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National Ballet of Canada

‘The Firebird’ and ‘The Four Seasons’

Satisfying sweeth tooth and soul!

by Michael Goldbarth

November 2003 -- The Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto

Diabetics, Atkins’ dieters, and Dr. Bernstein be forewarned - Kudelka’s “Firebird” overwhelms the orbs in glowing greens, golds and reds. So unmercifully sweet is this ballet, your mind’s eye will runneth over pink with swirls and swirls of cream soda flavored cotton candy! It truly was a miracle the Hummingbird Centre didn’t erupt from a massive hernia of macaroons!

If you can stomach all-you-can-see buffet musicals (“The Lion King” comes to mind), you will pig out over Kudelka’s “Firebird.” If you love watching dancers dance, you’ll probably wish you had viewed a twin bill of the “The Four Seasons” — Thankfully it was on the program. “The Four Seasons” stays with you: on the way home; in your dreams; those quiet moments during the day when you have time to reflect. “The Firebird” plays in the cinemas of your soul as brief as a one-night stand and/or formula Hollywood movie with a number tacked on the end of it.

”The Four Seasons” gives you everything you want in a ballet: emotion, brilliant dancing, movement that needs no words. Kudelka’s “Firebird” gives you everything you don’t want in a ballet: no emotion, stupid dancing, movement starving for words. You don’t have to read the souvenir program to understand “The Four Seasons.” The program is a must read to decode the plot behind “The Firebird.” “Four Seasons” serves up a full course meal. Kudelka teaches us the cruel humour of life. No matter how fast you dance, none of us will escape the grim reaper. “The Firebird” serves up little more than dessert. Kudelka teaches us nothing.

”The Four Seasons” would be pure genius if Mr. K. possessed the imagination to have a couple dance through the Four Seasons of life rather than featuring a man in the prominent role — yet again. That little twist would have made his “Four Seasons” a true “classic.” A woman dancing through the Four Seasons of life would be too much to hope for given Mr. K’s obsession with providing more stage time to the men in his company. Quite laughable when you consider how woefully weak the National Ballet of Canada is testosterone-wise with the departure of Johan Persson to the Royal Ballet.

Though nowhere mentioned in the program, “The Four Seasons” first premiered in 1975, choreographed by Flemming Flindt. The costumes by Carmen Alie and Denis Lavoie were down-to-earth cool. The marriage of Antonio Vivaldi’s music to movement was pure genius. The lighting could have been exploited to more dramatic effect. The dancing was everything you could hope for: inspired, fresh and giving.

To free the imagination of an audience, to invite them on stage with you, to touch their soul: these are the hallmarks of memorable dancing. Kudelka uses every member of the company—from principal to soloist to corps de ballet to character artist—to perfection. Rex Harrington and Jeremy Ransom transcended dance into the sphere of silent acting.

The same praise cannot be heaped upon “The Firebird.” Mr. K. sprinkled so much sugar on his Firebird; you may toss your cookies — if you can afford the price of cookies at the Hummingbird Centre ($2.50 each). The number one problem with this ballet of macaroons was the overuse of a gargantuan grandstand and catwalk. The stairs hogged so much of the stage — the Premier Dance Theatre may have provided more dancing room sans stairs. For Saturday’s matinee performance, the moveable grandstand was not so moveable as evidenced by the dancers’ exertions pushing one section to the far right side of the stage. Many in attendance actually overheard the set crew barking instructions! Neither the stairs nor the catwalk provided a safety bar for the dancers and there appeared to be more stair climbing than actual dancing. The sheer enormity of the sets stretched the usual 15 to 20 minute intermission to a bloated 40 minutes.

Gorgeous Greta Hodgkinson saved this ballet for moi. My eyes were glued to her every moment she was on stage. Unfortunately, those moments were far and few between. Not to have the star of the ballet (The Firebird) on stage longer was unforgivable. Aleksandar Antonijevic made for a very convincing Prince, which was expected, as his forte is the fairy tale genre.

See this “Firebird” for the dazzling sets and costumes by longtime Kudelka collaborator Santo Loquasto. If you’re finicky about your Firebirds, wait for the Paris Opera Ballet to revive Mikhail Fokine’s masterpiece. The year 2010 will mark the 100-year anniversary for this fantasy ballet about a Firebird who munches on golden apples and saves a wimpy Prince from an evil sorcerer. In Kudelka’s remake, a giant egg swallows the soul of the evil sorcerer. Traditionally the egg shatters releasing the evil soul. It all depends on how you like your eggs. It would figure Kudelka likes his hard broiled … with sugar!

Kudelka’s “Firebird” is a ménage à trois between the National Ballet of Canada, the Houston Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Hopefully by the time it plays in Houston or New York, the very dark prince of the NBoC will take a chain saw to the grandstand. His princesses should also get a haircut. The hip-length dreadlocks made them look like Klingons. Their dresses could also use some trimming. I want to see some leg! This ballet-fashion show-musical is just too big to play at the Hummingbird Centre. There was so little dancing, the argument could be made that Kudelka’s Firebird doesn’t even qualify to be called a ballet.

Despite the shortcomings of “The Firebird”: the 2nd rate acoustics; and 3rd rate sightlines of the soon to be obsolete Hummingbird Centre, this two for one ballet is a must see and hear. I’m sure Antonio Vivaldi and Igor Stravinsky would approve of the company’s playing and dancing their music to life! Thanks to global warming, Kudelka’s “Four Seasons” may one day be a tribute to spring, summer, fall and winter instead of the seasons of life. For that reason alone, you should attend this ballet doubleheader.

Edited by Staff.

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