There is a saying in sales, “Don’t lead with your chin.” In other words, don’t lead with your best offer. At first glance, it appears that Festival Ballet Providence is doing just that by opening their 38th season with Ballet Russes Reinvented. This ambitious triple-bill pays homage to one of the 20th century’s most revolutionary dance troupes, The Ballet Russes, by “reinventing” three of their most famous ballets: “The Firebird,” “Afternoon of a Faun” and “La Spectre de la Rose.”
But, dance fans take heed, for plenty of wonderful ballet remains following FBP’s season opener. They will actually be closing their season with the beloved classic “Swan Lake,” which also will serve as the swan song for one of the company’s most revered dancers, internationally acclaimed Mindaugas Bauzys. He has been an audience favorite for the last eight years. His command of the stage and technical virtuosity will be greatly missed.
When speaking of the company’s upcoming production, FBP artistic director Mihailo Djuric observes, “Ballet Russes was the seminal company in contemporary ballet history.” He continues, “This season’s production of Ballet Russes Reinvented is a tribute to that legacy and also an affirmation of our commitment to presenting exciting new perspectives to our audiences.”
Djuric is also very excited to be working with former Houston Ballet principal dancer Dominic Walsh. He will be staging his versions of “Afternoon of a Faun” and “La Specter de la Rose” for FBP. “I am thrilled that I can present works of such caliber here in Rhode Island,” says Djuric. “Dominic’s work has been seen and loved around the world and it’s an honor to show RI audiences his unique and provocative choreographic voice for the first time.”
And in keeping with the spirit of Ballet Russes, who often collaborated with other artists from their era, FBP will partner with local artist Isabel Mattia from The Steel Yard. She will create a 20-foot-tall centerpiece for “The Firebird” using parts and materials from a recently decommissioned FBP set.
“Collaborating with artists from our community allows us to inspire each other and our shared audiences,” declares Djuric. “Projects like these are at the heart of our goals and ambitions as artists. The fact that we were able to take the metal skeleton of a very old set and turn it into something completely new and different is such an exciting addition to this collaboration. The Steel Yard and Isabel are natural partners with us for this kind of project. They are such talented innovators and artists; this kind of project is as exciting for them as for us.”
But dance will, of course, be the focal point of FBP’s season opener, and what better exhibit than these three iconic ballets?
“The Firebird,” based on Russian fairy tales, depicts a magical glowing bird that can be a blessing or a curse to its owner. Backed by Igor Stravinsky’s epic score, it was an instant success both haunting and poignant, highlighted by athletic dancing. Djuric’s first “reinvention” of this ballet occurred in 1992. This will mark the first time since 2004 that FBP dancers will present his vision.
“Afternoon of a Faun” was originally choreographed and performed by Ballet Russes legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. This provocative ballet presents a young faun who meets and flirts with several nymphs. Walsh’s version debuted in 2009 and was recently performed at The Joyce Theatre in NYC.
“La Spectre de la Rose” is about a girl who envisions dancing with the spirit of a rose she received at her first ball. Nijinsky also danced in this world premiere, famously leaping through an open window at the ballet’s end. Walsh first presented his choreography in 2006 where it was described as “sweeping, ravishing dance.”
On a recent visit to FBP’s Hope Street studio in Providence, I was treated to an appetizer of sorts by being invited to view a run-through of “The Firebird.” One cannot help but be moved by Stravinsky’s powerful score that was danced beautifully by the dancers; the corps de ballet never looked stronger. Djuric’s choreography also neatly lays out the story.
I was especially impressed by Alan Alberto and Ruth Whitney’s pas de deux. Accompanied by up-tempo music, it begins with a series of acrobatic lifts reminiscent of what one might see in figure skating. When the music slows, their movements become slower and more deliberate. When en pointe, Whitney seems most at ease displaying remarkable strength and control.
Alberto later partners with Kirsten Evans in a much softer and tender pas de deux. Evans displays as much grace as beauty and continues to grow nicely into her expanded role with the company.
Alex Lantz also has some fine moments as “Kaschei the Immortal.” He is captivating with halting, twitching, zombie-like movements in a challenging role combining mime and dance, which Lantz handles quite nicely.
If you are only able to see one ballet this year, then “Ballet Russes Reinvented” is a must-see. But keep in mind that FBP’s season is just getting started and there is a lot of exciting dance yet to come.
For tickets or more information about FBP or “Ballet Russes Reinvented,” visit festivalballet.com.