Dance review: Misty Copeland and new dancers in ABT’s ‘Firebird’


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Igor Stravinsky’s sensational “Firebird” ballet demands a vivid design, and Simon Pastukh’s scorched, metallic forest (ignited by Wendell Harrington’s projections), along with Galina Solovyeva’s haute-goth costumes, deliver a strong pop vision to Alexei Ratmansky’s new ballet for American Ballet Theatre. But on opening weekend at the Segerstrom Center, a number of ABT’s world-class dancers mixed poorly with the costumes and struggled with their mechanics. Performances varied a lot, and backstage tinkerings (the princesses’ wigs came and went) were ongoing.

In the first and third cast, neither Firebird transformed beyond human form, though the previously reviewed Natalia Osipova and Isabella Boylston both danced bravely. But Boylston -- struggling for the right balance of attack -- came off like a curious, Gaga-esque guest. As the Prince with Boylston, Alexandre Hammoudi was regal and somewhat stiff.


Ratmansky’s revised storyline and forward-backward movement idiom finally emerged clearly with second cast leads Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo, a hypnotizing pair. Cornejo masterfully sustained tension and contained his energy, thus giving even more force to Copeland’s abandoned, creaturely performance. With them, the audience’s standing ovation was absolutely spontaneous. Too bad Ratmansky wasn’t onstage that night, for he deserved it too.

In limiting the Firebird’s number of pas de deux with the Prince (she’s part of a flock in the opening and a pas de quatre member in the final lullaby), this ballet finally offered a cohesive bird that does not just resolve into an unattainable red-hot shadow of the Maiden. Thus the Maiden alone stood for romance, and ABT’s trove of soloists -- Simone Messmer (first cast), Maria Riccetto (second) and Kristi Boone (third) -- excelled here.

Rightfully, the Firebird’s real match is Kaschei, a bravura, scenery-chewing role for Roman Zhurbin (second and third casts). A terrfic addition to his nasty domineering -- a spewed puff of smoke to seal the Prince’s momentary frog spell -- was added over the weekend. RELATED:

Alexei Ratmansky aims to transform ‘Firebird’

American Ballet Theatre’s ‘Firebird’ looks to Misty Copeland

Dance review: American Ballet Theatre premieres ‘Firebird’ in O.C.


-- Jean Lenihan