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Firebird Soars

Firebird offers broad view of ballet as art form and demonstrates the strengths of Grand Rapids Ballet.
Yuka Oba-Muschiana in Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird

Yuka Oba-Muschiana in Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird /Damion Van Slyke

If ballet is the art of translating music into movement, the first piece in Grand Rapid Ballet's powerful Firebird was pure ballet. TItled Mozart Symphony, it translated lively, elegantly wrought music into graceful motion, such that a viewer deprived of sound would have understood much about the way that the music moved. For the majority of the piece, the dancers were remarkably in tune with each other, and with the music. It was a classical piece, performed by dancers in traditional clothing on a stage bare of anything but light. 

The next piece, Again, presented a strong contrast. Two dancers, Yuka Oba-Muschiana and Matthew Wenckowski, illuminated by a spotlight, danced with and against powerful and occasionally uncomfortable music. They wore fashionable clothing and, sometimes, pained expressions. I understand that the choreography was meant to gesture toward the leaving of a profession, but I prefer my wife's interpretation: that the woman was an exorcist and the man in the grips of possession. 

Cold Virtue began dramatically, with dancers emerging from smoke. To music by Philip Glass, dancers jutted, and rolled, and swayed their bottoms (the latter elicited an occasional chuckle from the audience). Watching it, I was always aware of how hard the dancers were working. It was also the most abstract piece of the evening, by which I mean the one least grounded by a discernible narrative (Mozart Symphony, not story-driven, follows tradition's narrative). While Cold Virtue may have suffered for that, it allowed the company to paint with another palette. 

The longest piece, and the most spectacular, was Stravinsky's Firebird, reimagined by choreographor Yuri Possokhov. The ballet threads strands from different Russian folktales into a larger tapestry: see the noble firebird, who secures love even as she abandons hope of it. Yuka Oba-Muschiana played the titular bird ("You'd think she'd be tired after her first dance," my wife said). She aided Josue Justiz' Prince in defeating the evil Kaschei (Matthew Wenckowski, wonderfully twisted) and helping save the princess (Julia Turner). The production included fine costumes and the well-timed explosion of an egg. It could have been longer. 

Much as the evening demonstrated the range and power of Yuka-Oba Muschiana, it also demonstrated the range and power of Grand Rapids Ballet. It was heartening to see how many people were there to observe it; I saw it on Friday, October 18th, and the venue was nearly at capacity. Other shows did in fact sell out; due to high demand, an October 25th performance has been added. Wafflers are encouraged to buy early so as not to risk missing the sight of great wings lifting off into sustained flight.

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