Tag Archives: The Firebird

Review: Ballet Frontier of Texas, An Evening of Ballet

Texas Ballet Theater's Robin Bangert and Paul Adams in BFT's verision of The Firebird.
Texas Ballet Theater’s Robin Bangert and Paul Adams in BFT’s verision of The Firebird


Ballet Frontier of Texas enthralls with its rendition of The Firebird and gives homage to Tchaikovsky during An Evening of Ballet.

Fort Worth — Vibrant costumes, elaborate scenery, dramatic lighting and dynamic guest artists: Ballet Frontier of Texas (BFT) went all out for its production of The Firebird, part of its An Evening of Ballet program. They were rewarded with a standing ovation Sunday afternoon at the W.E. Scott Theatre in Fort Worth.

The tale depicts Prince Ivan’s encounter with the Firebird in the garden of the evil Tsar Kashchei. Ivan catches the Firebird and agrees to release her in exchange for one of her feathers. In the next scene Ivan meets the beautiful Helen and asks Kashchei for her hand in marriage. He refuses and sends his creatures to kill Ivan. The Prince calls upon the Firebird and together they defeat the creatures and destroy the magical egg that holds Kashchei’s soul. In the final scene order is restored to the kingdom and Ivan and Helen are wed.

BFT Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng sticks close to the original libretto written by Alexandre Benois for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, but adds a prologue to enlighten audiences as to how Kashchei becomes evil. He accomplishes this in three short scenes: in the first the villagers are trying to pick the golden apple from the tree, then they bring it to the king and we watch as he transforms into the evil Kashchei. Even though the blackouts between scenes were slightly disorientating the prologue was a welcomed addition, and Guest Artist Michael Clark was the epitome of evil with his searing eyes and puffed up chest.

Texas Ballet Theater’s Robin Bangert gave a fierce yet poised performance as the Firebird. She tested her limits with unending lines and lightning fast bourrees done in perfect time to Igor Stravinsky’s quick, staccato composition. Bangert’s luminous red and orange tutu and matching feather headpiece only accentuated her natural skill and beauty. Texas Ballet Theater’s Paul Adams was a strong match for Bangert. A confidant partner, Adams leads Bangert through a series of rotating arabesque and ponche balances with ease. And his transition from hunter to lover is seamless. Paige Nyman’s willowy frame, soft lines and expressive eyes made her the ideal choice to play Helen.

Tseng smartly crafted the work to highlight his company’s strengths. The younger students completely immersed themselves in their creature roles, hissing and scratching as they roamed around on all fours. Adorned in long white dresses and sparking crowns, the princesses showcased their adequate pointe work and knack for gentle arcing movement. A lovely moment occurred as they stood in two diagonal lines with arms crossed at the wrists, backs arched. And while the four flames (Mickayla Carr, Maria Howard, Carli Petri and Jacey Thompson) lost their facial expressions a couple of times they made it through the rest of their allegro sequences unscathed.

Tseng put the company’s stamina to the test in the first half of the show with three fast paced, movement packed pieces to music composed by P.I. Tchaikovsky. Like watching a sprint February (Carnival) and Piano Concerto No. 1, 3rd Movement were over much too soon. The movement appeared as one lengthy phrase of chaines, doubles turns, leaps and traveling steps. Timing was an issue in both, but the dancers delivered on the entertainment. Tseng’s Serenade Melancolique was the complete opposite of the other two numbers. Three couples (Adams, Nyman, Clark, Bangert, Shane Howell and Carli Perti) took turns executing slow, fluid movement that displaying some of the most beautiful and innovative lifts and body shapes. Tseng must have felt like a kid in a candy store working with these strong and capable individuals. The couple’s came together at the end to strike three ethereal poses while bathed in spotlight. As the only BFT company member in the piece Petri held her own with her limber body and graceful lines.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


Review: Ballet Ensemble of Texas Spring Concert

Breanne Granlund and Brett Young in The Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover
Breanne Granlund and Brett Young in The Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Ballet Ensemble of Texas delivers a near-flawless Firebird (and more) at the company’s Spring Concert

Irving — Luscious scenery, elaborate costumes, catchy compositions, authentic storytelling and proficient dancing: Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ restaging of George Skibine’s Firebird had something for everyone Saturday afternoon at the company’s Spring Concert at the Irving Arts Center.

Firebird, danced of course to the music of Igor Stravinsky, tells the tale of Prince Ivan’s encounter with the mystical Firebird. In the first scene he tries to capture the marvelous creature, but fails; the Firebird offers him one of her feathers instead. Next Ivan meets the beautiful Tsarevna and they fall in love. A battle ensues between Ivan and the evil Kostchei, and the Firebird is called upon to help defeat him. In the final scene Ivan and Tsarevna are wed and everyone lives happily ever after.

Firebird is a challenge that calls for dramatic flair and daring dancing—and the dancers responded with commitment and consistency, a tribute to stager Thom Clower’s passion and BET director Lisa Slagle’s training. Breanne Granlund thrived in the role of the Firebird. Her commanding stage presence, innate musicality and clear-cut pointe work were a match for Skibine’s detailed choreography and Stravinsky’s quick staccato composition. Even her smallest movements—fluttering arms, twitching head—seemed to entrance the audience. Texas Ballet Theater’s Brett Young excelled as Prince Ivan. He made the transition from hunter to lover appear effortless, though his solo in the opening scene must have tested his endurance with its multiple grande jetes and tours.

Young proved also to be a solid partner, executing the tricky over the head lifts and counter-balance holds with ease during the pas de deux, but softening his movements when dancing with his love Tsarevna (Abby Granlund). Abby exuded tranquility, creating the illusion that her movement never stops even when she is standing still. The surprise performance of the evening came from Aldrin Vendt, who played Kostchei. Under heavy makeup and layers of clothing, he compensated with exaggerated gestures and a sense of tension that radiated from every part of his body.

Fernando Bujones’ Splendid Gershwin and Marius Petipa’s Paquita, both restaged by American Ballet Theatre’s Susan Jones, rounded out the rest of the show. The company showed off its aptitude for more traditional ballet movement in Paquita. Yuki Takahashi sparkled in this role. Her beautiful breathing technique, inhaling as she elongates and exhaling into balance holds, added texture and anticipation to her performance. Soloists Masumi Yoshimoto, Natalie Tsay, Jimena Flores-Sanchez and Breanne Granlund gave solid performances that highlighted their musicality and poignant pointe work. Guest Artist Shea Johnson ate up the stage with his gravity-defying leaps and turning sequences. While at times his movement appears labored, he can execute a triple pirouette with ease.

The men stole the show in Splendid Gershwin with their Fred Astaire-like grace and personality. Dressed in tuxes and top hats, Samuel Chadick, William Sheriff, Aldrin Vendt and Johnson glided across the stage in a series of turns punctuated with pivots and drag steps in “Embraceable You.” Roman Mejia charmed the audience with his consecutive toe touches and cheeky air as he attempted to impress four female dancers in “Ladies & The Tramp.”

After seeing Ballet Ensemble of Texas deliver on consistency, authenticity and versatility with this Spring Concert one has to wonder, is there anything BET can’t do?

This review was originally published on TheaterJones.com.


Can’t Be Tamed

BET company member Breanne Granlund as the Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover
BET company member Breanne Granlund as the Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover

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.