Dance Review: 'Firebird' burns bright at Barclay

World premiere of Josie Walsh's 'Texture of Time' follows staging of Stravinsky classic.

October 15, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Michelle Lemburg, as the firebird, flies through a forest of monsters in "Firebird" at Irvine Barclay Theatre.
Michelle Lemburg, as the firebird, flies through a forest… (Dave Friedman )

Saturday night at the Irvine Barclay Theatre began with haunting tunes, puffs of smoke and a giant egg.

If the semi-filled venue contained audience members who took their seats expecting a simple boy-meets-girl story, their expectations were fulfilled — said duo fell in love. But the tale was anything but benign.

"Firebird," a romantic story ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky, opened in an enchanted forest, its beauty marred by the presence of Kaschei, the ruler of demons and devils, and his sidekicks — ominously dressed in leotards, some red and others purple, with green claws.

The movements, a mixture of classical ballet steps and yoga-type poses, communicated dark emotions and twisted ideas. And even though the dancers' faces were hidden by costumes, there was no doubt that they portrayed evil.

Prince Ivan, clad in a white shirt and maroon leggings and representative of all things positive, encountered the firebird, radiant in hues of red, orange and yellow. After trying to capture the half-bird, half-girl, during which pirouettes and fouettés abounded, he set her free and, in return, received a magical red plume.


With an apple tree and a wooden chest in the background, the scene then became a playground for a bevy of princesses in white dresses. A gold crown differentiated Ivan's inamorata, Vasilisa, from her comrades, whose tresses were decorated with flowers.

The choreography, which by turns demonstrated whimsical fun, a burgeoning romance, horror and the face-off between good and bad, is part of Nikolai Kabaniaev's legacy. The Walnut Creek-based dancer drew inspiration from Michel Fokine and infused the 50-minute show, which Diaghilev's Ballets Russes premiered in Paris in 1910, with characteristic flair.

After first producing the show in 2010, he spent time in Fountain Valley again this summer, restaging "Firebird," in which the magical creature frees Ivan from the monsters' grasp by bewitching and lulling them into an eternal sleep. The fair-natured hero then eliminates the scaly-collared Kastchei's soul, contained in a fantastical egg.

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