Fort Worth — Vibrant costumes, elaborate scenery, dramatic lighting and dynamic guest artists: Ballet Frontier of Texas (BFT) went all out for its production of The Firebird, part of its An Evening of Ballet program. They were rewarded with a standing ovation Sunday afternoon at the W.E. Scott Theatre in Fort Worth.
The tale depicts Prince Ivan’s encounter with the Firebird in the garden of the evil Tsar Kashchei. Ivan catches the Firebird and agrees to release her in exchange for one of her feathers. In the next scene Ivan meets the beautiful Helen and asks Kashchei for her hand in marriage. He refuses and sends his creatures to kill Ivan. The Prince calls upon the Firebird and together they defeat the creatures and destroy the magical egg that holds Kashchei’s soul. In the final scene order is restored to the kingdom and Ivan and Helen are wed.
BFT Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng sticks close to the original libretto written by Alexandre Benois for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, but adds a prologue to enlighten audiences as to how Kashchei becomes evil. He accomplishes this in three short scenes: in the first the villagers are trying to pick the golden apple from the tree, then they bring it to the king and we watch as he transforms into the evil Kashchei. Even though the blackouts between scenes were slightly disorientating the prologue was a welcomed addition, and Guest Artist Michael Clark was the epitome of evil with his searing eyes and puffed up chest.
Texas Ballet Theater’s Robin Bangert gave a fierce yet poised performance as the Firebird. She tested her limits with unending lines and lightning fast bourrees done in perfect time to Igor Stravinsky’s quick, staccato composition. Bangert’s luminous red and orange tutu and matching feather headpiece only accentuated her natural skill and beauty. Texas Ballet Theater’s Paul Adams was a strong match for Bangert. A confidant partner, Adams leads Bangert through a series of rotating arabesque and ponche balances with ease. And his transition from hunter to lover is seamless. Paige Nyman’s willowy frame, soft lines and expressive eyes made her the ideal choice to play Helen.
Tseng smartly crafted the work to highlight his company’s strengths. The younger students completely immersed themselves in their creature roles, hissing and scratching as they roamed around on all fours. Adorned in long white dresses and sparking crowns, the princesses showcased their adequate pointe work and knack for gentle arcing movement. A lovely moment occurred as they stood in two diagonal lines with arms crossed at the wrists, backs arched. And while the four flames (Mickayla Carr, Maria Howard, Carli Petri and Jacey Thompson) lost their facial expressions a couple of times they made it through the rest of their allegro sequences unscathed.
Tseng put the company’s stamina to the test in the first half of the show with three fast paced, movement packed pieces to music composed by P.I. Tchaikovsky. Like watching a sprint February (Carnival) and Piano Concerto No. 1, 3rd Movement were over much too soon. The movement appeared as one lengthy phrase of chaines, doubles turns, leaps and traveling steps. Timing was an issue in both, but the dancers delivered on the entertainment. Tseng’s Serenade Melancolique was the complete opposite of the other two numbers. Three couples (Adams, Nyman, Clark, Bangert, Shane Howell and Carli Perti) took turns executing slow, fluid movement that displaced some of the most beautiful and innovative lifts and body shapes. Tseng must have felt like a kid in a candy store working with these strong and capable individuals. The couple’s came together at the end to strike three ethereal poses while bathed in spotlight. As the only BFT company member in the piece Petri held her own with her limber body and graceful lines.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com