September 30, 2008

Up Close on Hope is a Good Thing for Festival Ballet

By Bryan Rourke

PROVIDENCE -- The modern meets the classic: Up Close on Hope.

Festival Ballet Providence opened its 31st season last weekend with its Up Close series showcasing varied shorter dances in its Hope Street studio. This particular show, which continues three more weekends, involves nine pieces by eight choreographers. And overall the production is quite good.

Perhaps the surprise of the program is that the best dance is the oldest and the most formal, a 59-year-old classical work choreographed by Victor Gsovsky: "Grande pas classique." What makes it work so well are the dancers: Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys, who are married.

Each wears white; Putrius in tights and tutu, and Bauzys in tights and a long-sleeved top. Both demonstrate terrific technical and physical ability, making the difficult look easy. Putrius repeatedly and impressively pirouettes on pointe, never bringing her free-swinging foot to the floor. And Bauzys executes a series of well-controlled leaping turns around the stage.

The piece is a showcase for talent; and Putrius and Bauzys both have it.

Among the best of the rest, modernity makes its mark.

Viktor Plotnikov, a guest choreographer who has become well known to Festival audiences, presents a piece involving eight dancers: "Moments." The dancers, all in gray unitards with three black diagonal stripes on the right hip and left ribs, move to light and slow classical music, with movements that aren't light or slow.

Plotnikov presents his signature movements of unorthodoxy: a shuffling of hands in front of faces; a slapping of thighs; an undulating slow-motion walk; and a walk of one dancer up the back of a couple others.

But as with most Plotnikov pieces, it works. The movements are mesmerizing in their variety and oddity, creating a dreamy, surreal feel.

Mihailo Djuric, Festival's artistic director, presents "Magnificat," a piece created in 1995 for eight dancers: two men and six women. What's most interesting about the dance is its crisp and smart choreography, modern movements set to the classical music of Bach.

When a woman is the center of attention, the music is of a woman singing an aria. When a group is the focus, a chorus kicks in. And when the men alone take the stage, a bass sings an aria. There's also a nice interchange of dancers, and a lively, albeit brief, group movement of shuffling and hopping that's slightly African in quality. Ultimately the mood, by the music, movements and placid expressions of the dancers, is somewhat somber.

In terms of conveying a clear emotional and cultural tone, guest choreographer Gianni DiMarco sets the standard with "Amphibious Love," which features the music of the Buena Vista Social Club, and a strong Spanish-Caribbean feel. A couple, Leticia Guerrero and Eivar Martinez, writhe and rise from the floor, with sensuality and feeling, sometimes peculiarly and artfully expressed: Guerrero momentarily balances on one hand and mule kicks her legs; and Guerrero runs from behind Martinez and throws herself across his stomach, where he catches her on contact.

The program ends with energy: "Identity." The piece, choreographed by Mark Harootian, a Festival dancer, features eight dancers, two of whom are principal: Lauren Menger and Raemon Kilfoil, who perform some arresting movements. Kilfoil flips Menger in the air to his shoulder. And Menger and Kilfoil bend at the waist and slowly reach toward each other. When they touch, Kilfoil quickly and unexpectedly jerks Menger on to his back.

The other six dancers take the stage from Menger and Kilfoil, or share it. The ending is nicely executed where the eight dancers split into two sets of four, each set doing its own movement, then join in a group movement, then back to their sets again.

Up Close on Hope continues Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 8 and 15 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 9 and 16 at 6 p.m. at Festival Ballet Providence, 825 Hope St. For tickets, $50, which includes intermission wine and hors d'oeuvres, call (401) 353-1129 or visit



[email protected] / (401) 277-7267

Originally published by Bryan Rourke, Journal Staff Writer.

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