Feature

On Pointe on Hope Street

For its 40th season, Festival Ballet Providence is showing the state that world-class ballet is happening right under its nose

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“We are the biggest secret.” This is how Mihailo “Misha” Djuric, artistic director, describes Festival Ballet Providence, the nationally and internationally recognized company that exists quietly on Hope Street.

Though some residents may be unaware of the company’s prestige, FBP has been honored with several awards, including being named the 2002 Outstanding Arts Organization in recognition of their commitment to excellence and public programming. Djuric, also the recipient of many awards, was the first recipient of the “VIP Invites” Award from the Serbian Ministry of Culture, which honors an outstanding Serbian artist living and working outside of Serbia.

Djuric has been with the company for nearly 20 years and played an integral role in its growth. “When I came here, there was no professional company – some people were paid a stipend and the seasons were very short,” he explains. “Our budget grew, the length of the season grew and my responsibilities grew.” Other changes have included the addition of a school with dance classes of all levels, a summer program and an increase in the number of dancers from eight to 30.

Looking back on the company’s history, Djuric is especially excited for this, FBP’s 40th season, which he hopes will serve as an example of the full range of talent that FBP brings to the stage. The season will also honor Edward Fogarty, long-time benefactor and supporter who passed away in August. “Ed was here before I came, and he contributed a lot,” says Djuric. “Without him, we would not be where we are.” Fogarty served for almost 30 years on the Board of Trustees, with terms as president and vice president.

“He was so much looking towards the fortieth season, and he was the first to buy a subscription,” Djuric explains. Fogarty’s seat will remain empty in his honor. “He was there in the low times and the glory times, and his wisdom is really important.”

This season celebrates Fogarty’s influence with a world premiere and several fan favorites. Some highlights will include The Little Prince and the second installment of the Up Close on Hope series in March, as well as mainstage performances of Director’s Choice – a mixed repertory of masterworks – and Little Mermaid.

To assemble Director’s Choice, Djuric says he looks for pieces that will make the company stronger. “They’re very technically challenging, and will make the dancers better and make the audiences much pickier,” he says. Performances will take place February 9-11, and will feature three ballets – The American, Rubies and the world premiere of The Soldier’s Tale.

The first ballet, The American, was choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and pays homage to the American West. Rubies, a Balanchine ballet and the second to be performed, is an apt choice, as 40 is the “Ruby” anniversary. As Ruth Davis, consultant for Festival Ballet, explains FBP is one of two companies in New England qualified to perform a Balanchine. “You have to go through a whole process with the Balanchine Foundation, and you have to be really good to do them,” she says.

Lastly, there is The Soldier’s Tale, which is being performed onstage for the first time. “They will be the first dancers dancing that piece and everyone else will be learning from them,” says Djuric.

As a whole, the Director’s Choice repertory makes up an extremely complex program. “Everyone will be doing multiple things and all three of the ballets are really demanding,” says Marketing Director Dylan Giles. “Not only is it showing the range, but it’s showing the stamina and skill of the company – 28 dancers being able to put on something that companies twice our size might be putting on.”

The season ends at The Vets with Little Mermaid, which will be filled with stunning visuals and impressive choreography. Taking the two mainstage shows together – Director’s Choice and Little Mermaid – these performances will serve FBP’s entire audience. “Director’s Choice is for the ballet lovers, the mature and picky viewers,” says Djuric. “Little Mermaid is for
everyone.”

According to Djuric, these two programs will display the full spectrum of what FBP has to offer, and he hopes that this season will inspire more Rhode Islanders to explore the hidden gem in their capital city. “We are bringing repertoire from New York City Ballet, and the pieces at The Vets are very successful and loved works from around the country,” he says. “There are many Rhode Islanders who travel to New York or Boston to see the ballet, but they shouldn’t lose their opportunity to come and see it here.”