Feature speaker Suzanne Haag shares about her experiences with dance during the Ballet Outsider event at the University of Oregon on April 10, 2019. (Madi Mather/Emerald)

Eugene Ballet is closing their 40th anniversary season with the world premier of Suzanne Haag’s reimagined version of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” set to take place at the Hult Center for Performing Arts. “The Firebird” is no stranger to Eugene Ballet — it was first choreographed by co-founder Toni Pimble 36 years ago for the Hult Center’s opening weekend and has continued to be produced by the ballet.

Haag and Brian McWhorter, the musical director for the Eugene Ballet’s orchestra, came together on April 10 to speak about this upcoming production in a panel titled Ballet Outsiders at the University of Oregon’s Berwick Hall.

“The Firebird” marks Haag’s first time choreographing for the Eugene Ballet as their new resident choreographer after 15 years of being a dancer for the company. In the panel, Haag mentioned that Pimble had only one request for her — this version had to be completely different from Pimble’s classical take on the Russian folktale.

The ballet tells the story of Hero, the protagonist of the ballet, who starts off by capturing Firebird with the intention to kill her. Instead, Firebird convinces the Hero to spare her life. As a reward, Firebird gives Hero a single red feather, which symbolizers her promise to help him if he is ever in need. The ballet takes audience member’s through Firebird and Hero’s partnership to win their battle against Fear — the antagonist.

While Haag largely kept the plot the same, she made some key changes to ensure she fulfilled Pimble’s request. Haag took the classic tale and is reimagining it as a modern, futuristic and post-apocalyptic tale. Haag was looking to delve deeper into what she refers to as — our culture’s obsession with dystopian stories.

Another key element Haag changed is the character of Firebird. In the original ballet, Firebird is played by a single female. Their dances, in Haag’s opinion, tend to insinuate a romantic relationship between Hero and Firebird. To avoid that, Haag is using three dancers to interpret the bird — two men and one women. Each dancer has a piece of the bird's body part, and while the dancers perform as a unit, they are not physically connected.

Haag hopes audience members leave the production feeling hopeful. For her, this is ultimately a story about the strength in teamwork. “The Firebird” proves that “the individual is stronger working together.”

This revival of “The Firebird” cements years of Eugene tradition both with the Eugene Ballet and the Hult Center; it carries the legacy of art and performance in the city and adds a new modern take.

“The Firebird” runs April 13 and 14 at The Hult Center for Performing Arts. For more information regarding tickets visit their website.

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