Around this time every year, a couple of my friends and I get tickets to a few performances of the American Ballet Theatre during their Lincoln Center spring season. The way our schedules worked out this year, we've had three consecutive weeks in which we've seen a ballet. Later this week, a performance of Romeo and Juliet will cap off a string of ballets that have had a decidedly literary bent. We've already seen Onegin, a ballet based on the novel of the same name by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. It had all the drama and all the folk dancing that you'd expect from a classic Russian tale, yet was somewhat unexpectedly modern in that it's a full length story ballet that features a shallow, womanizing man as the title character, rather than, say, a beautiful princess or fairy. For our second show, we saw a group of shorter repertory pieces, including Apollo, featuring the mythical god of music and the three Greek muses of dance, mime, and poetry. Choreographed by Balanchine, it's one of the most iconic ballets with many moments that would be instantly recognizable to anyone who even casually follows dance.
My favorite ballet so far this year was actually the one with the least tie to literature: The Firebird. Based on a Russian folk tale, it's a fanciful story in which a prince searching for his true love encounters a magical firebird. He captures one of her feathers, which he later uses to call the firebird to his aid when he battles against an evil sorcerer who has enchanted the prince's true love. Although it was first performed as a ballet in 1910, this year ABT debuted a new version, re-imagined by the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. The staging of it was absolutely spectacular, with moody, over the top scenery and costumes. Throughout the performance I kept thinking that if Tim Burton were to stage a ballet, it would look like The Firebird.
(images via here)
These pictures don't even begin to do justice to the live performance. I'd highly recommend seeing this if you ever get the chance. I think it would captivate even a ballet skeptic.