One of the most gorgeous roles ever for a ballerina is being presented at The Aronoff Center this weekend by Cincinnati Ballet at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center.
It is the title role of Firebird (originally presented in 1910 with choreography by Fokine for Karsavina and later with noted choreography by Balanchine for his wife Maria Tallchief). This weekend, Janessa Touchet plays the magical Firebird who escapes Cervilio Miguel Amador’s evil Kaschei, another burn-up-the-stage role This time it’s with choreography by Adam Hougland. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Carmon DeLeone will perform the ravishing Stravinsky orchestral score.
When I talked with choreographer Adam Hougland last spring just before his “Mozart’s Requiem” was a well-received world premiere for Cincinnati Ballet, he had a lot to say about Stravinsky (he had already choreographed “Rite of Spring” for Louisville Ballet in 2009) the upcoming Firebird ballet, working with a famous piece of music, and his ongoing interest in trying to find new ways of using ballet as a vibrant theatrical art form.
Adam: I think at this point I really need to decide who this “Firebird” is going to be. Once I know that, the whole thing is going to become something bizarre and interesting. Because – you know – the whole idea of a ballerina as an animal!
Why is that, and what is it about people that we are fascinated with anthropomorphism? So, I’m trying to develop a 2010 spin on that. I want to make the new ballet current, relevant, and unexpected. After all, in Swan Lake you have a hunter having a sexual pas de deux with a bird!
Kathy: You are awfully articulate on this.
A: It’s from all those years of having to come up with a quick answer.
K: What about the Firebird score for today’s audiences? The premiere was in 1910. How do you think we hear it – is it still fresh and exciting?
A: What is so amazing about the Stravinsky pieces is that there is such a timelessness about them. What I have tried to do before and will do again with music is that I will literally sit at home and listen. I put myself in this place. It’s as if I have never heard it before.
I shove preconceptions out the door. I say to myself: so, I am making a dance. How does it start, what is the space, what is the physical environment of it?
For me, one reason new choreography is suitable with these kinds of works is because you don’t want to re-do something. If you are going to go to the trouble of choreographing a known piece of music, why do it if it has been done before?
What is exciting, however, is to approach the music in a way that is unexpected. As a choreographer, you want to inspire people who watch it to say “Oh, I never expected. that.” Or, “I never thought that is what he would do.”
K: What is the origin for most of your choreography?
A: Usually the music is the starting point. For me, it kind of works to listen over and over again, and then to put it away. When I make a movement, I don’t “put” it to the music. There is a feeling you get with the music, and you kind of subconsciously make movement that is somehow connected, and then you somehow futz with it until it works.
When in rehearsal for a new thing, sometimes I work for a week without music. You don’t want to get bored with it. You want to pace yourself.
K: Do you feel that you have a trademark style that has evolved?
A: As I have choreographed, I don’t think my movement vocabulary has changed that much. Basically, it is still the way I move, what feels right in my body. Though I want to see it on my cast, my style is somehow about how the more I do it, the individual steps become less and less important.
What becomes more important is the overall arc of the work, or the development of a character or a relationship within that work.
That approach interests me more as a choreographer than approaching the work as visual art, something that you do just for the sake of beauty and technique and form.
The work I am always most satisfied with is work where there is a motivation for a character to do something.