Photo: Sam English.
Music by Igor Stravinsky
Choreography by Lucas Jervies
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2017 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
It can be argued that there are only a handful of composers whose name is synonymous with ballet. One such artist would be Igor Stravinsky. Of his twelve ballets, Louisville Ballet graced us with both Rubies and Firebird in this program.
I am sure that you are thinking to yourself “oh, I’ve seen Firebird dozens of times, what could be done differently to this beautiful masterwork?” Gentle reader, I am here to let you know, you have never seen Firebird performed like this before, but more on that later.
The evening began with legendary choreographer George Balanchine’s Rubies, which is part of an Abstract Ballet titled Jewels that include two other composers: Fauré for Emerald and Tchaikovsky for Diamonds. Rubies is the middle act and a delightful piece of music on its own but even more enchanting with ballet.
As the curtain rose eight lovely ballerinas dressed in exquisite ruby costumes designed by Barbara Karinska were in a line across the stage. They were then joined by their male companions, who were costumed just as bright and shiny.
There isn’t a theme per se throughout this piece, but Rubies is performed in three sections. The beginning started out with a lovely Corp de Ballet dance interspersed with gentle lifts and glides. Natalia Ashikhmina, as second principal female, had a couple of moments where she lost footing and balance, but she handled those moments with aplomb and kept her smile. In the second movement principals, Erica De La O and Benjamin Wetzel had fluidity in their movements and pas de deux that, to me, reveals the piece to be a great love story that also happened to include a tango. Movement three was a culmination and celebration, complete with principal Wetzel paling around with his guy friends that provided lovely tour en l’air and leaps. Not to be outdone, the ladies of the troupe were exquisite en pointe and showed great prowess with pirouettes and arabesques and a few leaps of their own, too. It was an absolute lovely beginning to the evening.
If you have seen any of the promotional images for this program, such as a foot clad in a sneaker that looks as if it is jumping and a faint bird feather in the background, or a simple picture of a beautiful, but smudged-faced child, then you may have guessed that this Firebird would be unlike any other.
This Firebird is a World Premiere from choreographer Lucas Jervies, with assistance from scenic and costume designer Elizabeth Gadsby and lighting designer Trad A. Burns. All I can say is Wow.
The stage was bare, entirely empty except for the light rigging. Did I mention that the stage actually has an incline? While I am not sure what the degree of the incline was, but as the whole of the company made their way down the steep incline I was clenching my teeth for their safety.
The troupe came out from atop the incline, clad in everyday clothing, including the aforementioned sneakers, with blank expressions on each face, and stepped into a muted light. If you listen to the first sounds of Stravinsky’s piece, you can guess the reasons for the troupe’s expressions as the bass plays chords with ominous overtones. Soon all of the dancers exit and then enter again to form a circular huddle. It is out of this huddle that a young girl in a colorful rainbow striped shirt emerged and began to jump rope while the troupe made their way off the stage either left, up the incline or right, on the flat.
Some dancers returned and then scattered as Erica De La O and Benjamin Wetzel began an elegant Pas de Deux that ended with De La O falling from the top of the incline. Following that, a group of children came out and began to play, some with rudimentary toys and some with one another as the background music became a little lighter.
A sextet that includes Leigh Anne Albrechta, Erica De La O, Jordan Martin, Roger Creel, Brandon Ragland, and Benjamin Wetzel explored incredible feats of dexterity as they incorporated the incline into their movements. As the sextet ended our lovely rainbow girl came on stage carrying a large Amazon box and hid underneath it as her playmates brought boxes out looking for her. The children laughed, jumped, giggled and danced their way across the stage in a timeless expression of hope and innocence.
It is within the last pages of Stravinsky’s piece that the music adopts a more light-hearted feeling and Mr. Jervies has incorporated those striking chords in Ms. De La O’s astounding movement. It felt as if she was a symbol of rebirth as the whole of the dance troupe, including the children, descended from the top of the incline, passed her and danced their way into a bright light and hopefully happy future.
I dare say that Mr. Jervies intertwined classical ballet and contemporary dance together into a seamless cohesion of talent and beauty. The sheer athleticism and talent that the whole of the troupe was able to demonstrate in this ballet was nothing short of extraordinary.
November 10 & 11 @ 8:00 PM
November 11 @ 2:00 PM
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.