On Saturday, April 23 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Ithaca Ballet presented the spring installment of their 2015-2016 performance series at The State Theatre. The show began with The Firebird and after intermission were two shorter pieces titled “Boyceball” and “Bolero.” The combination of a longer, story ballet and contemporary choreography made for a versatile production with something for everyone.
The Firebird is a ballet remarkable for its music, composed by the legendary Igor Stravinsky. The score is mystical, dramatic at the right times, and often erratic — fitting, as the ballet is about a magical bird. The plot of the ballet is tweaked depending on which company is performing it, but Ithaca Ballet’s version stays true to original versions, for the most part. The Firebird follows Prince Ivan, who first meets the Firebird in the forest. He, of course, dances with her, and she gives him one of her feathers as a sort of calling card should he find himself in trouble.
And clearly, he is bound to find himself in trouble sooner or later. After meeting a flock of princesses in the woods, one of whom he falls in love with, Prince Ivan stumbles upon Katschei, an immortal sorcerer of sorts who keeps his immortal soul guarded in an egg in a treasure chest (it’s a kooky ballet, I know). Right as he is about to be destroyed by Katschei and his infernals, Prince Ivan summons the Firebird, and she swoops in to rescue him. He then destroys Katschei’s soul-egg-thing. Soon after, a mass wedding occurs and Prince Ivan is married to his princess while a few random princes are married to the rest of the princesses.
So “Firebird” is an odd ballet, to say the least, and it can be difficult to follow for those who don’t know the story. Hell, I do know the story and it was still difficult to follow at times. Considering that it can be a challenge to convey the plot, Ithaca Ballet effectively used costumes, pantomime, and sets to get the messages across. What I found most remarkable about the show was the use of glow-in-the-dark pieces, specifically for the Firebird. The illusion of flying was created by turning off the stage lights and having a man dressed in black (Kevin Olmstead) lift the Firebird, who wore glow-in-the-dark gloves, pointe shoes, and body paint. In addition, many of the infernals, including Katschei, wore costumes that partially glowed in the dark. This little touch of magic was a pleasant surprise, and it really contributed to the overall surreal tone of the ballet.
The dancers were all well cast in their roles. Peter Doll as Prince Ivan was strong both on his own and as a partner. Keara Soloway ’17, a physics major here at Cornell, danced with clean technique and great precision as the title role, the Firebird. The choreography didn’t include as much flitting as I’ve seen in other versions (she is a bird, after all), and while I missed that aspect of the ballet, Soloway brought great energy regardless. All of the princesses (five total including the “lead” princess) danced well together, each just as graceful as the next. Principal dancer Rachel Myers, who received her BFA in ballet from Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, had a nice, fluid quality and pretty lines, both essential for her role as the unnamed “lead” princess with whom Prince Ivan falls in love. The rest of the cast, including the infernal creatures and the man in black who provided invisible support for the Firebird, also performed with remarkable and inspiring energy; they are what really brought the production to life.
The two shorter pieces, “Boyceball” and “Bolero,” were very different from The Firebird. The first, “Boyceball,” was just a few minutes long, and the cast consisted of three dancers, apparently dressed as schoolchildren. Though short, it was whimsical and upbeat, even comedic at times. Following after was the Spanish-style “Bolero,” which opened with a man dressed in black. Gradually, many girls dressed in red made their way onto the stage, and two more men in black joined the cast as well. “Bolero,” while slower, was extremely stylized and fun to watch. Both pieces marked a departure from the more traditional ballet component of the show, yet this wasn’t a problem; the mixture made for a well rounded show.
Overall, Ithaca Ballet put on an entertaining production for spectators of all ages and interests. The Firebird was a full-fledged story ballet; the costumes, sets, “special effects,” and, most importantly, the talent all came together to create quite a charming show. They clearly worked very hard on the production, and their efforts certainly paid off. The two post-intermission pieces provided a nice change of pace, and definitely showed that Ithaca Ballet is a company capable of many styles. I look forward to seeing more of their shows in the future.
Natalie Tsay is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.