Showgirls, tigers and mythical creatures filled the Boise State Special Event Center stage Friday when Ballet Idaho premiered its latest mixed bag of ballet, The Magic of Firebird, with Circus and Romeo and Juliet Overture. While all three ballets were radically different, the exclusive use of Russian music and unusually intricate staging created a cohesive, entertaining trifecta. All three ballets were executed beautifully by the Ballet Idaho company dancers, with dizzying turns, beautiful extension and flawless leaps. The hours spent in rehearsal were apparent on the stage.
The evening opened with Ballet Master Alex Ossadnik’s Circus. The title suggests exactly what the ballet delivered—showgirls swaying with extravagant feather fans, a shadowy magician and a love-struck pierrot fawning over a ballerina. The piece made excellent use of Dimitri Shostakovitch’s music, and Megan Ann Richardson’s glittering costumes were dazzling. The performance had a number of humorous elements, at which Artistic Director Peter Anastos hinted before the curtain was raised.
“Alex isn’t by nature a comedian,” Anastos said. “But he’s a very funny guy.”
Ossadnik’s sense of humor was seen when the dancers embodying tigers leapt through hula hoops at the request of their trainer, who was portrayed with exquisite precision by Adrienne Kerr, and in the dancers donning head pieces and clomping across the stage in a horse-meets-ballet-dancer fashion.
But Circus also had a more serious side, and when the dark magician Andrew Taft literally played with the heart of a love-struck clown. When Taft tossed a heart-shaped pillow around the stage, it could have easily become the kitschy downfall of the entire ballet, but it was so perfectly executed that the scene evoked nothing but sympathy for the poor mime-like clown. Kudos to Burke Brown for excellent use of lighting throughout the performance and during this section; the magician was shrouded in darkness, with white gloves gleaming, thereby creating a Fantasia-like experience for the audience.
Heart balloons and swinging platforms were a surprising addition to the usually miniscule setting seen at Ballet Idaho’s performances at the SPEC, something Anastos also addressed in his opening remarks, saying the company had “crowbarred in” an unusual amount of scenery.
The scenery and mood changed drastically when the curtain rose for the second ballet, principal dancer Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye’s interpretation of Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture. The ballet opened with a fluttering sea of fabric under the feet of Phyllis Affrunti and John Frazer, who melded together flawlessly in their portrayal of the star-crossed lovers. The modern interpretation of this classic didn’t employ any cheesy balcony scenes or where-for-out-thous, and Richardson transitioned from the extravagant costumes seen in Circus to exceptionally simple, elegant nude-and-black attire for Romeo and Juliet, with the starring characters clad in simple white frocks. The entire ballet was set in front of a church window hanging high across the stage, and had an intense, nearly-morbid feel that was far more serious than the usual portrayal of Shakespeare’s tale. Nye’s choreography was mesmerizing from the opening scene until Romeo and Juliet ascended from the stage on platforms in a high-flying conclusion.
The title piece of the evening employed the music of Igor Stravinsky. Nye crept about the stage, bow in hand, in front of a glimmering tree burdened with a slew of gold apples. The stage was transformed into a mysterious folkloric land, with scenery courtesy of the Sacramento Ballet and Nolan T’Sani. Firebird was the stuff of legend; and archer, a half-bird-half-woman, a rainbow of princesses and a slew of miniature monsters, portrayed by students of Ballet Idaho Academy. The ballet was a lullaby, and just when it felt sleep was near, after an exceptionally lengthy scene of the Technicolor princesses weaving London-bridge style through each other’s arms, the audience was jolted awake by a pint-sized monster’s leap onto Nye’s back. A battle ensued and the exotic firebird, fittingly portrayed by dancer Heather Hawk, swept the stage of the dangerous critters. The curtain fell on a stage packed to the proscenium with company and academy dancers, moving in a circle in a wedding scene.
Ballet Idaho’s latest production weaves together an eclectic collection of folklore, morbid romance and fun under the big top. The show continues tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. Visit balletidaho.org for ticketing and performance information.