The ongoing collaboration between Cleveland Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet
is not limited to September concerts at Blossom. Last weekend we went
to see a “Family Concert” at Severance Hall in which Academy Trainees of
the Joffrey Ballet, assisted by students of the Cleveland School of
Dance, danced to Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird.
This was not the 45-minute Firebird ballet that Sergei Diaghelev’s Ballet Russes premiered in Paris in 1910; rather, it was the oft-performed 23-minute Suite premiered in 1919, which preserves many of the orchestral themes of the original.
Tickets were free and the main floor of the hall
was packed. Many baby ballerinas were in attendance, tastefully attired
in the chiffon tutus that the occasion clearly demanded. The chiffon
contingent was attentive enough as James Feddeck led the orchestra
through four dances, all by Russian composers, but we felt that they
were at Severance for the same reason we were: ballet dancing.
Contrary to the traditional Firebird scenario, the Prince, danced by
Andre Grippi De Almeida, entered first. Jumping and turning nicely,
sporting a princely hunting costume and a small but effective-looking
bow, he looked like a talented, well-trained young dancer who was
trying rather too hard.
Abigail Bushnell as the Firebird entered next. She seemed very
proficient and supremely confident; exactly the aura that the Firebird
should project, we thought. Her pas de deux with the Prince went off
without a hitch.
Then the 10 Princesses entered, portrayed by nine
students from the Cleveland School of Dance and Joffrey Academy Trainee
Mahalia Ward. After the Princesses’ dance the Prince selected Ward as
his princess and the two performed their pas de deux, again without a
We were considerably entertained by the contrast between Ward’s
Princess — warm and gracious — and Bushnell’s Firebird — an inexorable
force. As Jennifer Homans observes in her discussion of Firebird in Apollo’s Angels,
the Firebird was “not woman or lover; that role belonged to the
princess. To the contrary, the Firebird was less a person than an idea
or force; not the ‘eternal feminine’ but the ‘eternal Rus,’ Russia as
Diaghilev thought the West imagined her.” (The above quote is from pg
302 of Apollo’s Angels; for a review, click on this link: http://NYtimes.com.)
traditionally designated the Infernal Dance of King Kashchei, the
evil sorcerer who has enchanted and enslaved the people of the kingdom.
On Severance’s stage there appeared neither sorcerer nor enchanted,
enslaved minions. Instead, the Prince and the Princesses remained on
stage, half-reclined in what was apparently intended as a nap. We found
it strange that the dancers would be left onstage with nothing to do
for such a long time. Then again, what if the dancers had left the
stage empty while the music continued? There were no really good
options without the sorcerer.
The dancers were constrained by space as well as by the music. The
crescent-shaped performing space between the orchestra and the audience
was just about 12 feet wide in the center. During rehearsals, we heard
through the grapevine that the performing space was smaller than
expected and that the choreographer had to make major adjustments. (The
program credits no one with the choreography.)
Costumes (not credited in the program but probably from the Joffrey
costume shop) looked good on the dancers and worked extremely well with
the choreography. The Princesses’ long white gowns draped beautifully
and their very Russian crowns stayed on. We’re hard put to remember any
dance performance with a comparable dearth of costume mishaps.
Young dancers, aspiring professionals, radiated a special charm against the grandeur of the Cleveland Orchestra. Even in abridgment, Firebird
retained some of its power as both music and dance. We hope to give our
readers more advance notice for the next collaboration between
Cleveland Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet.
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