REVIEW: Eleven Dancers and Cleveland Orchestra – The Chiffon Contingent @ Severance

January 18, 2011
Cool Cleveland
Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas


The ongoing collaboration between Cleveland Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet is not limited to September concerts at Blossom. Last weekend we went to see a “Family Concert” at Severance Hall in which Academy Trainees of the Joffrey Ballet, assisted by students of the Cleveland School of Dance, danced to Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird.

This was not the 45-minute Firebird ballet that Sergei Diaghelev’s Ballet Russes premiered in Paris in 1910; rather, it was the oft-performed 23-minute Suite premiered in 1919, which preserves many of the orchestral themes of the original.

Tickets were free and the main floor of the hall was packed. Many baby ballerinas were in attendance, tastefully attired in the chiffon tutus that the occasion clearly demanded. The chiffon contingent was attentive enough as James Feddeck led the orchestra through four dances, all by Russian composers, but we felt that they were at Severance for the same reason we were: ballet dancing.

Contrary to the traditional Firebird scenario, the Prince, danced by Andre Grippi De Almeida, entered first. Jumping and turning nicely, sporting a princely hunting costume and a small but effective-looking bow, he looked like a talented, well-trained young dancer who was trying rather too hard.

Abigail Bushnell as the Firebird entered next. She seemed very proficient and supremely confident; exactly the aura that the Firebird should project, we thought. Her pas de deux with the Prince went off without a hitch.

Then the 10 Princesses entered, portrayed by nine students from the Cleveland School of Dance and Joffrey Academy Trainee Mahalia Ward. After the Princesses’ dance the Prince selected Ward as his princess and the two performed their pas de deux, again without a hitch.

We were considerably entertained by the contrast between Ward’s Princess — warm and gracious — and Bushnell’s Firebird — an inexorable force. As Jennifer Homans observes in her discussion of Firebird in Apollo’s Angels, the Firebird was “not woman or lover; that role belonged to the princess. To the contrary, the Firebird was less a person than an idea or force; not the ‘eternal feminine’ but the ‘eternal Rus,’ Russia as Diaghilev thought the West imagined her.” (The above quote is from pg 302 of Apollo’s Angels; for a review, click on this link:

traditionally designated the Infernal Dance of King Kashchei, the evil sorcerer who has enchanted and enslaved the people of the kingdom. On Severance’s stage there appeared neither sorcerer nor enchanted, enslaved minions. Instead, the Prince and the Princesses remained on stage, half-reclined in what was apparently intended as a nap. We found it strange that the dancers would be left onstage with nothing to do for such a long time. Then again, what if the dancers had left the stage empty while the music continued? There were no really good options without the sorcerer.

The dancers were constrained by space as well as by the music. The crescent-shaped performing space between the orchestra and the audience was just about 12 feet wide in the center. During rehearsals, we heard through the grapevine that the performing space was smaller than expected and that the choreographer had to make major adjustments. (The program credits no one with the choreography.)

Costumes (not credited in the program but probably from the Joffrey costume shop) looked good on the dancers and worked extremely well with the choreography. The Princesses’ long white gowns draped beautifully and their very Russian crowns stayed on. We’re hard put to remember any dance performance with a comparable dearth of costume mishaps.

Young dancers, aspiring professionals, radiated a special charm against the grandeur of the Cleveland Orchestra. Even in abridgment, Firebird retained some of its power as both music and dance. We hope to give our readers more advance notice for the next collaboration between Cleveland Orchestra and Joffrey Ballet.