The Carolina Ballet reprised its audience favorite, Firebird, in a three-night run in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, using it as the finale of an interesting evening of varied choreography by company artistic director Robert Weiss. Although not billed as a showcase for his talents, the program did give a good idea of Weiss’ creative breadth, and his affinity for a range of music.
The evening opened with A Classical Ballet, set to music by Prokofiev. Made in four movements, it is a pretty piece, going neatly through the typical routines of a non-story classical dance, with an ensemble dance, a pas de deux, a pas de trois for men, and the ensemble again. The first movement, led by Margot Martin and Pablo Javier Perez, looked a little cluttered—the patterns were hard to discern. But it was very interesting to see Perez with Martin for a change. Martin is hardly a large person, but compared to Perez’ frequent partner, Margaret Severin-Hansen, she appears sturdily built. She is a very spirited dancer, and her verve brings out a bolder quality in Perez.
The pas de deux was lovely. It put the delicate Severin-Hansen in the arms of the robust Alain Molina, and gave both her crisp footwork and his gentle strength the attention they deserve. She is so light, and he so solid, that sometimes in the lifts I thought I was seeing a butterfly playing with a bear in some happy alternate world. The pas de trois was not as strongly choreographed, and the men didn’t seem to be quite in tune with each other, although the always-elegant Wei Ni did his best to hold it together. The final ensemble was very nice, with the lead ballerinas being tossed back and forth in amusing switches, and more of the clever mirroring that Weiss has used to such good effect in other works, notably his Grosse Fugue.
The centerpiece of the evening, and the meat of the program, was Weiss’ Symposium, which he premiered in 2004 and which I have been longing to see again since. It still ranks as one of his best choreographies — perhaps the best — and features fabulous design work and lighting by Jeff A.R. Jones and Ross Kolman. It is set to Leonard Bernstein’s beautiful Serenade, and the music, design and dance form an inseparable whole that is deeply satisfying.
The role of Dionysos/Socrates/Alcibiades was danced by Attila Bongar, who gave a rather different but no less powerful interpretation than that of Christopher Rudd, who had originated the role. (Rudd left the Carolina Ballet to join Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.) I tend to think of Bongar more in Apollonian terms than Dionysian, but he can writhe, twist and cavort in true Bacchanalian fashion. Slim as a whippet, he is a very elegant dancer no matter what the movements, and brings a cerebral quality to the stage that was not wasted on this dance, which at its core is at least as thoughtful as it is physical.
Symposium has a wonderful structure, pinned at the center by a duet danced by Melissa Podcasy and Timour Bourtasenkov. Podcasy’s renewal as a dancer allowed this central dance to hold its importance in the whole, and not be overwhelmed by the magnificence of various other scenes. Of those, the “Third Speech,” danced by Margaret Severin-Hansen and Pablo Javier Perez, was especially fine, as was the “Fifth Speech,” which paired Randi Osetek with Bongar. She had been strong in this role in 2004, and was no less so in 2007. Symposium wraps up its cogitations with a spectacular ensemble piece in which strings of dancers wind and unreel, flowing like the everlasting tide of questioning philosophies.
After this great dance, Firebird seemed a little frivolous, although it was interesting to so directly compare that last ensemble from Symposium with the very pretty, large group dances in Firebird. The emotional tone is utterly different, but there are many structural similarities, and it is fascinating to see how this artist can manipulate his basic vocabulary to such divergent effects. It is also a great visual pleasure to take in the stage world designed by Jeff A. R. Jones and lit so well by Ross Kolman—a world in which all are magnificently dressed by David Heuvel.
This was the strongest performance I’d seen of this piece. Lilyan Vigo, on whom the Firebird role was set, has really grown into it. She is far more powerful now than when she first danced it, and the fabulous creature’s magic is thus more believable. Her first solo was exquisite, as was the first duet with the Huntsman/Prince, danced here by Alain Molina. Molina was also wonderful in his courting of the beautiful Princess, the always expressive Hong Yang.
The most riveting performance, though, was by Cyrille de la Barre, as the evil Sorcerer. He can really be scary! Unfortunately, the pivotal scene in which his power is destroyed is still not what is could be, much of its dramatic potential being wasted in the confusion. You don’t feel much for either the Sorcerer’s destruction or the Firebird’s triumph. The final scene, the wedding of the Prince and Princess, is quite glorious, however, and the rising of the Firebird into the rafters is always a grand sight.