On their toes
Providence Ballet Theatre premieres ballet this weekend
The dancers at the Providence Ballet Theatre will be on their toes this weekend, literally and figuratively. The ensemble of youth and professional adult dancers will be premiering a brand new ballet, “Hansel and Gretel,” and with just one rehearsal with the orchestra before opening night, the corps will be concentrating on their choreography and the composition.
The journey to this weekend began in November of 2010, when composer Roger Seitz contacted Eva Marie Pacheco, founder and director of Providence Ballet School and Providence Ballet Theatre. Seitz had been working on a new ballet based on the tale of “Hansel and Gretel,” and thought Providence Ballet Theatre (PBT) would be the perfect company to bring it to life.
Since the fall of 2010, Pacheco and Seitz have been corresponding and collaborating to create the full-length ballet, which Pacheco started choreographing and rehearsing in January.
“I’ve never worked with a composer that closely,” said Pacheco. “It was scary and different but really fun. It’s great and exciting, but it’s an intense process.”
Seitz said he is still getting his feet wet in the proverbial pool of music composition.
“I’m cramming for the final,” he joked, poking fun at his age. “I’m where most people are in their late 20s or 30s.”
Seitz began composing when he moved to Rhode Island from Nantucket two years ago. He had always had a passion for music but found a new interest in classical pieces in recent years.
“My tastes became narrower and narrower,” he said. “I got more and more into classical music.”
With his growing fondness for classical music came a developing knack for composition. In two years, Seitz has composed a handful of symphonies and “Hansel and Gretel,” is his first and only ballet. Seitz describes his pieces as “very tonal.”
“What I’m writing is very danceable,” he said. “It’s not like Stravinsky – God bless him.”
Pacheco said the framework of the story dictates the score, with each character being represented by a different instrument.
“He had a vision with the music and I had my vision as a dancer, but we were artistically respectful of each other,” she said. “It’s very hard to collaborate unless you feel comfortable and safe with the other artist.”
Pacheco said the ballet is contemporary and abstract, and is different than traditional ballets. The set and costumes will mirror the abstract concept.
Pacheco said her choreography stays away from making things too literal or cartoonish. Instead, she tries to let the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks.
“I do [art] to make people think in a different way,” she said.
Though Seitz and Pacheco have kept in close contact, Seitz hasn’t seen any of the choreography, though he’s confident it will be impressive.
“I can’t wait [for opening night], to be honest,” he said.
Seitz, a father himself, is excited that Pacheco has chosen children, not professional dancers, to play the title roles.
“It’s just fabulous,” he said.
The cast includes 11 children ages 9 to 16.
Isabella Crema, 15, of Providence, is playing Gretel. Crema has been dancing for 10 years, and said although the movement comes naturally to her, the acting aspect of her role has been challenging.
“Acting is hard; you don’t do a lot of that in ballet class,” she said.
Kate Fitzgerald, 11, of Warwick, will be playing Hansel. No stranger to the stage, Fitzgerald has numerous theatrical credits under her belt, including last season’s “A Christmas Carol” at Trinity Repertory.
“Dancing and acting are two of my favorite things and it was really fun to be able to combine them in one production,” said Fitzgerald. “It was very fun and interesting to get to work with the adults.”
For students like Crema, performing with an orchestra will be a new experience.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve never danced to live music before.”
But the best part will still be the movement.
“I love the way you feel when you’re dancing,” she said.
In addition to the youth performers, the cast includes 10 professional adult dancers
Elizabeth Rogers, a professional, will play the role of the stepmother.
“She’s very wicked, not nice at all, controlling, and a little desperate,” Rogers said of her character.
Rogers said she usually plays the sweet ingénue, and has had a difficult time getting into character.
“It’s hard, but at the same time it’s nice to do something different,” she said.
Rogers is in her second season with PBT, but has been dancing for 19 years. She said the process of working on a new ballet has been rewarding.
“It’s exciting, you can build a character from scratch,” she said. “Plus it’s nice to have live music again.”
“For some of them, it’s the first time performing with a live orchestra,” said Pacheco. “It’s not like something they’ve heard before.”
Pacheco blends her youth and professional dancers to provide an educational experience to all.
“They can learn from each other,” she said. “And for the children, it’s someone to look up to.”
Pacheco, who has been dancing all her life, started Providence Ballet School in 1995, and branched out to form the Youth Ballet in 2004. She started the Providence Ballet Theatre in 2008, and this year will mark their second full season of performances.
“I have a really wonderful group of dancers,” said Pacheco. “They really trust me.”
Pacheco encourages everyone to support new work and young companies like PBT. Without support, Pacheco said a company like hers might not be around to continue to produce unique entertainment.
“We must make sure we keep arts in our lives,” she said.
“Hansel and Gretel” will have two public performances, Friday, April 20 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 21 at 2 p.m. at Sapinsley Hall at Rhode Island College. Tickets are $30 general admission, $20 for seniors and $15 for students and children, and can be purchased at www.ric.edu/pfa or www.ProvidenceBallet.org. There will be a special school performance on Friday at 11 a.m. for $5.