Triangle Arts&Entertainment – Carolina Ballet’s Production of “The Firebird” Was Very Pleasing to Watch and Very Beautifully Danced

September 12th, 2014

by Viki Atkinson

Carolina Ballet opened its 2014-15 season with a mixed repertory evening anchored by Firebird, set to Igor Stravinsky’s iconic score of the same name. The performance, presented at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in downtown Raleigh, also featured two new ballets: a Brahms piece choreographed by Carolina Ballet’s new choreographer-in-residence, Zalman Raffael, and another Stravinsky work, choreographed by artistic director Robert Weiss.

The Firebird was the first ballet score Stravinsky composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and marked the beginning of a partnership that produced both Petrouchka and Rite of Spring. The story tells of a prince (Richard Krusch) who wanders into a magical forest ruled by a sorcerer (Marcelo Martinez). There, he encounters the mysterious Firebird (Margaret Severin-Hansen), and he chases and finally captures her. The Firebird begs to be set free, promising the prince that she will come to his aid whenever he might need her. There is a princess (Lara O’Brien), of course, and a battle with the evil sorcerer; but in the end the sorcerer is conquered, and they live happily ever after.

The dancing in Firebird was lovely throughout, as were David Heuvel’s (as usual) stunning costumes and Jeff A. R. Jones’ richly colored tapestry of a set. If Robert Weiss’ choreography at times fell short of telling the story as clearly as it could have, it was nonetheless very pleasing to watch and very beautifully danced.

Zalman Raffael’s ballet, Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3, featured a lead couple (Jan Burkhard and Yevgeny Schlapko); a trio (Alicia Fabry, Oliver Beres, and Adam Crawford Chavis); and a corps de ballet of six female dancers. The women were clad in Kerri L. Martinsen’s simple leotard dresses (in shades of lavender, plum, and mauve), the men in tights and white tees.

Burkhard and Schlapko’s partnering was flawless, and they shone as well in their solo sections. Fabry also sparkled, effortlessly leading her two partners through their variations. However, I found Beres’ performance of the choreography a little over the top — little flourishes of his head or wrist pulled my focus from the group more than once. Such flourishes are fine for a solo, but one needs to blend in a group.

The corps dancers executed Raffael’s brisk and breezy choreography with precision for the most part, though the spacing was a little haphazard at times. It was nothing that couldn’t be fixed in a single spacing rehearsal, and I’m sure this will improve with repeat performances.

Raffael’s choreography for the Brahms piece was sharp and crisp and light. It was also, at times, very fast; but the dancers never missed a beat. Carolina Ballet has made a good choice here, and I look forward to seeing more of Raffael’s work.

Les Saltimbanques is the newest offering from Robert Weiss, and the ballet delivers on all counts. Set to Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, the ballet is abstract but has a warm, friendly quality that was both unexpected and welcome. Jan Burkhard and Pablo Javier Perez were the lead couple; and Lara O’Brien led a trio that was completed by Marcelo Martinez and Adam Schiffer. A quartet (featuring Elice McKinley, Lindsay Turkel, Nikolai Smirnov, and Sokvannara Sar) and a corps de ballet of four couples rounded out a cast that was very much on its game throughout the piece.

The Mondrian-inspired costumes (also by Kerri L. Martinsen) — lines and blocks of color on a white field — were the perfect compliment to the Stravinsky score and the clean lines and precise but supple steps of Weiss’ choreography; and Ross Kolman contributed his always-perfect lighting expertise to all three works on the program.

With a new choreographer-in-residence and a successful opening program, Carolina Ballet’s new season is off to good start. With productions as diverse as Dracula, Balanchine’s Four Temperaments, and Cinderella on tap, it also promises a little something for everyone between now and next May.
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