CINCINNATI BALLET’S “FIREBIRD” CHARTS NEW TERRITORY

Cincinnati Ballet’s newest double bill, which premiered last night at The Aronoff Center, included two ballets which sought harmony and order, but in very, very different ways. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Carmon DeLeone’s baton did the honors, playing Stravinsky’s “Firebird” for Adam Hougland’s world premiere ballet of the same name, and Tchaikovsky for Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations.”

Once again, Janessa Touchet – who had a principal role in each ballet – exhibited extraordinary technique and stamina. Ogulcan Borova, Zack Grubbs, Sarah Hairston and especially Cervilio Miguel Amador also gave extremely strong performances. Valinkat recommends this show, not least of all for the wonderful shimmering and magical “Firebird” score, thrillingly played.  

Hougland’s highly anticipated new ballet, with set and costume design by Marion Williams, had many imaginative effects and intriguing choreographic moments. However, to me the music is so mysterious and magical that I wished to be more drawn into that world. Hougland seemed to hold us at arm’s length from full engagement with the mythical characters. Characterizations were mostly physical, and some moments had what may have been unintended comic overtones, letting our attention wander from the tension implicit in the score.  

I understand Hougland’s benevolent wish to have his characters, including Kashei, co-exist in harmony at the ballet’s conclusion.  but it just doesn’t play. It takes a lot out of the evil Kashei characterization if we think he was just acting out and has now reformed. Whatever happened to the thunderclap and blackout when the egg containing his immortal soul breaks? Maybe it was stolen by Gaga? 

However, “The Firebird,” which closed the program, drew the enthusiastic audience (me included) to its feet.

Both ballets showed off the company’s dancers, who did an excellent job in their various roles. I’m going to give this one a beat and post more later, especially about the cast, the choreographic details, and the dramatic structure of “The Firebird.”

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