Just back from this afternoon's performance which worked so, so much better for me than the opening night one. I'm sure it's a mixture of factors: the work has had a few runs now making everything look a bit more comfortable onstage, there appeared to be some slight changes to choreography (or they were performed slightly differently), plus the cast wasn't making their debut (they had a run two nights ago). Every movement had much more clarity of purpose behind it, which made it much more dramatically interesting as well as choreographically so.
I hate to delve into comparisons between the casts, as again the first cast was making its first run at it, but it is hard not to compare them in my head. For example, while Gomes treated the opening as if he were shocked to arrive in front of the vast white scrim, he was a man up for an adventure and there was little tension in what laid ahead for him. Cornejo, however, was dwarfed by the scrim (due to his height, especially in comparison to Gomes, but also through his deep plies and backbends in the opening solo). The mood was more treacherous and foreboding. Further, he wasn't attracted to the Firebird nor was the Firebird attracted to him at all--he was clearly awed at her, but it's clear there isn't any sexual connection. Their pdd more clearly sketched out how the Firebird appears caged and Misty was great identifying moments in the choreography where the Firebird attempts to flee and then dramatically slumped back toward Cornejo as she is unable to leave. I think the key lies in the quieter intensity of both Herman and Misty. Misty was a more regal and majestic Firebird, and she used her back to great effect. While Osipova sprung around the stage in a seeming haphazard manner, Misty glided and showed her skittishness through her arms and hands. She was truly fantastic. I liked how she kept her face fairly blank, rather than making a lot of faces, as it added to her mystery and otherworldliness.
Maria Riccetto was incredibly good--she is an excellent comedienne and while Messmer played the Maiden as more of an outsider from the start, which was very effective, Riccetto was the Maidens' ringleader, leading them in their bit of craziness, giving her a larger character arc when she happened across Ivan/Cornejo, as she gradually shuns her sisters and sheds her wackiness. There is this really awkward overhead lift that made no sense to me on Thursday night, but Riccetto made the movement's purpose a bit more clear: as Ivan lifts the Maiden into a press directly over his head she bends her legs into a froggish position and beats them nervously, making it clear she hasn't been lifted above anyone's head before (or in ballet language, it's been awhile since a man wandered through the forest to have a romantic pdd with her).
I was in a better spot to see the visual projections this time (hint: if you want to see them don't sit higher than the second level at the theater as the trees really block them), and was able to see the "entrance" of Kaschei, which is a gigantic shadow projection that zooms in small behind a tree from which the dancer Kaschei emerges. I missed all of this the other night. I thought Zhurbin worked better for me as the Kaschei, and I'm sure this has to do with him being more used to doing character roles, and turning mere sketches of people into something really great. Hallberg was more kitsch and funny (this is not to say Zhurbin didn't embrace the moments of humor in the choreography), which doesn't work if you are supposed to believe this guy controls a pack of women. Also, Cornejo was able to demonstrate that he is under the spell of Kaschei in his body, but not yet in his mind.
To sum it up: this cast was really incredible, buy your Met tickets for them NOW!!
ksk04, when you have a chance, could you go into more detail about the ending of the work? For me, that's the most problematic section of the score when it comes to the staging, from Fokine, onwards, and I'm curious to know more about how Ratmansky handles it.
Sure! I'm not sure where you would like me to begin (so if there's something else, I am happy to elaborate) but I guess I will start when Ivan pulls out the feather to call the Firebird. Kaschei and Ivan struggle awhile for control over the Maiden, with Ivan and the Maiden slipping in and out of his control. Finally it seems like Ivan will surely lose as Kaschei grabs him and throws him to the ground, but Ivan wrestles the feather out and the Firebird appears. The Firebird bourees around the stage and puts the Maidens to sleep, leaving the three leads awake. They have a pas de quatre where the Firebird seemingly controls their movements as she lulls Kaschei into submission. First she twines herself around Ivan, while Kaschei has the Maiden--then when Ivan sees the two of them dancing together he tries to break free, but the Firebird separates them for him and she dances with Kaschei. The part seems a little convoluted because this is what I think should be occurring, and it does occur, but sometimes the choreography belies this and it seems very confusing what the Firebird is actually doing here.
This goes on for awhile. Eventually she lulls Kaschei and the Maiden (who has been suffering a bit from Stockholm syndrome on and off throughout this last part) to sleep and leaves them curled up together on the front of the stage. Ivan is clearly upset at this, but she draws him back to one of the trees (she bourees a lot through the whole section, giving her a nice showcase for her upper body) and reveals the power source for Kaschei: a glowing white egg. As Ivan reaches for it, Kaschei awakens and lunges for it, but Ivan drops the egg and Kaschei is yanked (literally, there is a cord that drags him off) offstage. The Firebird leaps off and Ivan and the Maiden are left alone onstage (as the foreboding forest projections begin to fade and turn to sunlight), and she realizes her dress is coming off of her to reveal a white slip underneath (this is a bit like Giselle's mad scene where Bertha is trying to make it look like she isn't actually taking Giselle's hair down, so...not that realistic). Ivan pulls on her frizzy blonde and green wig, and a much nicer all blonde wig is revealed underneath. Then the trees open to reveal trapped men that the Kaschei has been enslaving this whole time (though, imo, it's odd we don't see them before this moment because both times someone in the audience around me has said "oh so the maidens were actually...men? and they have been turned back into men now?"). Then the Swamp Maidens who have long left the stage return in the same white slip as the Maiden (also w/ a better blonde wig). The men have a nice bit of dancing together, and they have a bit of finale number of the kind that Ratmansky seems to favor. Finally the Firebird returns and the Freed Gents raise her above their head so it looks like she is flying and they dance around her in a circle, thanking her for freeing them all.
The rest: it looks like Hee Seo wasn't injured since she was on this afternoon for Thirteen Diversions. Or, at least, wasn't injured seriously...I am still wondering if something was up as she barely got off the ground while doing any jumps in Thirteen Diversion and seemed very restrained. Kristi Boone was replaced by a pre-curtain announcement for Duets, so I don't know if something is up with her as well.