From Sept. 11th to 28th, the Carolina Ballet offered three balletic jewels to enraptured audiences in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh, NC. Few realize the true gem Raleigh has under Robert Weiss’ artistic direction. With 17 years at the helm of the Carolina Ballet, one would believe that he would be slowing down and relying on tried-and-true performances; but instead, he continues to present creative and artistic ballets that thrill even the most veteran ballet patrons. On Sunday, Sept. 28th, one of the last performances of this year’s Firebird graced the stage with two additional ballets, all of which sparkled with ingenuity and interdisciplinary connections to other creative arts.
The performance opened with a ballet choreographed to Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 3, the last of Brahms’ sonatas for the violin and composed somewhere in the latter decade of the 1800s. In Robert Weiss’ introduction, he called the work “intimate,” and mentioned that the groups of ballet dancers, who arrive on stage in duos or trios, with one group of six, could be seen as families or lovers. Dressed in muted brown shades, they evoke the voices of the violin and piano as they speak to each other in the intimacy that only two instruments can provide. To choreograph to such music takes both an intricacy in dance as well as in setting, costume, and lighting. The low, warm lighting used on stage gives a shape and contrast, as well as shadows to the dancer, yet it is not a heavy, sinister shadow but, instead, a romantic, soft shadow that serves to soften the dancers’ lines.
The dancers’ are well-paired and strong with six dancers garnering the majority of time on stage: Jan Burkhard, Yevgeny Shlapko, Alicia Fabry, Oliver Beres, and Rammaru Shindo. Six company dancers comprise the supporting troupe to accentuate the emotions that the principals reveal as they move in small groups in and out of the wings. The timing of the sonata, its swells and recessions, is perfectly coordinated with the ballet’s movements. When the last dancer left the stage, sighs of “lovely” echoed throughout the small hall.
After a short intermission, the audience was treated to the second artistic piece, Les Saltimbanques, based on Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in C. Weiss’ interpretation of this ballet was to use the structure of Pas de Trois, Pas de Deux, Pax de Quatre, and Pas de Huit, to mimic street entertainers (jugglers, fire eaters, dancers, mimes) who would come out in small groups to perform (mimicking the aforementioned entertainment in dance). Their costumes, designed by Kerri L. Martinsen, were inspired by the colors in Piet Mondrian’s paintings: bright primary colors worked in an abstract that resembles that which might be portrayed in paintings of Harlequins.
Another intermission, and the jewel of the performance moved onstage. Firebird is the well-loved Russian tale of the evil sorcerer Kastchei (Oliver Beres), who hides the egg containing his immortal soul in an enchanted forest. Little does he know that the handsome Prince Ivan (Richard Krusch) finds himself in the same forest as he hunts. He, however, finds a very different prey than the sorcerer. A beautiful Firebird (played exquisitely by Margaret Severin-Hansen) appears and spellbinds the prince with her beauty. He captures her, but realizes owning such a beautiful thing would be a great sin, so he releases her. Grateful to be released, she gives him a magic feather, indicating that if he is ever in trouble, all he must do is wave the feather and she will rescue him.
During the Firebird’s solo, Severin-Hansen appears to actually become the bird. Her extensions are phenomenal. With her hands, she mimics feather movements; and her fingers almost appear to grow in length. She embodies the passion and magic of the firebird with an intensity resembling the brilliance of a Fabergé egg. Each movement is tight and explicit, gorgeous in its completion. Though Krusch partners her well, there are a couple of times during his dance with her, as well as his partnering with Princess Katarina (Lara O’Brien), that he stumbles and does not catch his partners as well as he should.
Once Prince Ivan recovers from his amazing meeting with the Firebird, he finds the sorceror’s castle and spies on princesses dancing under the spell of Kastchei. The Princess Katarina and he fall in love; but when darkness falls, the princesses warn him to leave or he will be turned into a monster as have the other men who have attempted to rescue them. When the monsters and Kastchei attack and fight the young prince, he realizes that he is about to lose the battle; but he has one last weapon: the Firebird’s feather. He summons her; she appears and bewitches the sorcerer and his monsters; and in the frenetic dance, a bewitched fox smashes the egg that holds Kastchei’s immortal soul, causing him to age and die. The princess and princes (monsters) are released from the spell Prince Ivan and Princess Katrina marry in an elaborate wedding ceremony, and everyone lives happily ever after.
The setting pieces slide in and out like a Rubens tapestry created of jewel-like tones; and as stated previously, the ballet itself — its dancers, setting, costumes — is as precious as a Russian egg made of emeralds and rubies. But the star of this piece is truly Margaret Severin-Hansen, who flames onstage as the Firebird. If no one else were to dance during this ballet, it would have been a treat to simply watch her.
The Carolina Ballet’s next performance will feature Dracula from Oct. 9th to 26th, just in time for the Halloween season.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 17th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Karishma B. Desai (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/firebird-returns-to-carolina-ballet-as-a-sizzling-season-opener/Content?oid=4249288; Sept. 12th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Denise Cerniglia: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/09/two-choreographers-complement-and-contrast-at-carolina-ballets-firebird/; and Sept. 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer interview with Carolina Ballet choreographer-in-residence Zalman Raffael, conducted by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/09/06/4127487_carolina-ballet-has-a-new-choreographer.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 12th Triangle Review review by Viki Atkinson, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/09/carolina-ballets-production-of-the-firebird-was-very-pleasing-to-watch-and-very-beautifully-danced/.)
FIREBIRD (Carolina Ballet, Sept. 11-14, 20, 21, 27, and 28 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, NC).
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/firebird, https://www.facebook.com/events/252349351555421/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/firebird-newweiss-newraffael-3793.
2014-15 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2014-2015-season and https://www.facebook.com/events/719972874726696/.
PRESENTER: https://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/CarolinaBallet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
The Firebird (1910 ballet): http://www.fondation-igor-stravinsky.org/web/ (The Stravinsky Foundation) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Firebird (Wikipedia).
Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer, 1882-1971): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igor_Stravinsky (Wikipedia).
Zalman Raffael (Carolina Ballet choreographer-in-residence): https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/dancers-entry/zalman-raffael (Carolina Ballet bio).
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet artistic director): https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
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Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.