For those familiar with Cincinnati Ballet’s (CB) annual performance of “Director’s Cut,” our expectations manifest as something modern that exhibits breakthrough movements and emotions. Delivering on that and more with the long awaited return of “Firebird” and “Rite of Spring,” choreographer Adam Hougland once again takes us out of our comfort zone with an experience that is absolutely stunning in its sexual prowess and evocative journey from defeat to defiance.
Well-known for pushing beyond balletic and social norms, CB is redefining what is possible when working with a wildly talented company that is equally en pointe with their technique as they are with emotional storytelling. The seductive combination of “Firebird” and “Rite of Spring” strikes the audience hard and hedonistically with two phenomenal performances that carve themselves into your heart, mind and soul with no apology and absolutely no regret.
Setting the stage for the dark, familiar tale of good vs evil in “Firebird” means embracing the power of Music Hall, with its expansive stage and acoustics that showcase the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s beautiful delivery of some of Igor Stravinsky’s finest work. Leveraging beautiful, cold, tutu-shaped metal cages that simultaneously enslave and elevate their royal inhabitants, CB crafts a performance that effectively conveys the fickle nature of power structures that can shift suddenly.
Samantha Griffin as Princess Tsarevna and Edward Gonzalez Kay as Prince Ivan (The Hunter) deliver a delectable dance of love that captures every nuance of their emotions from flirtation to fear as they encounter the ferocious Immortal in the form of the talented Taylor Carrasco, reminding us of the depth of this company of dancers. But it is Melissa Gelfin who sets the stage on fire with an intense, finely honed performance that perfectly encapsulates the minute fluttering movements of a bird juxtaposed with an undeniable strength that ultimately delivers freedom and victory for all, leaving no doubt that you just witnessed the rise of a phoenix. For those of us who have waited years for this performance to come back to the stage, it did not disappoint in the slightest and left us quivering in anticipation for when it will return again.
In a master stroke of storytelling that is more grim than fairy, “Rite of Spring” breaks all the rules to deliver a reimagined version that is equally evocative in its powerful portrayal of dominant versus submissive as it is uncomfortable in its ferocious portrayal of fear in the face of power. From the first haunting note of this powerful score to our initial glimpse of their dystopian version of a Roman bath house, the audience is already shifting in delicious discomfort in anticipation of what’s to come in a story that focuses on ritual sacrifice and dancing to death.
A bit reminiscent of the movie “The Matrix,” the grimly dressed dancers will cause your stomach to clench from their raw, animalistic depiction of hysteria as they waver between defeat and defiance. The complex choreography is evident throughout, but the militaristic symmetry of their movements as they simultaneously spin and stomp their rage, is overwhelming in the best possible way. It is truly Sirui Liu, as the Chosen One, who takes an already phenomenal experience to something that transcends beyond with a beautifully raw, painfully emotive, and technically superior performance that literally takes your breath and leaves you wondering how you should feel about the stroke of genius that just unfolded on the stage. Delivering a finale that challenges expectations on what ballet can and should be, this performance resets the bar and all we can say is bring it on, Cincinnati Ballet. We want more.
CB’s “Director’s Cut” is not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to open their minds to a performance that pierces into your subconscious and redefines your expectations, this is one that you should not miss. Unveiling their 2019/2020 season, Cincinnati Ballet is already thinking about what’s next and offering up additional tasty morsels for us to experience in the next year. Congrats on continuing to push boundaries and transform the arts scene of Cincinnati.
Christi Geary is the proud mom of two girls (8 and 11), best friend and wife of her husband Brian, and an Associate Director at the Procter & Gamble Company focused on shopper innovation insights and analytics. She enjoys and participates in art of every kind, feeds an insatiable curiosity for learning every day through books and connecting with others, pursues different forms of exercise when she can find the time to balance out her foodie predilection (highly recommend DanceFix and Pilates Reformer), and delights in spending time with family and friends (especially anything Disney-related). Writing reviews is an absolute privilege and one she cherishes every day, with the hope that sharing her perspective will inspire others to embrace the arts.