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Review: Ballet Arizona’s The Firebird, and La Sylphide


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The evening presents a juxtaposition of extremes, from Bournonville’s most classic of ballets, La Sylphide (from the 1830’s), to Ib Andersen’s re-imagined The Firebird, set millennia into the future. Nevertheless, the dance throughout is classical or neoclassical ballet. And, of course, the music under the baton of Timothy Russell is complete and authentic.

Mr. Andersen's Firebird uses most of the themes, story elements, and characters of Diaghilev’s original, but transports them to a futuristic time in another galaxy. The mythical bird has been replaced with an Alien form – a golden pillar of energy, able to control the actions of others. This Prince has a “Crew” on his voyage of exploration, and it is this crew that manages to subdue the powerful Alien. Although they are labeled “Warrior Princesses”, we are relieved to see that these Princesses do not seem particularly threatening, wearing lovely flowing white garb. The traditional Kastchei and his monsters, have militaristic replacements – far more visually appealing that the traditional ones.

Such an ambitious re-imagining could easily have come off as tacky. Fabio Toblini’s costume designs dispel that concern. This Alien/Firebird is a pillar of golden energy – tall and slim, with a spare use of sequins that seem to radiate sparks. Gone are the mangy, ragtag monsters of Firebirds past; they’ve been replaced by sleek, futuristic automatons, their high-tech components actually riveted to their bodices. And evil Kastchei looms as a towering, hulking lord - dark, threatening, and armored. But when conquered, his armor is stripped away, and he is reduced to a withering, skeletal shell (all superbly acted by Ethan Price). Here’s a very short promo video showing Alien, militaristic Monsters, Princess, Alien again, and finally the Prince.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtwRVnYgRh8/

The story gets off to a rather slow start – with the Prince and his Crew laboriously exploring some sort of mysterious meteorite that has landed nearby. Things liven up once the Alien (Rochelle Anvik) materializes. Rochelle masters some devilishly frenetic choreography – mostly on pointe – portraying the Alien’s energy.

The Princesses do perform the traditional game – this time tossing crystals. This is a delightful scene –seemingly consisting of random motion and play, but of course highly choreographed. And when the Alien coerces monsters and princesses to dance feverishly, the combined effect of the music, choreography, and costumes are spellbinding to watch.

In the closing moments, to the accompaniment of some of Stravinsky’s most magnificent music, the Prince (Helio Lima) and Princess (Arianni Martin) are garbed with spectacular long, flowing capes and headgear. This is pure theatrics, but it works, and serves as a final crowning moment to the ballet. Both Helio and Arianni seem to ooze royalty from every pore – exhibiting magnificent poise on stage, and showing exquisite attention to every step.

A massive stage-sized wrap-around rear projection screen provides the scenery. I love it whenever the curtain flies up, and the audience gives a collective gasp at the grandeur of the opening scene (always happens in Rubies). Michael Korsch’s opening inter-galactic visual drew such a response from the opening night crowd, with a very brief video hinting that someone must be travelling to distant galaxies. He uses video motion sparingly, but to great effect, such as when portraying the Alien’s energy with electric effects. And the forest/garden backdrop was especially fascinating – definitely arboreal in nature, but not of this earth. (Think perhaps of being inside of a tangle of giant mangrove roots.)

All in all, the concept, costumes, choreography, and visual design, blended with Stravinsky’s exceptional score, make this Firebird one of the most exciting, innovative, and visually stunning ballets I have seen. Bring us more, Mr. Andersen!

Also on the bill is La Sylphide. With Mr. Andersen having been raised on such fare from a tender age at the Royal Danish, this is undoubtedly a very authentic presentation. Jillian Barrell danced a wonderfully ethereal Sylph, to Nayon Iovino’s suitably infatuated James. BAZ fans will be delighted (or perhaps horrified) to see retired principal dancer Tzu Chia Huang (Cinderella, Juliet, etc.) cast in the character role of Madge the witch. Ms. Huang, who offstage is the gentlest of ladies, gave us a deliciously malicious Madge, whose every motion dripped evil. In the second act, I was delighted to see the quaint, yet elegant poses and lovely classic tableau of the sylphs – something just not seen in today’s ballets.

 

The Firebird and La Sylphide will be performed at Phoenix Symphony Hall on February 14 through 17, 2019 with the Phoenix Symphony.

 

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Thank you... have really been wondering how this came off...  There is a lot of talent involved, Andersen seems to pick gifted designers, but the concept of science fiction seemed to risk being tacky... glad to hear somehow they managed to skirt that risk?   

Also interesting to split the bill with La Sylphide... both ballets are not quite full evening fare, and to go from charming romantic antique to futuristic Stravinisky?  Might be just the juxtaposition to keep both fresh?

Edited by Amy Reusch
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