The Firebird, Plus Ballet, Is Coming To Boston, So Get Your Flame-Retardant Formalwear Ready

Stravinsky's The Firebird was originally written as a full-length evening of ballet, and that's how it was performed at its highly successful 1910 debut with the Paris Ballet.
You don't see a lot of full-on Firebirds because Igor Stravinsky, never one to skimp on numbers, composed The Firebird for an orchestra of 80 musicians or more, all of whom must be paid, and all of whom must somehow fit into a typical ballet orchestra pit built for a force half that size.
So it's a rare day indeed when you can hear the entire Firebird, complete with dance, with a 90-piece ensemble, just as the composer intended.
That rare day will be Saturday, June 18 at 8 p.m., at MIT's Kresge Auditorium, with the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, Cynthia Woods conducting.
"We're a community orchestra," says Maestro Woods, "but we're a good one. We like big challenges. This is a big challenge."
The CSO received a grant from a donor and Woods suggested the full-on Firebird, something that only a ballet company the size of Boston Ballet, the New York City Ballet, or the American Ballet Theatre could hope to mount.
The donor agreed, and Woods' life suddenly got very complicated.
"Normally the orchestra's in the pit and the dancers are on stage," she says. "Here, we'll have eight dancers, four of whom will be doubling roles, and most of the time they'll be at the front of the stage, with the orchestra playing behind them.
"We looked it up - there hasn't been a performance of the complete Firebird in Boston for the last 20 years. So this is something unique."
The music's a century old but the choreography's brand-new, created by former Boston Ballet dancer Gianni Di Marco. He'll double up, too, performing the lead role of Kashchei as well.
Continuing the theme of artistic multitasking, the lead female dancer, Ruth Whitney, is juggling three vital assignments: rehearsing her role as the Firebird; making the costumes for all of the dancers; and taking care of her 20-month-old daughter.
Whitney has been making kids' costumes for years at the two ballet schools where she teaches; having the kind of budget to create Firebird costumes, inspired by original drawings online from the 1910 Paris production, is "a dream come true."
Conductor Woods' goal is to create an evening of music and dance that will leave the audience inspired and not "napping or playing with their phones," in her words, "which is the thing that performers fear the most."
Woods says that Stravinsky, just 28 when he composed The Firebird, was still under the influence of his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, and the great Russian composers like Tchaikovsky.
As a result, The Firebird is lush and listenable, and not nearly as incendiary as Stravinsky's third great work, The Rite Of Spring.
"That piece is about pagan rituals and complex rhythms, and the audience just went crazy," Woods says, with a trace of longing. "There was rioting and a stabbing. It's a long way from audiences today, where people sit quietly and know never to clap between movements."
Woods says that she would like to take on The Rite Of Spring next because "I've never seen a riot break out in a classical music performance, and I think it would be fun."
The Firebird's reception should fall somewhere between the two extremes of riots and napping audiences awakening only to play Angry Birds, but you'll have to head over to MIT to see for yourself.
For further information, cambridgesymphony.org.