Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ production of George Skibine’s The Firebird gets ready to take flight at the Irving Arts Center this weekend.
Coppell, TX — She moves confidently and uninhibited almost to the point of falling off pointe or missing a step, but she doesn’t. Hands twitching, body pulsating with unrestrained energy, Ballet Ensemble of Texas company member Breanne Granlund is the quintessential Firebird. Granuald’s feisty footwork coupled with Igor Stravinsky’s fast staccato composition made for a delightful Tuesday evening at the Ballet Academy of Texas in Coppell.
The Firebird is based on Slavic folklore and tells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with the mystical Firebird. In the first scene he tries to capture it, but the firebird offers him one of her feathers instead. In the next scene Ivan wanders through the forest until he meets the beautiful Tsarevna. They fall in love and a battle ensues between Ivan and the evil Kostchei. Ivan uses the feather to call upon the Firebird and together they dispose of Kostchei. Ivan and Tsarevna get married and everyone lives happily ever after.
The Firebird is a physically demanding role, something Granlund found appealing from the start. “I love the physicality of the role,” Granlund says. “The movement is a lot harder on your body, but I like challenging myself like this. It’s not often that you get to portray a bird and, I think mentally the role really suits me.” Granlund is right. Her penchant for quick footwork, dynamic body positions and overall vigor makes her well-suited for the part.
Coincidently the other female lead in the ballet is being performed by Granlund’s twin sister Abby. She is dancing the role of Tsarenva, a character Granlund says matches her sister’s dancing style really well. “Abby is really great in these types of roles. She’s a very expressive dancer.” Abby’s movement does have a softer quality to it. Her feet hardly make a sound when she bourrees and she’s able to emote feeling from every muscle in her body.
And the man caught in between the Granlund sisters is Texas Ballet Theater Corps dancer Brett Young. His athletic physique and unyielding core strength make him an admirable partner and confident soloist. The pas de deux between Ivan and the Firebird contains multiple lifts in addition to alternating handholds for lengthy balances and turning sequences. With a little more fine tuning this pas de deux will surely be a scene stealer.
What makes Ballet Ensemble of Texas stand out from other pre-professional companies in the area is the consistency you see throughout the company in terms of technique and performance quality. There is no weak link in this production of the Firebird. All seven male company members showcase high jumps, long lines and controlled tours. All the ladies display proficient pointe work and authentic stage presence. “You must act or it’s just going to look like another recital,” says Thom Clower, the person responsible for restaging George Skibine’s Firebird on BET.
All the talk about Clower’s eccentric approach to teaching is completely true. While giving notes it’s common for him to use sounds effects and vivid imagery to describe what he wanted. For example, when telling the princesses how they should be peeking out from behind the apple tree he said, “The movement needs to have more resistance. I don’t want it slower, just thicker.” He is also not opposed to shouting things out during the run through like “I need more!”, “Slow down!” and “Yes, that was lovely!” His knack for blending corrections with compliments has a very positive effect on the students. After a long evening of rehearsing, the students leave laughing with their heads held high. “Thom is really great with the students,” says BET Director Lisa Slagle. “He really inspires them to work harder and give their all every time.”
Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ spring concert takes place April 4-5, 2014 at the Irving Arts Center. In addition to Firebird the company will also be performing the revival of Fernando Bujones’ Splendid Gershwin and the classic ballet Paquita, staged by American Ballet Theatre’s Susan Jones.
This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.