Fort Worth — To open its tenth season, Ballet Frontier of Texas presented The Firebird. Combining this classic ballet with a handful of more contemporary styles, Ballet Frontier eased into what looks to be a memorable season.
Although the show was advertised as Firebird, the first act featured three wildly varied contemporary ballet pieces. Each piece was choreographed by Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng, creating a consistent thread throughout the night.
For Moldau, a dimly lit stage slowly brightened on dancers in pointe shoes and sheer, glittery bodysuits in a pastel rainbow of colors. Matching the magical, fairylike tone of their costumes, the movers brushed their legs gently into extensions and soft tendus. Swirling on and off the stage, they built a steady flow of constant movement. Their curved, fluid arms added to the wavy spatial patterns and ebb-and-flow ripples. Performed by Elizabeth Dennen and Diego Pulido, the pas de deux section attempted to pursue the airy atmosphere of the first section through partnering and lifts. However, the couple never quite reached a comfortable relationship. Pulido had trouble finding and centering his partner’s weight. But the couple fought through the technically challenging section as the other dancers returned with bouncy jumps and quick turns.
Mahler welcomed a group of younger dancers to the stage as a dozen girls and boys in hunter green skirts and shirts burst into playful jumps. Set to the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 4, the dancers moved attentively to the music—fluttering their hands rapidly when the accompaniment shrieked, sweeping their hands to the ground with the addition of a deep bassoon, and pausing softly from high to low levels when the sound faded. Delightful and surprising, the piece ended with a jolting turn section that snapped into a back bend.
To finish the first half, Come Together offered a sassy take on the classic Beatles tune. Six girls in gold sequin skirts and black lace tanks popped their knees and swiveled their hips in time to the upbeat song. Diagonal arms and angled kicks created a jazzy tone. The music required a fierce attitude from the dancers that a few could match and keep throughout the piece. Higher energy levels and more individual personalities could have turned this fun dance into fiery close to act one.
Shifting into Romanic ballet, The Firebird showcased bright costumes, detailed sets, and busy scenes. After consuming the magic apple, Tsar Kashchei (Diego Pulido) became an evil, immortal being, ruling over princesses and creatures alike. Enter guest artist Kaitlyn Potts as the mystical Firebird—striking angled balances and sharp leaps. Joined by her four Fire Elements, the group sliced through the space with precise arms and pointed jumps. Prince Ivan, played by guest artist Marlen Alimanov, saw the brightly colored bird and chased her around the stage with a series of hoppy steps, grasping arms, and sudden swivels. Alimanov partnered beautifully—scooping Potts effortlessly overhead, providing grounded support, and leading her with a graceful power.
Potts seemed to grow more in sync with her prince as the piece progressed, but never quite matched the intensity of her partner. After Prince Ivan procured the Firebird’s red feather as a promise of protection, Princess Helen (Elizabeth Villarreal) emerged with her crew of princesses. The perfectly creepy creatures crawled, scurried, and squatted in between the lovely prances of the princesses. Mirroring the dissonant sounds of Igor Stravinsky’s score, the creatures successfully captured the gritty darkness of the production while also adding a few chuckles. Fully dedicated, the group of creatures stole the show with their grotesque facial expressions, distorted bent elbows, and exuberant bounces. Another highlight of the evening occurred in the duet between Villarreal and Alimanov. Instant chemistry led to luscious partner work and connected lifts. The two blended their fluid styles together for a stunning pas de deux and a believable relationship. During the climax of the story, creatures, princesses, fire elements, and soloists filled the space in combative runs, jumps, and falls around the stage. This chaotic section finally yielded once Tsar Kashchei allowed Ivan and Helen to be joined in marriage.
Going into the performance, I was expecting an evening length production of Firebird and was surprised by the inclusion of the three additional pieces. While they shone in their own way, the first three sections lacked connection to the second act—it felt like I was attending two different shows. I wished the night had focused on an evening length version of Firebird as a stand-alone production because of the variety already contained in the narrative.