The Firebird Russian fairytale in two scenes
Music by Igor Stravinsky
Libretto by Michel Fokine
Choreography by Michel Fokine (1910)
Reconstruction: Isabelle Fokine, Andris Liepa
Set and costume design: Anna and Anatoly Nezhny
after original sketches: Alexander Golovin, Léon Bakst and Michel Fokine
Lighting Designer: Vladimir Lukasevich
World premiere: 25 June 1910, Les Saisons Russes, Théâtre de l´Opéra, Paris
Premiere of Michel Fokin’s version at the Mariinsky Theatre: 26 May 1994
Running time: 50 minutes
I have staged many ballets, but neither with Stravinsky nor with any other composer have I worked so hand-in-glove as on this occasion. (...) I wasn't expecting the composer to bring me the completed music. Stravinsky came to me with the initial sketches and basic ideas. He performed them for me. I mimed the scenes for him. At my request he broke up his own and the folk themes into short musical phrases, in accordance with individual moments of the scene, individual gestures and poses. I remember how he brought me the beautiful Russian melody for the entrance of Ivan Tsarevich and how I asked him not to have the entire melody at once, but when Ivan appears at the wall, when he gazes upon the wonders of the magic garden, when he jumps down from the wall... just a hint at the theme, some individual notes. Stravinsky played it. I depicted the Tsarevich. The piano acted as my wall. I leaped over the piano, jumped off it, strolled about, anxiously looking around my study... Stravinsky followed me and repeated to me fragments of the Tsarevich's melody to a background of quivering dance reflecting the garden of the evil King Kashchei. Then I was a tsarevna, I timidly accepted a golden apple from the imaginary tsarevich's hands. Then I was Kashchei, his infernal retinue and so on and so forth. All of this was very picturesquely reflected in the sounds of the piano being performed by the fingers of Stravinsky, who was also absorbed by this interesting work. (...)
The ballet The Firebird is dear to me not just because the music was written to my plot and that it was an exceptional success and remained in the repertoire of Diaghilev's company as long as it existed. But most of all because it embodied my ideal of combining a choreographic work with a musical opus, and it is also dear to me for the memories of those anxieties and joys that the composer and I felt together. (...)
When staging the dances I used three principles that are utterly different in terms of character and technique in this ballet.
I created the evil kingdom using grotesque, angular and sometimes freakish and sometimes amusing movements. The monsters moved on all fours, jumped like frogs, did different "tricks" with their legs, sitting and lying on the stage, their hands like fish fins, at times under the elbows, at times under the ears, the arms were entwined, they moved from one side to the other, squatting and so on, in a word they did everything that twenty years later began to be known as modern dance and what at the time seemed to me to be the most suitable means of expressing a nightmare, horror and ugliness. Virtuoso leaps and frivolity were also used.
The Tsarevnas danced with bare feet. They were natural, gracious and soft movements with a certain nuance of Russian folk dance.
I constructed the theme of the Firebird herself en pointe and on leaps, more so on the leaps. The dances are virtuoso, albeit without entrechats, battements, ronds de jambe, of course without turn-out or any preparations whatsoever. The arms at times flew out like wings, at others they held the body and the head in defiance of all ballet positions. In the ornamentation of the Firebird's arms, as in the movements of Kashchei's minions, there was a certain element of the Orient. (...)
To express the plot I absolutely rejected the conditional speech of the arms and ballet gestures, and I expressed it through the action and the dances.
Michel Fokine. Extracts from the book Against the Current