Reigniting the Fire(bird)

I’m still in awe of the Chicago Sinfonietta’s 2015-16 season launching program “Tap in. Turn Up.” The performance featured Clinard Dance Theater’s Wendy Clinard and Tap Master Cartier Williams layering rhythmic dance to the symphonic texture.

Wendy Flood Clinard

Wendy Clinard was simply divine. Her every move award-winning photograph worthy. In her solo, she struck beautiful poses that layered intensity to the music. Movement and sound struck a balance in her work.

Cartier Williams’ Firebird adaptation brought down the house and roused a standing ovation (which was not even the last performance before intermission!).

He came on the stage with arms flapping and giggles circulated through the audience. He must be making some literal mockery of Firebird. But after several minutes of repeating the flapping gesture and elaborating upon it, the audience saw more clearly that movement was in bold reference not in gest. It reminded me of Michel Fokine’s (also main contributor to Firebird) famous choreography for Saint-Saens’  Dying Swan. Williams seemed to be referring to the ballet tradition of Firebird through this winged movement. For the whole opening sequence, he moved swiftly without even tapping.

For the infernal dance movement, he erupted. Tapping almost unfathomably quickly, hitting syncopations with ease. His technique and focus were stunning. His rhythms sounded derived from the percussion score (signature Stravinsky, notoriously unnatural in complexity), but added something more. Accentuated the rhythmic elements and turned them to something visual.

Elements came back that he incorporated in the beginning and throughout the piece in a flurry in the Finale. Recapping and going beyond. (sometimes literally as at one point he jumped off the stage into the audience): There was one moment in the Finale that really got me. When he transitioned from pull backs to pop up to a beautiful arabesque, reality was suspended.

Tap in
He adapted The Firebird by drawing on its history, but reinventing it in his characteristic style.
While watching the performance, I couldn’t help but think, this will forever change the way we think about Firebird and I really hope there is a video, A) because I want to watch it over and over again and B) because this evolution should be documented and shared.
Music and Dance found new harmony on this evening. It was an inspiration to watch The collaboration exhibited in this performance also resembles the history of The Firebird‘s conception. Diagliev and the Ballets Russes set out to commission a piece of music. The story combines the mythical Firebird with the tale of Koschei the Deathless. When completed, the ballet fused together story, dance and music.

 Art can thrive and come alive for us in new light when interdisciplinary connections are made. Adapting The Firebird through different mediums is a challenge that has captivated many.
Like Disney in Fantasia 2000. Animated along to the Firebird Suite, the Fantasia version of the story tells of a “spring sprite” through the forest. A fire explodes and then the forest is reborn. Animation, meets music, meets story.
For my piece, I adapted the characters of The Beautiful Tsarevna, The Firebird, and Koschei as a cast of could be punk high school kids. Then I overlayed their transformation into the characters of the ballet using a clear sheet (..and whole of lot sparkles). They can forever flip between their alter egos.
CharactersFancy outfits
As an extension, the transformation of the characters from everyday to magical resembles the transformation art undergoes when seen through the filter of another art form.
Collaborating on adaptation is not always an easy feat, but when art overlaps, shared qualities between forms reveal shared qualities among ourselves. We are multipulous human beings as artists and audience members and when our many interests combine, we can find commonality and push existing forms further.
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