For many aficionados of classical ballet, the enjoyment comes from watching a dancer’s technique, strength and stamina. Critics often refer to long, clean lines and gravity-defying leaps whereas with contemporary ballet, the lines are often angular and truncated, the movements far more grounded. Success resides in the dancers’ ability to convey the choreographer’s theme or meaning.
On March 13 and 14, Festival Ballet Providence will present Juxtapose, allowing audiences the opportunity to compare these two very different styles of ballet. This unique twin bill features the hyper classical Etudes and FBP resident choreographer Viktor Plotnikov’s contemporary masterpiece Coma.
Originally choreographed in 1948, Etudes is being staged for FBP by Radenko Pavlovich, an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer and the artistic director of Columbia Classical Ballet (CCB) in South Carolina. “We are excited to be working with Radenko and the Columbia Classical Ballet and we believe that this will be the first of many collaborations,” notes FBP artistic director Mihailo Djuric. CCB principal dancer Kota Fujishima will also be joining Radenko in Providence and will dance one of the lead roles with FBP’s Ruth Whitney. “He is the biggest dancer in Japan right now,” proclaims Djuric. “There will be lots of tricks,” he says with a smile.
Since its 2007 world premiere in Providence, Plotnikov’s Coma has mesmerized audiences in Rhode Island and abroad. In 2011, FBP was invited to the prestigious International Dance Festival in Belgrade where they were commissioned to perform Coma. The performance was broadcast throughout Europe.
Inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1978 movie Coma, where patients in a Boston hospital mysteriously become comatose, the ballet’s premiere opened to rave reviews: “From its first startling scene where suspended bodies float and sway horizontally to the simple tolling of bells, it’s evident that Plotnikov’s Coma is not merely a danced sci-fi thriller, but rather an emphatic and deeply personal effort, realized with singularity and intelligence,” observed Dance Magazine’s Theodore Bale. “We need more choreographers like Plotnikov, who revere tradition while forging a new language, and still command the attention of an everyday family audience.”
Set to the music of minimalist composer Arvo Part, this haunting score possesses a soothing lullaby-like quality, adding power and context while ghostly apparitions reach out to motionless bodies and their grieving loved ones.
Of the ballet itself, Plotnikov explains, “It’s a touching and daring story told from the point of view of those who experienced coma or clinical death. The first part is told by those who have stayed, the second part is about the cruel reality of their closest family or friends, and the last part is the addressing of those in a coma.”
Thus, the ballet details the spiritual struggle of one fighting off such near death and the emotional toll it takes on their loved ones. Plotnikov seems to concern himself primarily with three stages of grief: mourning, denial and acceptance. Figures come and go, yet time marches on, as indicated by the “Dark Angel” swinging her arm in a circular motion like the hand on a clock.
Watching Plotnikov during a recent rehearsal, it quickly becomes evident that he is deeply invested in this piece artistically, intellectually and emotionally. He frequently stops the music to make the most minor corrections; at one point, he even chides the dancers for being “too balletic.” Most insightful, perhaps, are the descriptions he uses when drawing their attention back to certain segments: “Go to the flower section” or “Let’s repeat the caterpillar movements.” The images of a blooming flower or a caterpillar emerging from a cocoon make for fascinating metaphors.
Despite the ballet’s weighty nature, there are moments of levity. As one dancer practices a combination, his mouth opens wide. “Yes, just like that,” shouts Plotnikov, “And, it’s even better with your mouth open.” Laughter fills the studio, a brief reprieve.
When Djuric is asked why he chose these two ballets, he replies, “It is who we are. They best represent our repertoire. Etudes is pure dance. For Coma, we have not performed it since 2011. Bringing it back to the Vets stage and Providence brings it full circle and only four current company members have been in it. There was a lot of excitement for dancers wanting to be in it … so there was also a lot of disappointment [for those not cast].”
FBP’s production of Juxtapose runs March 13 and 14 at The Vets in Providence. For tickets or more information, visit: festivalballet.com