Let’s close National Endowment for the Arts day with one of my favorite ballets. I saw Firebird for the first time in Saratoga during the Stravinsky festival when Balanchine was still choreographer for the NYCB. The sets and costumes were by Marc Chagall. But all that went over my head because I was young. The Balanchine/Robbins version is not available on YouTube. But there are nice Russian alternatives styled after the choreography of Fokine.
The basic story is Prince Ivan is hunting in the woods when he spots the firebird. He captures her and is about to kill her when she offers him a magic feather in exchange for her life. She will come to his aid when ever the prince summons her with the feather. So, he lets her go. The prince goes on to fall in love with one of 12 princesses held captive by the sorcerer Kastchei. Determined to free her, the prince uses the feather to summon the firebird. She uses her magical frenetic energy to make Kastchei’s demon horde do an infernal dance. They dance themselves into a frenzy until finally the firebird makes them all fall asleep with exhaustion. As she keeps them asleep with her magic, the prince finds the box where Kastchei’s soul is hidden inside of an egg. He breaks the egg and releases the princesses from the spell. The firebird shimmers one last time and flies away. The last scene features Stravinsky’s joyous wedding music. The firebird doesn’t attend the wedding. She’s a feral magical creature who has no time or interest in weddings.
In the piece below, the incomparable Diana Vishneva, dances the firebird. I love how with a flick of her wrists she shows how the firebird uses all of her energy to suppress the urge to fly away in order to put the demons to sleep and keep her promise to the prince. The infernal dance of the demons is followed by a soft and dreamy lullaby.
Sweet dreams everyone.
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