It's no wonder that the opening program of Boston Ballet's thirty-sixth season attracted attention beyond the city limits. Christopher Wheeldon, the hot twenty-six-year-old ballet performer and choreographer, premiered his second ballet for the company. It was an extravagant new Firebird, set to Igor Stravinsky's 1910 score, and was paired with a revival of Daniel Pelzig's popular comic version of The Princess and The Pea, which was created in 1995 for Boston Ballet.
Wheeldon, who will also be dancing as a soloist this season with New York City Ballet and choreographing in Columbia Pictures' upcoming dance film Center Stage, has contracted with Boston to provide a ballet for each of the next three years. The work that he will produce for 2000-2001 will be set to Vivaldi's The Four Seasons.
The Firebird is Wheeldon's first attempt at storytelling through a ballet, with an emphasis on laying out a clear narrative that is combined combined with a gorgeous visual re-creation of the traditional Russian folk tale. His collaborator, artist Ian Falconer, designed the sets and costumes as successive pictures that show a realm drained of color while under the rule of Kastchei, the evil sorcerer. The land is subsequently returned to rainbow-colored life in glowing red, green, blue, and gold peasant dress for the apotheosis.
The ballet opens with the conductor, Jonathan McPhee (who alternates with Mark Churchill), standing up to give an invocation about the premise of the ballet--that it is a world devoid of hope except for the magical Firebird. This is followed by a shadow sequence enacting the Firebird's capture by the animal soldiers of Kastchei's retinue. The curtain next rises on a scene in the sorcerer's castle, where the Firebird is imprisoned in a cage that is swinging high overhead. She escapes to the forest and meets Ivan, and the scenario familiar from earlier ballets begins.
From this point Wheeldon creates a traditional story ballet, filled with classical ballet technique employed in pas de deux for Ivan and the Firebird, and Ivan and his beloved Enchanted Princess. These dance sequences are the most satisfying; some energetic corps formations for the phalanx of Kastchei's followers--which include warthogs, crocodiles, twin long-necked cranes, and a quartet of witch brides--and a lovely, lyrical passage for the twelve Enchanted Princesses.
Choreographer Wheeldon chose three principal dancers for the Firebird: Adriana Suarez, Jennifer Gelfand, and Aleksandra Koltun. He also plucked Lyn Tally from the corps de ballet to dance the principal role. Suarez as the first-cast Firebird took risks with the choreography, which added a welcome sense of danger. Paul Thrussell and Laszlo Berdo gave the sorcerer Kastchei the requisite over-the-top portrayal that was aided by a swirling cape, long, bony arms, and a delicious picking along the ground on long birdlike feet, but the character needed a full center-stage solo to give more focus to the role.
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|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
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