One of the most intriguing aspects of ballet is the dancers' ability to tell a story without ever uttering a word. Tonight at Charleston Music Hall, Charleston City Ballet gave a performance of Stravinsky's "Firebird" that was visually beautiful but unable to fully capture the strength and radiance that is the soul of this classic Russian fairy tale.
"Firebird" is the mythical story of Prince Ivan and the kindness he shows an unusual creature. After capturing the Firebird (Darli Iakovleva) while wandering in the garden in the realm of Koschei the Immortal, Prince Ivan (Anton Iakovlev) sets her free. The Firebird then promises Prince Ivan she will help him in his greatest time of need. Prince Ivan falls in love with a princess (Caroline Douglas Herlong) who he must free from Koschei's rule, and he calls on the Firebird for help, who is there the moment he finds himself in danger opposite Evil Warlock Koschei (Tevfik Vatansever).
There were some beautiful aspects to this production. The costumes, designed by June Palmer, were bright and shimmery. The princess shone as she spun in the arms of her prince, and the vibrant Firebird sparkled in her glittery, fiery-red tutu. The evil minions creepily skulked on stage, and their black, raggedy costumes dragged the floor as they crawled. It was quite the spectacle to behold against a background of trees that gradually changed from deep blues to flaming reds.
The dancers presented characters with emotion that translated into movement. Vatansever was the strongest; as he landed each leap with power, the evilness of his character was palpable. Herlong had a gracefulness and delicacy about her that made her a lovely princess, and it was hard to take your eyes off of Iakovleva, who beautifully embodied the movements of a bird. Iakovlev, however, did not radiate the fear of a prince caught in the underworld, or the strength of a lover.
When the dancers shared moments together, the true essence of "Firebird" failed to show through. There was a lack of energy; instead of strong moments of passion and chemistry, there was simply lovely dancing. This doesn't take away from the ballet experience as much as it does the story. The performances were good, they just didn't have quite the urgency, fear and intense love that a person might expect from a dark Russian story about a damsel in distress and the prince whose compassion for a bird saves he and his lover from death.
"Firebird" makes for an enjoyable evening, mostly because it is visually splendid. The dancers had some beautiful moments, and for anyone who appreciates classical ballet, it is worth a trip to see the debut performance of the Charleston City Ballet.
Melanie Lustig is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.