A Futuristic Dance With The Past

Eugene Ballet’s Firebird is A haunting blend of Russian folklore

I love life’s little synchronicities, like how a man named Igor created one of the most recognizably creepy compositions in music history. 

In a dystopian twist, Eugene Ballet rounded out its 2018-19 season with Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird along with a sprinkling of other notable ballets at the Hult Center April 13 and 14, packing in Eugene’s best-dressed patrons of the arts. Ballet always brings out the curling irons and decorative scarves.   

The evening opened with Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s Italian Suite, a romantic ballet choreographed by Gerald Arpino.

The earthy and light costumes of Shaunna Durham and Carol Vollet Garner resemble a kind of dusty rose eye shadow palette — pinks and warm browns leaping and flowing together like spring blossoms. Each act plays with the number of dancers, from a quiet duet to a semi-racy third-wheel duet, a solo with a shadowy bouquet of flowers and a harmonious corps de ballet.  

The second performance took on a whole different vibe with the Spanish rhythms of Maurice Ravel’s hypnotically repetitive Bolero. With choreography and costumes by Toni Pimble, Bolero is industrious, bold and vibrant as it climbs towards its symbol-crashing climax.

Principal dancers Danielle Tolmie and Mark Tucker are almost robotic in their early, punctuated movements. As the music grows, so does the range of motion and exhibition.

By the end, the stage is on fire with red flowing skirts, wide circling arms and a bit of head-grabbing madness.

It’s rumored that Ravel was experiencing the beginnings of dementia when he wrote the repeating and mechanical composition of Bolero.   

Finally, Eugene Ballet’s performance of The Firebird, choreographed by Suzanne Haag and accompanied by Brian McWhorter and OrchestraNext, is a modern, allegorical adaptation of Stravinsky’s haunting blend of Russian folklore.

The foreboding intro is brilliantly played out on stage with a smoky entrance of two lovers, Hero (Colton West) and Love (Vivien Farrell), carefully and watchfully dancing through the fog. Bare-branched trees on wheeled platforms and tattered gray (but utterly flawless) costumes exhibit a refined dystopian landscape — not enough destruction for my definition of a post-apocalyptic society, but hey, it’s ballet.

From there, Love is captured by Fear (Mark Tucker) and his aptly named minions, Us, thus beginning Hero’s Spenserian quest.  

In more-traditional productions, the character of the Firebird is played by a single dancer, but Eugene Ballet incorporates three dancers (Yuki Beppu, Hirofume Kitazume and Yamil Maldonado) into the role of the mythical, feathered bird. 

Like a phoenix, the trio moves as both separate entities and one being, each representing a different part of the bird. The result is a stunning whirlwind of red, orange and yellow fluttering feathers (costume design by Susan Roemer).  

While Tucker is a perfect villain, doing his best Nosferatu impersonation — strong and domineering in both movement and stature — the Us dancers are especially entertaining to watch. They are utterly hypnotized by Fear, swaying and reaching in rhythm like zombies.  Even when the spell is broken by Love and her fancy glowing orbs, the dancers still follow along like sheep, leaving me to wonder if there is any real liberation in the end. The future still seems bleak despite the turn in tone.  

Don’t let the word “dystopian” fool you, the ballet’s futuristic adaptation of The Firebird is wholly rooted in tradition. The deliberately allegorical storytelling creates a circle back to the past that remains true to Russian folklore. While undeniably beautiful, and thoughtful in its interpretation, I wish Eugene Ballet would have taken a few more creative liberties in their execution.

It’s still curling irons and play it safe scarves. 

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