Contemporary Twist to Russian Folk Tale

Contemporary Twist to Russian Folk Tale

The spring concert of the Center Dance Company featured three pieces including “The Firebird, “Pas De Quatre and “An Eternal Golden Braid.”

An immortal enchanter, a princess in distress and a magical creature: it is the formula for Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird," one of three ballet pieces in the Center Dance Company's spring concert. The show opened Friday and ran until Sunday, featuring the 19th century French piece "Pas De Quatre" and "An Eternal Golden Braid," set to Bach's cello suites.

As the mythic, winged spirit of Stravinsky's piece — one based on old Russian folktales — dancer Emma Misner flitted like a hummingbird across the stage in fiery red feathers as she negotiated with the Prince Ivan, played by Jamison Turney Foreman, to set her free. In return, she offers him a feather as a promise she will reappear when he is most in need.

"This is by far some of the most difficult dancing I've done," said Foreman, 17, during dress rehearsals last week. "Just acting princely, you might say, was also a little difficult. I'm just not used to it. I have to go from your normal teenager to this aristocratic character."

After the Firebird departs, Ivan falls for a princess, a prisoner of the immortal demon Kastchei, played by Troy Brown. Taking the audience inside Kastchei's castle, the performance transforms from fairy tale to nightmare as the enchanter's evil minions assail the young prince. Trapped, he calls on the Firebird to save him. Considered a traditional piece in many ballet circles, this latest version of "The Firebird" brought some new choreography.

"A lot of companies do their versions of this piece that will be based on the traditional choreography," said Nancie Woods, artistic director and choreographer. "It was an interesting challenge. We wanted something more contemporary."

To destroy Kastchei, the Firebird reveals to Ivan the location of a secret egg containing the demon's soul. Ivan breaks it open. The egg was seen at the opening of the piece. Woods said it became an integral element of the show.

"There's this whole symbology that comes with it," she said. "I decided to keep it in and use it as a beginning and an end point."

THE PIECE IS an ambitious one for Center Dance Company, whose members, according to executive director Elizabeth Blumenfeld, are mostly high school students. The youngest of the 19-member company is in eighth grade. Four members will graduate this year. Misner, the Firebird herself, was recently admitted to the Nashville Ballet after an audition. Preparing for the performance, she said, means a tough schedule.

"They get home in time to do homework and then go to bed around midnight," she said.

The last time "The Firebird" was performed in the Washington Metro area was about three years ago when it was done by the Washington ballet.

The show came full circle once again in "An Eternal Golden Braid," set to Bach's cello composition. Choreographer Kim Swartz said the piece, based on a book of the same name by Douglas Hofstadter, was written as an exploration of the metaphysical.

"It's rather difficult to put into a nutshell," Swartz said.

Inspired by the art of MC Escher and the work of logistician Kurt Gurdal, Swartz said the book's message comes through in the stage performance.

"If there's anything I want people to walk away with, it's the urge to pick up the book," she said. "It investigates human communication and the paradoxes in language."

The dance, she said, is aimed at expressing the questions facing the main characters. Questions, themselves, are embodied on stage as masked dancers.

The final scene, a seamless rewind of the first with the dancers recreating their movements backwards, symbolizes the cyclic nature of the quest for understanding.

"Pas De Quatre," first presented in London in 1845, showcases the performances of four dancers. According to Dick Rothwell of Center Dance's Board of Directors, the show was originally choreographed for four of the most renowned European ballet dancers of the era.