Glenn Davis as Prince Ivan and Rhiannon Pelletier as the Firebird Photo Courtesy of Maine State Ballet

The woods are alive with the sounds of dancing feet.

Given their location on the outskirts of Falmouth, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Maine State Ballet prefers stories set in the forest. Or maybe it’s just that a lot of classic ballets favor such locales. In any event, after last summer’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the MSB has opened its new season with a captivating production of “The Firebird,” a ballet set deep in a mysterious Russian wilderness.

The classic fairy tale of Prince Ivan, who while on a hunting expedition temporarily gets hold of a beautiful and quite magical bird, was made into one of the first important ballets of the 20th century by the legendary Ballets Russes.

As the story goes, when the creature offers the prince a magic feather in exchange for her freedom, he takes it, though not yet realizing how handy it will be for him when he meets up with the evil Kotschei and the demons of his realm. The ogre has captured a group of princesses, for one of whom Ivan has fallen. It’s no secret by this time that the Firebird will save the day, leading the one-act ballet to a joyous conclusion in the marriage of the prince (Glenn Davis) and princess (Janet Davis).

MSB principal dancer Rhiannon Pelletier becomes a dazzling feathered creature, seeking to elude the prince’s grasp while also revealing an aroused curiosity about her strange captor. Her anxious fluttering movements and variety of difficult steps and turns transform the graceful ballerina into a delicate expression of the modernist power within the choreography by Linda MacArthur Miele.

At the Saturday afternoon performance, Glenn Davis effectively conveyed that extra note of fascination and attraction that the prince possesses for the feathery female. His partnering with Pelletier revealed just the right suggestion of a puzzling but enticing chemistry.

Kotschei (David Jon Timm) and his crew, who are in elaborate and quite spooky costumes by Gail Csoboth that suggest an early arrival of Halloween, commanded the middle part of the work with their highly expressive Infernal Dance. Laura Moskevich was particularly sinuous in a nightmarish evocation of the wild (for the time) new ballet styles that were inspired by the music of Igor Stravinsky.

The brief program began with “Paquita,” a more restrained divertissement choreographed by the master Marius Petipa. Abigail Ryer, Trevor Seymour, Emma Davis, Emily Stinneford, Arie Eiten and Julia Lopez were among the standouts in solos that drew strong applause from the multigenerational crowd.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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