March is the perfect month to get out and see what’s going on in Providence – a good time to shake off the winter blahs and get energized for spring, which is surely just around the corner. In fact, March is a perfect time to take in a live performance or two (or three or four – its been a long winter!). This year, why not think a little bit beyond the usual suspects (all excellent of course) – Trinity Rep, Gamm, PPAC and Second Story? Why not make plans to take in performances by the East Side’s very own highly acclaimed dance companies: Everett: Company Stage and School’s Freedom Project and Festival Ballet Providence’s JuxtaPOSE? The two productions are as different from each other as are Everett and Festival Ballet, but each in their own way promise stunning entertainment. You will not regret your ticket purchases.
Everett’s Freedom Project, which previews on March 13 at Brown’s Granoff Center, is a multi-disciplinary documentary theater production. It’s the dramatic culmination of a two-year research and development project (undertaken in collaboration with Brown University) into the very real impact America’s proclivity towards mass incarceration has had on very real people. If this sounds too scholarly or intimidating for an evening out, do not worry. Will you be moved to think? Yes, of course you will. Will you be entertained? Consider this from Ellen Taylor, my go-to person for all things dance: “Everett performances are so energetic, so vibrant and alive, the walls of the Carriage House literally shake.”
Freedom Project tells the stories of people who have been marginalized by the criminal justice system. It does so using the disciplines of theater, dance and filmmaking, and what co-artistic director Aaron Jungels calls “visceral choreography and poetic visual imagery.”
The stories are personal and straightforward, but Freedom Project makes them universal by incorporating into the production “jarring facts” about race, addiction, trauma and incarceration in America.
Freedom Project grew out of Everett’s past work, studying the effects of trauma on the human brain (go to Everett’s website for information on and clips from 2012’s production, Brain Storm). “We worked with a lot of low-income youth (for Brain Storm), and a great percentage of them had suffered some kind of trauma in their lives, without having the resources necessary to help them process it,” explains Jungels. “We later worked with a trauma center in Boston, where we learned that there are more kids in prison with brain trauma than was the case with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This made the linkage for us, from brain trauma to issues surrounding incarceration.”
Freedom Project has six performers, including Jungels. All are professional members of Everett’s dance company and range in age from 20 to 52 years old. Four of the performers grew up through Everett’s own school. The sixth is internationally known spoken word poet Christopher Johnson, whom the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts has called a “poet-warrior and provocateur” who “gives voice to a universal message of human spark that connects us all.”
It is that same universal message of human spark that Jungels wants audiences to experience in Freedom Project. “I hope the audience will take away an empathy for the people who are caught up in America’s criminal justice system and understand it could be any of us. We should all recognize the role systemic racism plays in all of it. But I hope it gets beyond race, it is a human issue.”
"Freedom Project" performers, pictured above
Festival Ballet Providence’s JuxtaPOSE will be performed at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in downtown Providence on March 13 and 14. There are two ballets on the bill - the Rhode Island premiere of Études and the return of audience favorite Coma. The first is classical, the second decidedly contemporary. “Both are gems, in their own way,” says Artistic Director Mihailo Djuric. “They are completely different from each other in mood, in execution, in technique and in artistic vision. Hence, the program’s title.” Both, he says, are masterworks of ballet.
Études (from the French word meaning “study,” as in a practice study) is a one-act ballet by Danish dancer and choreographer Harald Lander. It premiered at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen in 1948 and brought international acclaim to Lander. Études shows dancers gradually progressing from learning the basics of ballet, as would happen at a barre in a classroom setting, to executing ever more difficult routines and finally to performing spectacularly on the stage. “It showcases technique and bravado, all done with uplifting and energetic music,” says Djuric. “It is one of the gems of classical repertoire.” Festival’s production is choreographed by Radenko Pavlovich, artistic director of Columbia Classical Ballet in South Carolina.
Coma was created and produced right here on the East Side, by Festival Ballet’s resident choreographer Viktor Plotnikov and was first brought to Providence’s stage in 2007. It is based on Michael Crichton’s science fiction film of the same name. Dance Magazine reports that Plotnikov’s Coma is “much more than merely a danced sci-fi thriller,” that it uses a “new language” to combine “the classical legacy of ballet with a unique contemporary sensibility.” Coma was most recently performed in 2011 at the Belgrade International Dance Festival. Festival Ballet Providence was one of just 18 dance companies from all over the world to be invited to the prestigious festival. Its performance of Coma was live broadcast in Europe at the time and was one of just ten acclaimed “memorable performances” of the festival. “It was time to bring it back to Providence audiences,” says Djuric.
Festival Ballet Providence is in its 37th season. Djuric is in his 17th as its artistic director. The company is made up of 25 classically trained full-time professional dancers from all over the world – 10 men and 15 women. All will be performing in both pieces at the Vets in March. About half the cast has performed Coma before. “Even with those who have performed it before, each time they come back to it, it is different,” says Djuric. “I am expecting even bigger brilliance on the stage in March.”
Providence, for a city of its size, is fortunate to have so many organizations promoting live performances of one sort or another. Djuric would like nothing more than to greatly expand the audience drawn to ballet. After all, dance, he says, is the most human art form. “You can go back thousands of years – human beings express themselves through movement before anything else. All other art forms come later.” Everyone, he contends, if they are honest with themselves, loves to dance. “Young, old, no matter age or gender or class status.” It follows then, that everyone should want to watch dance. Everett Theater’s Aaron Jungels would undoubtedly agree.
See for yourself – make plans to see both Freedom Project and JuxtaPOSE this month, and support two great East Side organizations in the process. In the words of that go-to person of mine for all things dance: “Festival Ballet and Everett are alike in one very important way. Both companies are extremely disciplined, hard-working, well-rehearsed and made up of people who are passionate about what they’re doing.” You can’t do better than that.
March 13 at 8pm; March 14 at 7:30pm
Veterans Memorial Auditorium1 Avenue of the Arts
Previews: March 13 & 14 at Brown University’s Granoff Center for the Creative Arts
154 Angell Street, Providence
Performances at Everett’s Stage: Weekends March 20 through April 12
9 Duncan Avenue, Providence