The recently established Charleston City Ballet under the artistic direction of Michael and Olga Wise presented the ballet classic "The Firebird" at the Charleston Music Hall Tuesday, under the auspices of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Another performance is scheduled for tonight.
Igor Stravinsky composed the score for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1910 to much acclaim and instant success, the ballet has been a mainstay in classical repertory since that time, so for a fledgling company to undertake this is a noble task. However manageable the production seemed, thanks in part to the support of three talented principal dancers, it did not insure the company's immediate success.
The Russian fairytale begins with the introduction of Prince Ivan, danced by Russian-born Anton Iakovlev, who happens upon a beautiful and mythic Firebird, danced by his lovely wife and Darli Iakovleva. The Prince chases and catches the Firebird who begs for her escape by promising assistance in time of trouble, which comes in due course from the evil Warlock Koshei, danced by Tevfik Vatansever, one of the production's strongest performers.
Ivan finds a princess along the way, beautifully danced by South Carolinian Caroline Douglas Herlong, and their union, though thwarted by Koschei, is realized at the end.
Choreographed by the Wises, the production emphasizes the strengths of the cast but doesn't altogether feel fresh.
In the first act, the character of Prince Ivan falls dramatically flat with empty pantomimic pauses as he looks off into the distance. Though he is at times unsteady in his turns and landings, Iakovlev is a solid partner in both the Firebird and Princess duets.
Iakovleva's portrayal of the Firebird is elegant and delicate, with moments of extraordinary lines and birdlike quickness. Her intensity serves the role well, and in the more dynamic second act, she expertly moves the action forward through the exciting sequence where she saves Ivan and his Princess and brings an end to the villain.
Herlong's Princess is a standout, and her emotional depiction is graceful and confident, and she is radiant in her duet with the Prince, exhibiting strong point work and an expressive upper body. She is supported by 12 other princesses who are lovely young dancers serving as an adequate corps de ballet.
Vatansever's rendition of the evil magician commands the stage with intense focus and energy and enough drama to bring the production to a close.
Charleston City Ballet presented a manageable rendition of this classical production with costumes and lighting to support the timeless tale, but there is much work cut out for them as they forge a new presence in a town that expects a great deal from its cultural organizations.
Eliza Ingle has taught and written about dance in Charleston for 20 years.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story has been clarified to reflect that choreography was by Michael and Olga Wise.