December looks to be a very raucous month at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Shortly after King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table ride through, a regiment of soldiers, a cluster of mice and a Yorkie will take up residence.
Following a week long run of Camelot, PPAC will host Festival Ballet Providence as they present The Nutcracker from Dec 19 thru 21. In addition to toy soldiers and mice, this holiday classic features majestic sets, magical choreography, stunning costumes, dozens of Swarovski crystals and Archie the Nutcracker Dog; this four-legged performer, the pride of Artistic Director Mihailo Djuric, will be dashing across the stage in his Santa suit during the prologue for a remarkable 14th season!
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I was fortunate enough to watch the troop as they prepared for opening night. With Djuric and resident choreographer Viktor Plotnikov directing the action, I was struck not only by how often they stop the music to make corrections, but by how basic some of the corrections appear: “point your foot,” “straighten you leg,” “bend your leg,” and it goes on. Yes, ballet is hard work and rehearsals can be tedious, but when the curtain finally rises, the dancers make it look so effortless.
Despite the repetition and constant grinding, there are moments of levity. At one point, both Djuric and Plotnikov bark out corrections prompting Djuric to observe, in his heavy Yugoslavian accent, “We sound like the two grumpy guys from “The Muppet Show” balcony.” The dancers laugh, then the music starts again: “… 5,6,7,8.” Then it stops again.
For many of the older dancers, December means Nutcracker, and most of them have performed the ballet dozens of times. But FBP’s production also utilizes over 100 children from their own ballet school and other area schools, many of whom will be performing for their very first time alongside the company’s professional dancers — something they may never forget!
RI native Jennifer Ricci, now in her amazing 24th season, will be dancing the role of Arabian for the 24th year! During bows, she usually draws the loudest applause. When asked if she ever gets tired of the role, Ricci emphatically replied, “No! I look forward to Arabian every year.” She feels she will “let people down” if she doesn’t do it. Battling increased aches and pains, she shows me special padding she puts in her pointe shoes to help alleviate the pain.
As rehearsal proceeded — they are running through the variations from Act II — I noticed they were skipping over things. I later learned that some of the dancers were missing. In an effort to supplement their incomes, many dancers use this time of year to perform as guest artists with other ballet companies around the country. It seems on this day, a good many are doing just that.
As they have for past productions, FBP will be using several different casts for the six performances. The husband and wife duo of Vilia Putrius with Mindaugas Bauzys and Ruth Witney with Alan Alberto will be alternating the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier and Snow Queen and Snow King; the ladies will also be splitting Dew Drop Fairy duties. But, during this rehearsal, Kirsten Evans and Alex Lantz dance the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier; they will be performing together during the Friday morning matinee when hundreds of area school children will fill PPAC.
Over the last two seasons, Evans and Lantz have been paired together frequently and, with each passing performance, they get better and better. Lantz is remarkably attentive to Evans as he carefully guides and manipulates her; in turn, she displays complete trust in him. They are an extremely attractive couple who emit a charming tenderness.
During his solo variation, I was impressed by how much Lantz has improved since I first saw him dance. He nicely completed a series of double tours en l’airs, landing in deep plies. He then leapt forward with several big sissons, his legs split wide apart.
Evans, promoted to company member just two seasons ago, continues to rise through the ranks. And, while she certainly looks the part and there are many things she does beautifully, Sugar Plum is the perfect lead role for her to cut her teeth on. It allows her to continue growing while also developing the strength and stamina required of principal roles.
Evans and Lantz will also perform several solo variations throughout the weekend. To see them and the rest of Providence’s resident ballet company, visit ppacri.org for tickets or more information.