In a transposed schedule, Festival Ballet Providence opened their season with the intimate "Up Close on Hope" series and postponed a production of Carmen till February. These UCOH evenings of short pieces, many by choreographers who have worked for several years with the company, will continue October 8-10 at the Black Box Theater (825 Hope Street, Providence).
The program also introduces Jennifer Ricci's 20th season with FBP by featuring her in four of its 12 dances, from Marc Harootian's tribute to Regina Spektor to a world premiere by Viktor Plotnikov. A Spektor of Things is set to Spektor's "Field Below," and its haunting refrain of "I'm awake and feel the ache" is memorably envisioned through Ricci's soulful interpretation, along with Nathan Powell, Ian Matysiak, and two metal poles.
Throughout the piece, the male dancers hold these poles, either vertically, horizontally, or at a tilt, with numerous variations of Ricci draped between them, wrapped around one, hanging by one knee, or even air-pedaling with the two poles under her arms. The choreography and Ricci's performance lend palpable weight to the yearning in the song.
The final piece of the evening features Ricci, along with Ilya Burov, Roger Fonnegra, and Walter Gutierrez, in Plotnikov's new La Camorra, set to Astor Piazzolla's composition, said to have been inspired by the Neopolitan mafia of the same name. Thus, the four dancers give us the fierce side of tango — its gritty, combative underbelly — with sharp, angular gestures and haughty, spitfire glances.
Two other emotionally-charged dances in this UCOH are Burden, by Karin Tremblay and toDay, by Mihailo Djuric. The latter is dedicated to Billie Holiday, whom FBP's artistic director Djuric first heard as a teenager in Yugoslavia. Danced with passion in every toss of her head or swoop of her arms by Leticia Guerrero and ably partnered by Alexander Akulov, the piece is set to "Come Rain or Come Shine." The two dancers convey that push-pull of Holiday's demons, her struggle to find a steady footing in her life. It's just as gripping as when it premiered in 2003, with Guerrero stepping in less than 24 hours before show time to replace another dancer.
Burden is set to Annie Lennox's "Little Bird," with the lyric "give me the strength to lay this burden down." Erin Gildea in black is the burden itself, clinging to Lauren Knightly's back. The two of them put their all into the raw feelings of this song; it's absolutely stunning.
Another kick to the solar plexus is Plotnikov's Breath in A, set to Bach and beautifully, achingly performed by husband-and-wife partners Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys. Plotnikov's pieces often look sculptural, as here, with slow folds to the floor and poses that evoke the vulnerability of relationships. Yet those movements are contrasted with marionette-like flat feet or fluttering hands, a nod to the everyday routines that interrupt intimacy.
Also on the program are two traditional classical pieces: the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake (Lauren Kennedy and Akulov alternate with Putrius and Bauzys) and the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, both choreographed by the 19th-century master Marius Petipa (Guerrero and Gutierrez). These duets are designed to show off each dancer's technique, and certainly Kennedy and Guerrero whip off those fouettés (approximately two dozen pirouettes) and Akulov has strong, polished jetés. But it is newcomer Gutierrez who steals the show — not just with his impassioned portrayal but with his confident leaps and twists-in-the-air.