I think George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins’ staging of Firebird has to be the closest thing there is to a horror ballet, an idea I’ve been playing with lately. It has magic and witchcraft–Prince Ivan captures the Firebird, and she gives him a magic feather once he releases her. Later, Prince Ivan, his bride-to-be, and his court are cursed by a wizard and beset by monsters. All of this is danced by backdrops done by Marc Chagall, proving a mythical and somewhat ominous presence. And then, of course, there’s the music by Igor Stravinsky.
Ashley Bouder played the Firebird with great energy (I could hear her pants from row D), but I found her pas de deux with Prince Ivan uneven, and I think that’s because of her choice in partnering. As Prince Ivan, Jonathan Stafford had a moment where it looked as if he were dragging the Firebird across the stage like a sack of potatoes and then he nicked poor Ashley’s knees on the stage at a different time. I don’t think these were planned moments of the Firebird choreography.
Once the monsters come flying at Prince Ivan like leeches in their lime green leotards, Firebird becomes a very different ballet. I truly love the monsters in their misshapen foam costumes with strange bloatings and protuberances, yet moving with such grace (as there is a dancer or two beneath each of those Chagall-inspired costumes). The beautiful movement and ugliness tied together makes for a wonderful combination.
When the Firebird returns to save Prince Ivan and his court, all eyes were on Bouder, especially when she turned her back to the audience and displayed physique and movement that reminded me of heat lightning. For a moment, she really did look like a phoenix rising.