St. Paul company choreographs updated version of Stravinsky ballet.
Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird, first performed in 1910 by the newly formed Ballets Russes, has been reimagined by Ballet Co.Laboratory for its season finale on May 20-22 in Concordia University-Saint Paul’s E.M. Pearson Theatre.
The ballet is based on a Russian folktale about a mythical creature with magical feathers. Ballet Co.Laboratory’s retelling features new choreography, scenery and costumes. The parts will be danced by members of the professional company along with upper-level students of the School of the Ballet Co.Laboratory. The school’s younger students will appear in a prologue created especially for them.
The ballet teaches lessons about kindness and strength, according to Ballet Co.Laboratory artistic director Zoe Emile Henrot, a resident of Highland Park. As the story goes, the Firebird meets a prince who is hunting in the forest. The prince spares her life, and she gives him one of her feathers. When an evil wizard and his monsters threaten the prince, he summons the Firebird, who defeats the wizard and frees 13 princesses that he had captured.
Henrot said that in light of the war in Ukraine, she and her staff discussed The Firebird’s Russian heritage before moving forward with the ballet. One of the company’s dancers is a native of Ukraine, and she told the staff, “‘Art is art, and we need to understand that it can continue to have a life and breathe in a reimagined way with new choreography and dancing,’” Henrot said.
Ballet Co.Laboratory’s Firebird is choreographed by Flavia Garcia, a guest instructor at the school. “Flavia’s choreography is much more dynamic in jumps, lifts and turns than the original ballet,” Henrot said. “The pointe shoe and other technical aspects of ballet have evolved a lot since the early 1900s, so dancers are able to do more with the choreography.”
More colorful costumes.
Henrot worked with the company’s costumers in designing the attire for Firebird. “We’re taking inspiration from historical costuming, but adding more color,” she said. “The princesses are traditionally in all white to symbolize virginity. In our production, they will be in sky blue and other slightly different hues of blue to showcase a little more individuality.
“Similarly, the monsters are traditionally in all black with masks over their faces,” Henrot said. “We’re giving them some green accents and dynamic headpieces so that they still have a human quality. Additionally, some roles that were traditionally played by men will be danced by women in more gender-neutral costumes. Lastly, the Firebird costume is not a traditional tutu but more of a cross between a classical and a romantic tutu with asymmetrical lines that make the skirt look like flames as the Firebird jumps and turns.”
For the prologue, “we tried to connect the costumes of the young princesses and the young prince to the costumes of the adult versions of those characters,” Henrot said. “Same thing for the young Firebird. I incorporated a lot of color in the prologue costumes to really bring the story to life.”
Ballet Co.Laboratory managing director Rachel Koep thinks the prologue is especially important for younger audience members. “The prologue explains who the Firebird is while she’s growing up,” she said. “How she’s one of a kind. How she doesn’t have anyone who looks or thinks like her. She aligns herself with a family of swans so she has companionship, but she still doesn’t feel as though she belongs and flees to find herself.”
‘There are no small parts.’
Genevieve Kampa, a Highland Park resident and Central High School senior, will be among the upper-level students performing in Firebird. The experience, she said, “has given students and company members an opportunity to get to know each other better and bond over what we all love about ballet. Students are constantly looking up to company members, and it gives us a chance to watch them dance in closer proximity and learn from them. It’s inspired me and made me want to work harder.”
“I believe it’s integral to include students in professional performances,” said Rosa Prigan, a company member and teaching artist at Ballet Co.Laboratory. “It gives students the feeling they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and that gives them ownership over what they’re doing.”
Prigan, who lives in Ramsey Hill, will be dancing the part of a princess. “As a professional now, it reminds me that there are no small parts,” she said. “Everyone on stage is important to telling the story in a transformative way.”
Firebird will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 20-22, in E.M. Pearson Theatre, 312 N. Hamline Ave. Audience members are being asked to wear a mask. Tickets are $35, $25 for students and seniors. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to a dance organization in Ukraine. For reservations, visit balletcolaboratory.org.
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