[Casa Magazine] Together again, at last!
By Daniel Kepl, Casa Magazine
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It’s been awhile since the Santa Barbara Symphony and State Street Ballet dated. The corsage fro their first foray together in 2011 was Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. This Saturday and Sunday’s boutonniere will be Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird. It’s only the second date, but the two organizations are settling into a productive relationship. New York City-based choreographer William Soleau is in charge of the dance card again, and conductor Nir Kabaretti, the party favors.
Bound to be a sell-out, the happy occasion is part of the Symphony’s regular subscription series, 8pm on Saturday, and 3pm on Sunday, in the Granada Theatre. Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 will be the focal point of the first half of the program, which will also include Debussy’s Danses Sacree et Profane, with harp soloist Michelle Temple. After intermission, State Street Ballet will occupy the stage, while the Symphony adjourns to the orchestra pit, for the world premiere of Soleau’s original choreography to Firebird.
“It’s not every theatre that can have the performance with full orchestra on stage, then the set goes up, the floor gets put down, the orchestra goes into the pit, and we’re watching ballet for the second half of the program,” Soleau gushed. The full-length 1910 ballet is seldom performed today. Instead, Stravinsky’s 1945 concert suite, with a reduced orchestra, and running time of about 30 minutes, is the norm.
During a run through with the dancers at Gustafson Dance Studio recently, the chemistry between Soleau and Kabaretti was evident. Soleau, who has created over 80 new ballets in the course of his career, and Kabaretti, one of a small cadre of conductors equally versed in symphonic, opera, and ballet repertoire, exchanged ideas freely.
“I have such a great rapport with these dances,” Soleau remarked during a rehearsal break. “They’re very good and they hail from all over. The music is a little bit daunting, but also enlightening and challenging for me,” he continued. “Time signatures change throughout, it’s very hard to count for the dancers. When it was first done, this music was something people hadn’t heard before.”
The Firebird story is a conflation of two Russian fairy tales. Prince Ivan, haunting in the forest, sees a magical bird with bright red plumage. After a struggle, he captures the Firebird, who pleads with him to let her go. In gratitude, the Firebird offers Prince Ivan a magical feather, pledging that if ever he is in trouble, he need only wave the feather and she will come to his aid.
Ivan continues his journey, coming upon princesses playing with golden apples in the enchanted garden of the evil Koschei, the deathless. He has put the princesses under a spell, and knights trying to rescue them, have been turned to stone.
The captive princesses warn Ivan not to follow, or he too will be turned to stone. A struggle ensues between Ivan and Koschei’s monsters, but at the last moment Ivan pulls out Firebird’s magic feather and summons her. Firebird causes Koschei’s orgres to dance to exhaustion, but Koschei can’t be killed because his soul isn’t in his body, but in a magical egg. The Firebird helps Ivan destroy the egg, breaking Koschei’s spell. Everybody awakes, Ivan and the fairest princess marry, and everybody lives happily ever after.
“A lot of people refer to The Firebird as the piece that Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky’s teacher, never wrote,” Soleau explained. “The student surpassed the teacher in how it was orchestrated.” Soleau also complimented behind the scenes staff at State Street Ballet, especially constumer Christina Giannini, and the company’s resident costumer, Anaya Cullen. “Christina has been my costumer for over 80 ballets, we go back 35 years,” he said. “Wherever I go, she goes. Without her around, I’m like the emperor, without his clothes: I need her. She’s an incredible artist herself.”
Performances this weekend will be a treat for ballet and symphony audiences alike.