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 are first going to take a look at the original fairy tale to get a sense of the thematic plot-lines 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). So now let’s take a look at Ib Andersen’s futuristic production of The Firebird:
In a remote place, the Prince and his crew explore a strange and mysterious object. The men are captivated and intrigued by its existence. Energy and light begin to escape from the object, and an alien starts to materialize before them. The men, astounded by such a wondrous creature, attempt to capture her. Powerless against the group, the alien submits to their strength. The Prince, realizing her distress, helps revive her and allows her to regain strength. Fully restored, the alien leads the Prince away from his crew, transporting him to the world of the Immortal Kastchei and taking him one step closer to his destiny. In gratitude, she bestows upon him a gift – a magic crystal – that will call for her assistance should he ever need it. The alien then disappears, leaving the Prince to wander alone.
Kastchei’s prisoners, the Princess and her tribe of warrior princesses, gather together for their daily recreation time under the supervision of Kastchei’s High Ranking Generals. While the women play, the High Ranking Generals fall asleep, leaving them unwatched. At this moment, the Prince suddenly stumbles into the group. As if drawn together by fate, the Prince and the Princess dance together and declare their love for each other. Lost in their own world, the two fall asleep in each other’s embrace. The group awakens and the High Ranking Generals discover the Prince and the Princess together. They rip them apart, seize the Prince and prepare to deliver him to Kastchei.
Kastchei arrives with a horde of his monsters, people he has captured and enslaved who have lost their humanity under his spell. He is angered by the Prince’s actions and attempts to destroy him. The princesses beg for Kastchei’s mercy to no avail. The Prince suddenly remembers his gift from the alien and uses it to call for her presence. At the last moment, she appears. Using her energetic powers, she forces everyone to dance wildly, draining them of their will and controlling them until they collapse. Instead, the alien forces the High Ranking Generals to destroy Kastchei and tear him apart. With Kastchei’s death, his evil spell is broken and the land is once again free. Their destinies fulfilled, the Prince and the Princess are crowned and all at the ceremony rejoice.