a performance of George Balanchine's Apollo, a work specially selected by company dancer Mindaugas Bauzys for his farewell season. Bauzys is always a joy to watch, a consummate professional who brings new levels of excellence and refinement to any role he dances. Apollo is clearly a labor of love for him; Bauzys embodies the part down to his fingertips, fully embracing the majesty and nobility of the character and executing each gravity-defying leap and intricate variation with absolute poise and grace. Even Bauzys' smallest gestures - the rhythmic clenching and unclenching of his fists or the haughty turn of his head when a muse's efforts displease Apollo - build layer upon layer into the characterization.

Apollo brings Kirsten Evans, Ruth Whitney, and Vilia Putrius into the spotlight as the muses Calliope, Polyhymnia, and Terpsichore. Each of the ladies has a solo performance, merging delicate pointe work with solid characterization. Evans' muse of poetry is grounded and serious, reaching for inspiration from deep within; Whitney's muse of mime takes on a playful, sprightly air, and Putrius - well suited as the muse of dance and song - shows gorgeous lyricism in her portrayal of Terpsichore. Putrius and Bauzys also perform a stunning pas de deux that is at once brimming with strength and sensitivity. Their duet begins, poignantly, with the two touching index fingers in an aspect reminiscent of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam."

Balanchine's genius is at its height when Apollo and the muses are all on stage together. With arms interlinked and legs extended at varying degrees, Apollo guides the muses into shapes and forms that are beautifully symmetrical and handsomely positioned. Each tableau the dancers create feels as though images crafted on an ancient Grecian urn have stepped off the pottery and come dazzlingly to life. Apollo is a brilliant role for Bauzys, a showpiece for Festival Ballet Providence, and worth the price of admission all on its own.

Festival Ballet Providence's first Up Close on Hope program of the season will hold performances at the FBP Black Box Theatre, 825 Hope Street, through Sunday, November 22, 2015. Tickets are $50 each; that price includes a reception with drinks and hors d'oeuvres at intermission. A question and answer session with the artistic staff and dancers follows each performance. To purchase tickets, call the box office at 401-353-1129 or order online at


Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Apollo. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

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