George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Firebird Suite for Orchestra (1945), from Firebird (1910)
Photo © Paul Kolnik
Balanchine’s Firebird was one of the choreographer’s first creations for the young New York City Ballet, using elaborate sets and costumes. The story, the choreography, the sets, and the music all integrated many brilliantly colored elements from Russian folklore. Because Balanchine chose to use the orchestral suite rather than the complete three-act score, he simplified the story and emphasized the mythical elements of the Firebird’s character.
For revivals in 1970, 1972, and 1980, Balanchine changed his choreography for the Firebird — and sometimes the costume as well — to suit the ballerina cast in the leading role. At Balanchine’s invitation, in 1970, the artist Marc Chagall came to New York City to supervise the construction of new sets and costumes based on his designs for a new production. For the 1970 revival, Jerome Robbins contributed new choreography for the monsters’ dance. The current production was staged in 1985.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), born in Russia, is acknowledged as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. His work encompassed styles as diverse as Romanticism, Neoclassicism and Serialism. His ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes included The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, and Apollo. His music has been used in over thirty ballets originating with New York City Ballet from 1948 through 1987, including Danses Concertantes, Orpheus, The Cage, Agon, Monumentum pro Gesualdo, Rubies, Symphony in Three Movements, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat, Concertino, and Jeu de Cartes.