The Firebird is traditionally known as a ballet composed by Igor Stravinsky. As a story it merges the Slavic folklore of a glowing bird that is both the bringer of blessings and disaster, with the tale of 'Koschei the Deathless', an evil man who cannot easily be killed as his soul does not reside in his body. It is believed that this merging of two tales that resulted in The Firebird as a ballet was ultimately inspired by a “A Winter’s Journey” penned by Yakov Polonsky:
“And in my dreams I see myself on a wolf's back
Riding along a forest path
To do battle with a sorcerer-tsar
In that land where a princess sits under lock and key,
Pining behind massive walls.
There gardens surround a palace all of glass;
There Firebirds sing by night
And peck at golden fruit.”
The original piece in itself is therefore an intricate, one could even say complex, story to unravel and tell through the art of dance. The current production of The Firebird, showing at the Artscape Theatre until 26 June 2016 for a very limited run, however adds to the original multifarious ‘legend’ by giving it a South African twist too. The adaptation seeks not only to embrace the original story, but as explained by director Janni Younge to take it further as a reflection of “where the miracle of democracy is beginning to show its cracks” in showcasing the search for balance between blessings and disaster.
My concern with most adaptation attempts is that the story usually loses impact when it hovers somewhere between the original vision and the retelling it wishes to be, in not being bold enough to fully commit to a fresh perspective. With the current staging of The Firebird that is the sense one is left with, that you are hanging between the original Stravinsky and what the South African lore equivalent could be.
But adaptation concerns aside, the puppetry is masterful, next level amazing! Regardless of whether you could follow the story, you will be mesmerised by the art, technique and sheer grandeur of it all! Here the performance skills of Craig Leo deserves specific mention. As a puppeteer he truly is in a class of his own.
The beauty of the puppetry is amplified by the beautiful balance and dance performances of Oleksii Ishchenko and Andile Vellem specifically. At some stages their dancing honestly almost drew my attention away from the larger-than-life mythical puppets that were unquestionably the stars of the show.
My standing ovation at the end was definitely in reaction to the performances of those three gentlemen and the magic of the puppets that brought a whole new escapism dimension to the theatrical experience of The Firebird.
The power and persuasion of the story-line aside, seeing The Firebird rise and tower over the audience is in itself worth every cent and a memorable theatre night out. If you can still get your hands on tickets, grab them quick-quick at Computicket. Limited seats, limited run, GO!