THE EVOLUTION OF STRAVINKSY’S ‘FIREBIRD’

View From The Wing
THE EVOLUTION OF STRAVINKSY’S ‘FIREBIRD’
By Pablo A. Tariman

One’s first glimpse of ‘Firebird’ production at the CCP was way back in 1979 with a new version by Swiss choreographer Armin Wild and set designs by now National Artist for Design Salvador Bernal.

Rita Binder as Firebird. The  Mark Lewis Higgins costume design eclipsed the dancing. Photo by Margie Moran Floirendo.

Rita Binder as Firebird. The Mark Lewis Higgins costume design eclipsed the dancing. Photo by Margie Moran Floirendo.

In the Ballet Philippines press preview recently, all attention was in the jaw-dropping costume design by Mark Lewis Higgins (in collaboration with Slim’s Fashion & Art School) which a seasoned balletomane noted can equal, if not, outshine, the recent American Ballet Theater version featuring the now iconic black ballerina, Misty Copeland in the title role.

In 1979, Edna Vida danced the title role with the Prince Ivan of Nonoy Froilan. What one remembered was the mesmerizing production design which — in one night — had a minor malfunction but it didn’t distract from the fact that it was a well-received performance.

Paul Morales said BP has over 500 ballets in its repertoire and a revival of one production depends on how an audience will connect to the new version.

Ballet Philippines president Margie Moran Floirendo opined the choice for a revival is usually dictated by the level of dancing the company has reached. “We thought ‘Firebird’ will bring out the best in our dancers. We scouted for the most imaginative choreographer and found him in the person of Georgian-American ballet master George Birkadze who had stints with Boston Ballet and earlier, with Bolshoi in Russia.”

Edna Vida and Nonoy Froilan in a 1979 Ballet Philippines production of Firebird. A ballet revival after 37 years. Photo: Rudy Vidad

Edna Vida and Nonoy Froilan in a 1979 Ballet Philippines production of Firebird. A ballet revival after 37 years. Photo: Rudy Vidad

Birkadze – who is now an American citizen – has Russian roots which he says is actually an advantage. “When you are a product of many cultures, you tend to be more imaginative and more conscious of what each culture can contribute. You acquire the American influence but you also keep the Russian tradition. I would say I am the product of the best of many worlds.”

Birkadze said choreographing is a never ending job of creating. “Of course you need the basic knowledge of dance, the dance repertoire and if you are a dancer, you have more to give. You can feel how far a dancer’s body can go because you’ve been a choreographer’s creative material once upon a time. I have my own ideas of what I want but I also closely collaborate with the dancers who interpret your choreographic creation. But to be specific about it, my ‘Firebird’ is an Asian-inspired creature. She is an Oriental bird through and through, not a ballerina’s bird. She was born in my mind with in an Asian perspective.”

Dancers Denise Parungao, Monica Gana and Rita Binder agreed working with Birkadze was a great experience. They are aware of the pressure to give their best but they find inspiration in the choreographer who is very giving. “In this new work, we just can’t be firebirds in description. We have to look it, feel it and move like one. In this ballet, you cannot look like a human being even for a second,” they added.

Denise Parungao as one of the princesses in "Firebird" with choreographer George Birkadze.

Denise Parungao as one of the princesses in “Firebird” with choreographer George Birkadze.

Indeed, this new Firebird has an Asian outlook with a story transported from Russia to Asia. He noted earlier that the firebird myth exists not only in Russia. “In China, the bird is called the phoenix; in India it’s the peacock; in the Philippines it’s called the Sarimanok. The story of the Philippine folk legend is similar to, and older than, the Russian version.”

The distinguished Firebirds in ballet history are Tamara Karsavina (1910, Paris), Maria Tallchief (1949 New York City Ballet), Margot Fonteyn (1954, London) and Gelsey Kirkland (1970, New York City Ballet).

The British ‘Firebird’ – Dame Margot Fonteyn – was a frequent Manila visitor and was last seen at the CCP in the company of Rudolf Nureyev and Nonoy Froilan in the 70s.

Costume designer Mark Lewis Higgins and George Birkadze with Ballet Philippines dance ensemble.

Costume designer Mark Lewis Higgins and George Birkadze with Ballet Philippines dance ensemble.

The title role in the 1910 Paris production was first offered to ballet legend Anna Pavlova (she danced in Manila in the 1920s) but she found the Stravinsky music incomprehensible and declined it.

Firebird and Other Ballets which will run at the CCP main theater August 19 to 21, 2016 — will also feature “Nenelehdej” by Spanish choreographer David Campos, Dwight Rodrigazo’s “Moving Two”, and Carlo Pacis’ “Shifting Weight.”

For tickets, call TicketWorld at 8919999.

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