|Herman Cornejo and Misty Copeland in Firebird. Photo: Gene Schiavone|
Any new ballet to Stravinsky by ABT is a major deal, as is any premiere by resident choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. In the face of high expectations, Ratmansky's new Firebird contains many strengths. It reflects the choreographer's charming, musical, conversational ballet phrasing; his affinity for choreographing dorky, lovable characters; and his ability to describe the essence of a role quickly and fancifully.
Last week, I saw Misty Copeland in the title role with Herman Cornejo as Ivan. But both dancers possess an internal complexity and the pyrotechnique to add some welcome sparks. But surprisingly, or maybe not, the choreography for these lead roles hewed to a romantic, heroic, conventional route. A bit of a shame as it is another major role for Copeland, whose star is on the rise.
By contrast, sections featuring Maria Riccetto (Maiden) and Roman Zhurbin (Kaschei) were full of quirks and characteristics. The 13 maidens in emerald green dresses and matching fluffy hats, move like klutzy, faux-naif ballerinas. They were led by Riccetto, who is one of ABT's best comedians. The role of Kaschei seems to have walked out of a Tim Burton movie, with his white face, debonair tails, and practiced evil, clearly delineated by Zhurbin, a stellar character-role dancer. Clearly Ratmansky had lots of fun bringing these personages to life.
The story is full of turns of magic that make for a head-scratcher of a synopsis. In short—the Firebird helps Ivan free his gal pal, the Maiden, and her pals from Kaschei's spell by offing him: cracking an egg containing his soul and power. The maidens' lost lovers are liberated from the vault-like trees, which open to reveal techie-looking shiny innards. Happiness for all except the Firebird, who shall never truly find peace. The freed maidens emerged wearing uniform bad blond wigs and peasant-like muslin sheaths, which didn't seem like any sort of upgrade to me.
Simon Pastukh designed the spooky set—dead, limbless tree husks on fire—enhanced magically with projections by Wendall Harrington that layered the signature image to create the illusion of receding arcades. Special effects were used effectively, such as how the flying Firebird was represented by a shooting, pulsing red light (lighting by Brad Fields), and how the trees emitted puffs of smoke, rather than your standard-issue blanket of fog. These all contribute to the visual entertainment of the ballet, which is likely to find a regular spot in the repertory rotation even if it isn't Ratmansky's finest. There are several additional performances of it next week.