‘The Firebird’ soars into O.C.

Misty Copeland, a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, and her fellow dance crew members practice Wednesday for their world premiere of "The Firebird" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
(SCOTT SMELTZER, HB Independent)

The most beautiful bird in the world is flying into Costa Mesa.

The American Ballet Theatre’s world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s all-new production of “The Firebird” takes off at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on Thursday night and flies through the weekend.

ABT has performed at the center more than any other company, center officials said. Its “Firebird” premiere was commissioned in honor of the center’s 25th anniversary season.

The one-act ballet, based on a Russian fairy tale, incorporates the entire (and daunting) 102-year-old Igor Stravinsky score, and features scenery by Simon Pastukh and costumes by Galina Solovyeva.

To date, this is the fourth version of “The Firebird” staged by the New York-based ABT. It was Stravinsky’s first ballet score, and had its own premiere in 1910 in Paris set to choreography by Michel Fokine.

A version entered the Metropolitan Opera House in New York’s ballet repertoire with a 1945 production choreographed by Adolph Bolm; it was noted for its Marc Chagall-created costumes and scenery.

ABT premiered a production choreographed by Michel Fokine in 1977 in Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; a revival of the Fokine production opened in 1992.

Ratmansky, a former Bolshoi artistic director who was named ABT’s Artist in Residence in 2009, choreographed a different production of “The Firebird” for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2002; this version will mark his fifth work for ABT.

“The Firebird” tells the story of the heroic Prince Ivan, who catches the mythical Firebird in the supernatural land of Kashchei the Immortal, an evil sorcerer. The Firebird agrees to help Prince Ivan in exchange for its freedom. After encountering 13 damsels, Ivan falls in love with one and asks Kashchei for her hand.

In the usual depiction, an enraged Kashchei sends a bevy of monsters to attack him. The Firebird intervenes and bewitches the creatures into dancing the famous Infernal Dance before falling asleep. The Firebird later makes Kashchei dance and tells Ivan how to kill him, by breaking a huge egg. Ivan kills Kashchei, and the magical land returns to normal, followed by celebration.

But Ratmansky has opted to make the damsels into the monsters in this interpretation, having them literally enthralled by Kashchei.


Local ties

In addition to the world premiere, locals are thrilled that one of their own will come home to visit from the big city.

Eighteen-year-old Jamie Kopit, a student for 12 years at Salwa Rizkalla’s Southland Ballet Academy and who performed with its sister Festival Ballet Theatre in Fountain Valley, will perform in ABT’s corps during its world premiere of “The Firebird.”

“It’s such an honor to have one of my former students come back and perform here,” Rizkalla said.

Kopit, of Fountain Valley, won the Grand Prix award at the Youth America Grand Prix’s Los Angeles regional competition in 2009. She went from there to the international finals in New York City, Rizkalla said, and won a year-long scholarship at the Royal Ballet School in London.

She was hired as an apprentice by ABT in April 2011, and was promoted to the corps de ballet just six months later. She already has traveled to Japan and Oman with the company.


A lasting legacy

Founded in 1940 and now under the leadership of Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, ABT is one of the top names in dance, nationally and around the world. It has performed in 42 countries and all 50 states. An act of Congress in 2006 gave ABT the moniker of America’s National Ballet Company.

“The Firebird” will be joined by a selection of other short ballets, including the West Coast premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Thirteen Diversions” and the Segerstrom Center premiere of Merce Cunningham’s “Duets.”

Members from the Pacific Symphony will perform the “Firebird” and “Thirteen Diversions.”

In addition, free preview talks will be held one hour prior to every performance.

For more information, call (714) 556-2787 or visit

If You Go

What: American Ballet Theatre’s “Firebird”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $16 and up

Information: (714) 556-2787 or