Innovation and geniality in Stravinsky’s ballets “The Firebird” and “Petrushka”
24 Feb 2022Sofia Opera and Ballet

Innovation and geniality in Stravinsky’s ballets “The Firebird” and “Petrushka”

Sofia Opera and Ballet on 18 March at 19:00h and 20 March at 16:00h offers its spectators two “different” ballet works – “Petrushka” and “The Firebird”, music by Igor Stravinsky, choreography – Mikhail Fokin. These two titles are real musical and dance innovation, a revolutionary for their time act of creation, recreated by a group of “titanic” artists in the face of the composer Igor Stravinsky, the choreographer Mikhail Fokin, the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and the splendid ballet dancers from his company.

As a result of Diaghilev’s idea to be created a ballet to Stravinsky’s music, the composer saw a possibility to tell the ancient folk texts in an avant-garde music language and this is why he turned to the fairy-tales from Afanasyev’s collection – in “The Firebird”, and to the personages from the street puppet theatre – in “Petrushka”. This way was born a rare combination of genial music, choreography and dance performance.

Igor Stravinsky’s music and Mikhail Fokin’s choreography, to put it mildly, scandalized the ballet guild and the audience of that time. Not by chance Stravinsky’s contemporaries called him “Prometheus of music”, “composer-chameleon”, “dictator of music mode”... Around his works often arose passionate disputes. The ballets “The Firebird” and “Petrushka” are as if ahead of their time and found their contradictory, but triumphal success still at their premieres on the stages of the Paris theatres Châtelet (“Petrushka” – 1911) and Grande Opéra (“The Firebird” – 1910). In them danced the ballet celebrities from Sergei Diaghilev’s famous company – Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina, and at the premiere of “The Firebird” the role of Prince Ivan performed Mikhail Fokin himself. Among the audience at the premieres of both ballets was the Paris elite – Marcel Proust, Maurice Ravel, Sarah Bernhardt, Claude Debussy, Jean Cocteau... When “The Firebird” appeared on the stage, for just one day the known for no one till this moment Russian composer turned into celebrity.

In “Petrushka” the plot follows the drama of the marionette from the square puppet theatres – Petrushka. During the noisy feast at the Shrovetide Fair, Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor are three participating in the performance puppets, who come to life, as a result of which they fill themselves with different emotions, inherent to people. Petrushka wants to tear himself away from the travelling theatrical company, which has already become a prison for him. He is in love with the Ballerina, but she rejects him. After that he gets beaten to death by the rude and cruel Moor, who is also in love with the Ballerina. At the end of the ballet, Petrushka appears again as a symbol of the immortality of free human spirit.

In “The Firebird” interweave characters from different Russian folk tales, and in the base is the magic personage of the Firebird, whose feathers are shining like fire and it has the ability to migrate between the heavenly and the human world. In the different folk cultures the Firebird is known as the bird Phoenix, which resurrects from the ash and starts living a new life. Included are also other personages from Russian folk tales – the heroical Prince Ivan, the evil magician Koschei, from whom Ivan must save the beautiful Tsarevna. With the help of the Firebird Ivan destroys Koschei and marries his beloved.