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The Firebird

Costume Design Concept



Igor Stravinsky’s retelling of the Russian folktale, The Firebird, on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution points to the pending dissolution of the national identity.  The story is one of good against evil: good represented by Prince Ivan - royal, stalwart, and entrusted with the future of Mother Russia, and evil represented by the sorcerer Koschei - powerful, chaotic, and destructive.


Ivan enters the enchanted forest as a hunter and is confronted by a vast force. He has stumbled into his own epic when he meets the Firebird – the soul and essence of the land.  She is elusive, yet strangely drawn to him.  Their 'pas de deux' plays like a French Apache dance, and during the momentous climax, Ivan catches her at the very moment she allows herself to be captured.  Finally, his providential decision to set her free leads to his own salvation and presumably insures the imperial power of the ruling class.  Finally, the Firebird gives Ivan a feather that will allow him to summon her whenever she is needed.


I chose to set The Firebird in 1907, near the date of its first production, ten years before the Bolshevik Revolution.  As inspiration, I used gowns from the 1903 Winter Palace Ball, the last extravaganza hosted by Tzar Nicholas and Tzarina Alexandra before the revolution. 


The Faberge Imperial Eggs, emblems of the fertile legacy of royalty, are central to the costume concept for the Twelve Enchanted Princesses, being held captive by the evil sorcerer Koschei, whose soul, as the story goes, is itself encased in an egg.   Bejeweled and opulent, the romantic silhouettes of the princesses' tutus reflect the oval shape of the eggs themselves, and the costumes reflect the opulence of the era in tones of blue and gold, reminiscent of the Winter Palace façade. 


Prince Ivan’s costume, inspired by Tzar Nicholas’s Winter Palace Gala robe, is reinterpreted as traditional hunting garb.  The airy lightness of the Firebird’s classical tutu, in tule and feathers, contrasts with the weightier fabrics and jeweled laces of the princesses’ costumes.  Traditional Russian motifs – onion domes, ombred lattices, and faceted stars emboss the costumes with the symbols of the culture.


The sorcerer Koschei is equally opulent and formidably matched in design to Ivan.  Koschei's minions are conceived as life-size bunraku puppets, with segmented body units that break apart and envelope Prince Ivan during the mortal combat. The puppets become an overwhelming, undefeatable mass.


In the finale, the Firebird is summoned by the Prince.  When she appears, she casts a sleeping spell on the villains freeing Ivan to smash the egg that contains Koschei's mortal soul, and rendering the sorcerer powerless.  The Princesses are also freed, and the Firebird opens a portal through which Prince Ivan and Princess Tsarevna escape.  In the traditional story, the empire is safe, and Russia is restored to the ruling class.  In this adaptation, the ending heralds the demise of the empire - the segmented body parts of the sleeping monsters awaken and reassemble themselves under their own power, foreshadowing the chaos that will ravage the homeland in the form of Revolution.  Neither Prince Ivan nor the Firebird will be able to stop it.

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