The Charleston City Ballet, a startup professional company that hopes to plant roots in the Lowcountry, is presenting its first production during Piccolo Spoleto Festival: Stravinsky's "Firebird."
If you go
WHAT: Charleston City Ballet's "Firebird"
WHEN: 7 p.m. today, Wed.
WHERE: Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St.
COST: $28 premium, $26 general admission, $15 children
MORE INFO: piccolospoleto.com, (866) 811-4111
It's a classic work based on a fantastical Russian love story.
Michael Wise is artistic director of Charleston City Ballet; his wife Olga, a native of Moscow is assistant director. Both have danced internationally. In 2011, they inherited the Robert Ivey Ballet school from its founder and namesake, who died earlier that year. Wise has taught ballet for over 20 years.
"I am from Charleston, I grew up in this area so I tend to understand what is expected from the locals," Wise said. "At the same time, I was the only American dancer to work in a major Soviet ballet company, so when we came back, we tried to have one foot in one door, and another foot in the large professional ballet world."
"The Firebird," produced in 1910 in collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev for Ballets Russes, made the young Stravinsky a superstar. What was once considered avant-garde now is a classic.
"Very few people go back and do the full-length classic ballet version," Wise said. "We want people to see what it was supposed to be like, originally."
The selection of "Firebird" is a result of the artistic ambitions of the company, whose website welcomes visitors with the slogan, "We are classical ballet." These changes have helped lure several professional dancers who will be part of the production. Husband and wife Darli and Anton Iakovlena will perform Prince Ivan and the mystical Firebird.
"This is one of those performances where if you don't have the proper kind of performers it will fall flat on its face," Wise said. "All of these dancers wanted to come work with us because of the artistic direction and the way things are going. They wanted to come do this as well as we wanted them to."
The production will employ recorded music, but collaboration with local musicians is among the new company's goals. Costumes and sets are being made locally.
"The creative juices flow equally for all of us, and at this point art organizations will have to collaborate to survive," Wise said.
Costume designer June Palmer has worked with the company since its days as Robert Ivey Ballet, under the leadership of Ivey. Palmer was one of Ivey's closest friends and her work is familiar to anyone who attended an Ivey show.
Charleston's ballet scene has changed radically in recent years. Charleston Ballet Theatre ceased operating after organizational troubles, spooking potential ballet donors and board members. Other groups that specialize in contemporary dance, such as Annex Dance and Dancefx Charleston, have garnered more attention.
Wise said he will insist on transparency, cooperation and collaboration in an effort to put the new company on sound footing.
"When a strong arts organization goes under, there is a wave, and you have to wait until the water calms down before you can move forward again," Wise said. "We are trying to do it the right way so that we have the right individuals within the city knowing how we do things and how to approach them. To run a successful ballet company it takes a lot of vision and the ability to (offer) input and to listen."
Alejandra Acuna is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.