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The Imaginative Worlds of “Firebird” & “AFTERITE”

Scene from Firebird. Photo: Gene Schiavone.

After a terrific inaugural performance for the new season at American Ballet Theater with Giselle, the second week sustained the first’s excitement with a brilliant presentation—on the evening of Tuesday, May 22nd—of The Firebird as amazingly reimagined by Alexei Ratmansky—almost certainly the greatest choreographer of his generation—gloriously scored by Igor Stravinsky after a Russian fairytale. The striking set was designed by Simon Pastukh while the colorful costumes are by Galina Solovyeva and the effective lighting is by Brad Fields with projections by Wendall Harrington.
The event featured a marvelous cast headed by the dazzling Christine Shevchenko, riveting in the title role, although I doubt anyone will ever equal the astonishing Natalia Osipova who originated the part which she was born to play. Thomas Forster was excellent as Ivan—he was also memorable as the village huntsman in Giselle. Brilliant too were Duncan Lyle as the evil sorcerer Kaschei and Catherine Hurlin as the Maiden who is the object of Ivan’s affection, while the superbcorps de balletwas unusually outstanding.
The second half of the program was also remarkable, featuring another recasting of a classic Stravinsky ballet, in this case the extraordinary Rite of the Spring, here completely rethought with startling originality by the inspired, if eccentric, Wayne McGregor as AFTERITE—co-commissioned by American Ballet Theater and The Royal Danish Ballet—which received its world premiere on the previous night, and which has scenography and costumes by Vicki Mortimer, lighting by Lucy Carter, and video design by Ravi Deepres. The author conceived the piece as a work of dystopian science-fiction but if the narrative was largely opaque, this was insignificant given the intense engagement on the formal level. The success of the proceedings undoubtedly just as much depended upon the exceptional cast, which included Jeffrey Cirio, Misty Copeland, Herman Cornejo, Alessandra Ferri, Blaine Hoven, Duncan Lyle, Calvin Royal III, Hee Seo, Cory Stearns, Cassandra Trenary, James Whiteside, Aran Bell, and Stephanie Williams.

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