I’m a typical ex-band geek from high school. I’m not versed in every well-known piece from the Baroque period, but I know some major works of major composers. Unfortunately for Igor Stravinsky enthusiasts, I knew nothing about his works, but Eastern Michigan University’s Department of Music and Dance changed all of that.
The department put on “The Firebird” Friday at Pease Auditorium. The show was open to the public and the auditorium was packed. As a student, the benefit for seeing it was that you could earn a Learning Beyond the Classroom credit. However, if you were just seeing it for that reason, you had another thing coming.
Michael Mesner, a fifth year instrumental music education major and instrumentalist for the production, said, “Stravinsky has a way of creating a scene and changing it into something completely different.”
Michael Edwards, also a fifth year instrumental education major and instrumentalist for the double bass agreed with Mesner.
“Stravinsky is very important. [‘Firebird’] is more modern music, and it’s something that the crowd doesn’t hear very often,” he said.
First things first: If you have never had the chance to visit Pease Auditorium, I recommend you do so before you have to leave the area. The venue is absolutely gorgeous.
Another element that caught my eye when I arrived (that was specific to “The Firebird”) was the large and unique orchestra: there were two harps, many string instruments and instruments so large that they spanned over the height of the player.
I’m usually bored to death with overtures, but this one was short enough to keep you captivated, but long enough to get its point across. The lower sounds coming from instruments such as the string basses sounded cinematic. Contrarily, the higher-sounding instruments lent a sound of dissonance and tension.
The story of “Firebird” revolves around Ivan Tsarevich, who was played by Patrick McCrae. When he enters The Immortal Kostchi’s realm, he meets the Firebird, who he tries to capture. The Firebird compromises with Ivan by giving him one of her feathers that will help him in a time of need.
This soon comes in handy when he meets the princesses. One, named Tsarevna, he falls in love with, but the evil Kostchi breaks them up. When she tries to turn him to stone, he presents the feather and the spell is not cast. The Firebird presents Ivan with an egg in which Kostchi’s soul is contained. He breaks it, killing her. Ivan and Princess Tsarevna are married, celebrating the Firebird in their ceremony as their thanks.
When I realized that sophomore dance major Jenni Flanagan who played the Firebird would be a slave to gravity for the performance, I doubted that she or anyone else could pull it off. Although her smile lit up the stage right to the very back where I sat, I did not believe that dance and costume alone could convince the audience that she was flying. But she was the epitome of a ballerina, with her gracefulness, upward mobility and her feet en pointe. She portrayed a bird well when she made movements such as the extremely quick gestural motion of her arms pointing upward.
When the dynamic changed from solo to duo because Ivan walked onto the stage, she really began to seem like a bird. One had to use their imagination here, but it was not at all difficult.
When talking with my friends about the ballet afterward, my guy friends had (not surprisingly) not seen any ballets. This was just a tad disappointing to hear. Little details spring to my mind every so often of the production, from Ivan’s coming on stage from the audience to Kotschi’s fist shaking with anger. The reason for these simple sentiments is that I really have come to appreciate art and beauty in life. Art appreciation is truly a practice, and I think students should take every opportunity to enhance their lives with it by seeing fantastic student productions such as “The Firebird.”