FIREBIRD Maybe there’s been a better Firebird than Ekaterina Kondaurova, but not on screen.
Live opera — at least, live opera from the Met — has been a huge success in movie theaters. (In Boston, the Fenway routinely sells out two screens.) What about not-quite-live dance?
If it’s the Mariinsky Ballet (the one from St. Petersburg that in the Soviet era was known as the Kirov) in “Stravinsky & the Ballets Russes: Firebird, The Wedding, and The Rite of Spring,” well, no problem, to judge from the line stretching around the block this past Sunday morning in a frigid wind that would have done justice to St. Petersburg. The first of a trio of such presentations that the Coolidge has dubbed “Raising the Barre,” it attracted a sellout crowd — some of whom even spoke English. (“Kak vy pozhivaete? Nichevo.”) The start was delayed: people had trouble finding those last few seats (the Coolidge staff could have helped by turning up the lights and asking those near empty seats to raise their hands), and instead of an announcement asking us to turn off our cell phones we got José Mateo, of Cambridge’s José Mateo Ballet Theatre, offering an entirely superfluous introduction while numerous cell phones did indeed go off like shooting stars.
Finally, the lights went all the way down, and the golden dome of St. Isaac’s appeared on screen, followed in short order by the Winter Palace, the Mariinsky Theatre, and Mariinsky general director Valery Gergiev in a black smock, looking like a faithful (or not) retainer out of The Brothers Karamazov. Without further ado, we were plunged into Michel Fokine’s Firebird, Igor Stravinsky’s initial (1910) commission for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Gergiev’s conducting at first seemed to promise energy and detail rather than atmosphere, but it soon bore ample fruit on every branch, growing lushly romantic for the meeting of Ivan and the Princess.
This 2008 Mariinsky production is the same one from 2002 that’s preserved on Kultur’s “The Kirov Celebrates Nijinsky” DVD, but Ekaterina Kondaurova is a bigger, more voluptuous Firebird than Diana Vishneva was in that performance, more hawk than the usual hummingbird, elegant and icy-hot and with exquisite definition in her hands, even Balanchine-like in the way she shifts her weight when rocking on pointe. Both sly and gracious, Ilya Kuznetsov is likewise a huge improvement on the usual dorky Ivan; Marianna Pavlova’s Princess is light and vivacious and, in close-up, flashes a coy smile; Vladimir Ponomarev, reprising his evil Kashchei from 2002, seems more sadistic than ever. There’s no shortage of telling moments: Ivan standing with his hands on his hips over the fallen Firebird, inducing her to part with a feather; the 12 other princesses lying prone, propped on their elbows and kicking their heels, as the Princess kisses Ivan; the monsters dressed in the latest Russian ice-dance fashions (which include armadillo wear); the look the Firebird gives Kashchei that turns him from ageless to merely old; the beautiful Russian Easter egg that holds Kashchei’s soul. The overactive camerawork includes overhead shots of the princesses circling Ivan and the Princess, but this is a ballet where focusing on the principals pays off.