Viktor Plotnikov was a principal dancer with Boston Ballet from 1993-2003 (his wife Larissa Ponomarenko is currently principal dancer with BB) and from 1998 has choreographed numerous works in Boston and for many other companies and schools, as well as choreographing pieces for major ballet competitions, for which he has also received many prizes. He has created many commissioned works for Festival Ballet Providence in the last few years.
His Cinderella was a contemporary masterpiece, incorporating steps and movements new to the ballet stage. His use of props was striking and appealing clever, as were the special effects which created the magic that Cinderella needs, especially for today's children raised on Disney's version. This was anything but Disney -- as far from Disney as one could get -- probably much to the initial disappointment of Sunday afternoon's child-filled theater, many of whom came dressed in official Disney Cinderella costumes -- but there was magic -- Plotnikov's version.
There was a fairy godmother whose entire dress lit up, huge soap bubbles in the air which changed to festive ballroom lights, a golf cart which whisked Cinderella off to the ball, an imposing mechanical clock made up of 13 children (students from the Festival Ballet Providence Center for Dance Education) and Cinderella's magic dress. Lest this leads you to think the piece was in any way fluff, let me dispel the notion -- pouf! -- as instantly as Cinderella's drab gray garment changed to a bright yellow dress when touched by the magic sunflower. The artful use of props like enormous balls, cubes, planks, and cones, and moving doors to change the set design, needs its own review. Think of Drew Carey's "Whose Line is it Anyway?" -- the segment where the panel of regulars shows the many uses and moods a single prop can convey. That will give you a rudimentary idea. Now imagine that made large scale, with several dancers moving props simultaneously to transform the stage set and to surprise and enchant us. Oh, and did I mention that all the costumes were black and white (with a few pleasant and necessary exceptions that were part of Cinderella's transition from real life to magical going-to-the-ball life), and so was the cat (admirably -- and very authentically -- portrayed throughout the ballet by Ilya Burov)?
This was a modern Cinderella the likes of which no one has seen before. The music was indeed Sergei Prokofiev's Op. 87, there were an evil stepmother (although this one was more like an upper east side New York modern mom who treats her nanny like a slave) and two evil stepsisters (again, not so evil .... more a spacey sister and a wannabe young socialite sister), an adorably loyal cat, a fairy godmother, handsome prince and lots of dancers at the ball, but there was also Cinderella's father (after all, where does a "step"mother come from?) who softened the poor girl's soliltary existence and longed to spend more time with his daughter (whenever he could get away from the stepfamily).
Three acts and two intermissions long, the ballet enthralled until the perfect ending, when the prince found his Cinderella and they were showered by, first, a dusting of yellow petals, then, a spring petal shower of torrential proportions that made the audience ooh, aah and squeal in delight.
The intended prince was Gleb Lyamenkoff, but he was injured about a week before the performance and Mindaugas Bauzys saved the day. Borrowed from Boston Ballet, where he is a soloist (his wife Vilia Putrius, also formerly with BB, dances with Festival -- she was the stepmother), Bauzys had to learn the part in less than a week. He did a magnificent job (there was a lot of choreography for him to get into his mind and muscles) and was a perfect prince, from his beautiful line to his flawless technique and speedy execution of tricky steps. The company dancers had a few weeks to get used to the quirky head, neck, upper body and arm movements that Plotnikov devised, but Mindaugas had only days. He danced as if he, too, had been rehearsing for weeks and knew the ballet cold.
Leticia Guerrero was Cinderella and, because of her unsylphlike lines, was a welcome new choice for the plum role. She is also a flawless dancer, with especial gifts in making complex movement look like a breeze and in drawing the attention of the audience (especially the children, who also glommed onto this new, shorter, dark-haired latino Cinderella and made her their new favorite). Guerrero is well known as a "principal" dancer with this rankless company and has a wide repertory of main roles in her arsenal. She was a wonderful Cinderella and seemed well-suited to the weird Plotnikov movements and pas de deux. There was one rather conventional PDD that she and the prince were given to dance during their falling-in-love scene, which showcased their smooth partnering and effortless flow through lifts and traditional steps. This was immediately followed by another pas de deux of the Plotnikov persuasion, which they also carried off with exciting, though odd, lifts and flexed-foot steps and intentionally jerky approaches to movements.
Lauren Kennedy, one of the stepsisters (her role was shared with Jennifer Ricci -- each had 2 performances) was a beguiling spacey sister, who, with her long, long legs and arms really created a compelling caricature of a girl who can't be bothered to apply herself to anything, including standing up. She repeatedly had to be lifted out of a deep pliť, only to sink back again, or out of a 180 degree sidesplit, or carried off as a statue because she was too fixated or spaced out to change the position of her body. Her comical rendition of this role was so much fun! Jennifer Ricci, who danced the same role at alternate perfs, made the part her own as well. The difference in appearance of the two dancers is like night and day. While Kennedy is long-boned and blond, Ricci is tiny and dark-haired. A veteran with the company (this is her 17th year), she is gifted in comedy, a regular Lucille Ball. Watching her expressions as she goes through the same steps is rollicking good fun, and her ballet technique is well-honed as well. Erica Chipp and Lauren Menger shared the role of the "wannabe" stepsister on alternate days, each dancing with aplomb the strange choreography while giving a definite personality to the character portrayed. They ran Cinderella only a little bit ragged as they were more focused on finding their own way to appeal to the prince.
Every featured dancer exhibited strong technique and accomplished stage presence. There was always so much going on and so many places to look that it was easier as an experienced audience member (who enjoys watching the ballet training that went into each performer's development) to pick just a few dancers to follow rather than try to take it all in. It helped to attend three performances. By the third go, I had a grounding in this complicated ballet and enjoyed it even more than the first two times.
The entire company of 23 is well-trained, be they from Venezuela, Russia, Canada, Europe, Asia, or the United States. Company class follows the Vaganova method, as does the school of FBP. These are dancers from diverse locations and backgrounds, most with experience in other companies before joining Festival Ballet, each with special abilities that are featured by the AD and the choreographers who work with them. The next productions are studio performances "Up Close on Hope" (the company is based on Hope Street on the east side of Providence) with ensemble and boutique pieces. There are 5 days of these performances, November 3rd and 4th, 10th and 11th and 17th.
With much discussion of ABT's City Center engagement featuring "The Leaves are Fading", staged by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, I'd like to give a heads up announcement that Festival Ballet will also stage "The Leaves are Fading" in the new year. McKerrow and Gardner will be setting the ballet on FB dancers beginning after Nutcracker season. The ballet will be part of the "Masters of Motion" program being presented February 8th, 9th, and 10th, 2008. Here are the details from the Festival Ballet website, including the other works which will be performed:
Masters of Motion
A memorable program with stunning choreography and heart-felt themes. Viktor Plotnikov's Coma, Agnes De Mille's Rodeo, Antony Tudor's The Leaves are Fading
VMA Arts & Cultural Center,
1 Avenue of the Arts
Friday February 8, 2008 at 7:30 pm
Saturday February 9, 2008 at 7:30 pm
Sunday February 10, 2008 at 2:30 pm
Free Pre-Performance chats Saturday and Sunday, 45 minutes before curtain. Tickets $17 to $62, discounts available for children, seniors, groups and family-four packs
www.tickets.com, or the VMA Box Office, 401.272.4VMA
Call Festival Ballet Providence for further details, 401.353.1129
For the only other mention of Festival Ballet on BT, see this one post thread from 5 1/2 years ago. It gives an idea of the "link" between Boston Ballet and Festival Ballet Providence, inasmuch as BB's dancers still emigrate to RI.