Festival Ballet Providence artistic director MIhailo Djuric is very excited about the company’s upcoming world premiere of Romeo and Juliet. Debuting February 10 – 12 at The Vets in Providence, he calls it his “Valentine’s Day gift to the city.” Recently, I had a chance to speak with Djuric and others involved in the production during a rehearsal break.
“So many Romeo and Juliets have been done with musicians, dancers, actors, so many experiments, I wanted something different,” explains Djuric. In order to create “something different,” he commissioned friend and choreographer Ilya Kozadayev. He also enlisted Gamm Theatre artistic director Tony Estrella to help complete his vision.
Djuric knew Kozadayev from his days as a dancer with Boston Ballet. He first worked with FBP staging his version of Hansel and Gretel for the company’s chatterBOXtheatre children’s dance series. “Ilya really wanted to choreograph a full-length ballet, but the time needed to be right,” recalls Djuric, who originally wanted to present Romeo and Juliet this past fall to coincide with the festivities commemorating the 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. “But Ilya’s schedule just wouldn’t allow that to happen.”
For Estrella’s part, he will be aiding in the most unique aspect of this ballet, combining Shakespeare’s text – spoken live on-stage – with the dancing and Prokofiev’s powerful score. He will be joined by actors Jeanine Kane and Richard Noble, two names very familiar to many RI theatregoers; they will be reciting the dialogue. It is when speaking about this collaboration that Djuric becomes especially animated.
He considers the state’s small but thriving arts community: “[We are all] very isolated, we live in a cocoon. We all need to inspire each other and work together. We all share the same audience.” Djuric certainly has done his bit, working in the past with photographers from RISD, as well as members of the school’s Cut and Sew Costume Studio. He also has commissioned local musicians to create original scores for many original FBP works.
Djuric believes it is his job as artistic director to expose his audience to different types of artists: “I am like a chemist, bringing things together to see if they work,” he says with a smile. He continues, “The spoken word adds another sense of drama,” explaining the actors will be serving as narrators who are also involved in the scenes. “I wanted something more than dancing and Prokofiev,” he concludes.
Estrella shares Djuric’s excitement, “Every time we are able to bring Shakespeare’s words to life on the stage is a treat. What makes this production especially exciting is that we are able to express the Bard’s poetic verse with both speech and movement.”
Kozadayev, the man charged with making it all work, heralds the seamless nature of this collaboration, “[The actors] help to propel the story forward. The choreographic language is classical – including the intense sword fighting scenes — but we have a modernized take on the ballet in the fact that we are incorporating the actors. You really can’t go wrong with Shakespeare.”
He also emphasizes the importance of the spoken words being “musical and appearing as a natural progression of the story. We wanted the words to make strong points.” As for the FBP dancers, Kozadayev offers nothing but praise: “They are great, open-minded, focused and motivated. It is obvious that they are a group accustomed to being created upon rather than always working with pre-existing choreography.”
Long-time company member Jennifer Ricci, now in her amazing 27th season, will be dancing the role of Juliet for the first time as a full-length ballet; up until now, she has only performed the balcony scene for Up Close On Hope. With her remarkably expressive face and body, this seems the perfect role for Ms. Ricci.
She will be sharing the spotlight during alternating performances with Vilia Putrius. Company newcomer, Boyko Dossev, formerly of Boston Ballet, will be Ricci’s Romeo; he too presents a very expressive and fluid style. Alan Alberto will be dancing opposite Putrius.
Thus far, Ms. Ricci is very impressed with Kozadayev’s interpretation: “I get goosebumps watching it. Especially the sword fights. It is all very dramatic.” When asked how it has been working with him, she gushes, “I love working with him. He is super creative and innovative. He makes everything work and everything just flows so easily.”
She has, however, encountered some difficulty in following some of his direction. “He didn’t want us watching any other versions of the ballet,” she explains. “He wanted our interpretation to be fresh.” She recounts the challenges in his wanting the girls “to act young, rather than emotional. Something that is pretty tough to do when you wake up in a tomb full of dead people,” quips the ballerina.
When speaking about Dossev, her eyes sparkle, “He is Romeo, with his charm and style of dance. He has truly been a blessing to work with. I have worked with him before on pieces that he has choreographed, so we know each other well and he has helped me through some tough times.” Her sister, with whom she was incredibly close, passed away unexpectedly several years ago. More recently, she has had to overcome a series of surgeries to repair a chronic foot injury.
And while Ms. Ricci’s focus is on dance, she enjoys the complementary effect of the spoken word: “It cuts scenes that would have made the ballet very long, making the transition from one scene to the next much smoother. As a scene comes to an end, the actors help break up what is going on. It also makes the ballet very powerful.”
Festival Ballet Providence’s world premiere of Romeo and Juliet runs February 10 – 12 at The Vets in Providence. For tickets or more information visit thevetsri.com.