The Firebird painting featuring Prince Ivan, Princess Tsarevna, and The Firebird. Artist Unknown.
The Firebird ballet has a long and rich history spanning nearly a century. The original production was conceived in 1910 by Serge Diaghilev, Michel Fokine, and Igor Stravinsky from the Ballets Russes. The ballet’s obscurity and popularity has led to numerous productions and reproductions throughout the years. In February, made possible with a generous gift by Barbara and Donald Ottosen, Ballet Arizona will present a new version of The Firebird. Conceptualized and choreographed by Artistic Director Ib Andersen, this ballet will preserve the original fairy tale story but recasts the production in a post-21st Century world.
To understand and enjoy our upcoming production of The Firebird, we have to take a look at the original fairy tale to get a sense of the thematic plotlines and character archetypes. Below, you can read the synopsis of the 1954 Royal Ballet revival of the original production, from George Balanchine and Francis Mason’s book 101 Stories of the Great Ballets.
The curtain rises on the enchanted garden of the sinister Kastchei. A high golden fence protects his golden fruit and the lovely princesses he has captured. The Firebird appears, followed by Prince Ivan. The Firebird attempts to steal the golden apples from Kastchei’s magic tree but Ivan captures her. He vows that he will not let her go unless she gives him one of her feathers. With her feather as the talisman, he is assured of her magic intercession if he should ever need it. The Firebird yields to his entreaties and leaves.
Now in the growing darkness, Ivan learns from the most beautiful of the captive maidens held prisoner by Kastchei how the evil magician entraps innocent travelers and turns them into stone. Ivan is attracted to the lovely creature who tells him this strange story and they dance. At dawn, they kiss and part, the girl warning him not to follow her.
Ivan does not heed the warning. Following after his beloved, he opens the gate to Kastchei’s magic garden and alarms sound, bells peal, and swarms of monsters rush out. Kastchei emerges, his enslaved creatures do him homage, and he approaches Ivan menacingly. The wicked magician tries to turn him to stone but just then Ivan remembers the Firebird’s feather. He waves the feather in Kastchei’s face and the Firebird instantly reappears. She compels Kastchei’s monsters to dance until they collapse. Then, remembering the great egg that holds the soul of the magician, she orders Ivan to steal it. Finding it, Ivan throws the egg into the air. As it falls and breaks, Kastchei dies. Ivan then is free to marry his princess. All at the ceremony rejoice. The Firebird flies away forever.
As with all fairytales, the four basic character archetypes are present in The Firebird’s story: the good magic creature (the Firebird), the bad magic creature (Kastchei), a handsome prince (Prince Ivan), and a beautiful princess (Princess Tsarevna). In Ib Andersen’s production, all of these characters will still be present, but the story will unfold in a futuristic setting alongside a space-age narrative. Featuring celestials, warrior princesses, and alien monsters, Ib Andersen’s The Firebird re-envisions the old-world magic of the original story and presents it in a thrilling and cinematic experience that everyone can enjoy!