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Dressed in Chagall’s exquisite sets and costumes, Firebird illustrates an enchanting Russian fairytale and the fantastical creatures of its strange world.
In 1910, following the first successful season of the Ballets Russes in Paris, Serge Diaghilev commissioned a full-length ballet score from a young composer, Igor Stravinsky. The result — Firebird — was Stravinsky's first ballet score, and a major critical and popular success for Diaghilev, Stravinsky and its choreographer Michel Fokine.
New York City Ballet first presented Firebird in 1949 at City Center, with choreography by George Balanchine, scenery and costumes by the painter Marc Chagall, and Maria Tallchief in the leading role. Because Balanchine chose to use the orchestral suite, rather than the complete three-act score, he simplified the story and emphasized the mythical elements of the Firebird’s character.
In 1970, a new production was mounted to adapt to the larger proportions of the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater). The costumes, of extraordinary complexity and fantasy, were created by Madame Karinska from Chagall’s original designs. Chagall expressed great pleasure at the devotion and inventiveness with which Madame Karinska interpreted his watercolor sketches in textiles, plastics, paint, and mineral materials. The choreography represents a collaboration between Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, the latter being responsible for the episode with Kastchei the Wizard and his subjects. Balanchine entirely redesigned his dances in light of the designs, conceiving the ballet as Chagall accompanied by music and dance.
In 1972 and 1980 Balanchine again changed his choreography (as well as the costume) for the character of the Firebird to suit the qualities of the ballerina cast in the leading role.
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