Ballet choreographers at the Crucible are known for putting their dancers in precarious situations. In last year's production of Romeo and Juliet, leading man Easton Smith drank a bottle of potion that was actually lighter fluid, so that whenever he convulsed and started hyperventilating, the candle at his bedside would erupt in flames. Dancers in the subsequent performance Fire Odyssey lugged heavy propane gas tanks with hoses that slithered through their costumes and attached to special props (so they could turn a valve and light a sword on fire). In the new production Firebird: L'oiseau de feu, producer Michael Sturtz and choreographer Viktor Kabaniaev took the idea a step further and decided to burn not only the props and stage sets, but costumes as well.
Prima ballerina Tina Kay Bohnstedt, who plays the production's title character, seemed relatively sanguine about this approach — even though it requires her to flit around in a flaming tutu. After all, the prospect of sudden conflagrations adds an element of grit and danger to the old Stravinsky ballet, and all the stunts make it a little more "funked up," she assured. Not that this production was by any means typical from the get-go. It opens with a Hells Angels-type sequence by motorbike stunt rider Darius Khashabi, who chases the Firebird through a magical garden. Bohnstedt — who makes her second entrance from a Pontiac Firebird — will wear leather corsets and an industrial tutu custom-made by Crucible Hot Couture designer Ian Hunter. Her stunt double Janine Fondiller will play an "aerial Firebird" who hangs from a flaming trapeze. A world-class breakdancer named Iron Monkey (né Shawn Hallman) will play the evil sorcerer Kashchei. He'll be accompanied by two B-Boy collectives, Flavor Group and fLo-Ology, who will answer the ballerinas' sharp-pointed tendus and perfectly executed pirouettes with some funky movements of their own. Even the traditional Stravinsky score will have hip-hop backbeats thrown in at the appropriate places, if only for the purpose of plot.
Crucible marketing director Jan Schlesinger characterized Firebird as one of the most visually stunning productions to take place thus far at the West Oakland warehouse. She is perpetually amazed by the caliber of dancers who come in to such a grimy industrial space and cast off their inhibitions; Bohnstedt, after all, is a classical danseuse who trained at the Heinz-Bosl Stiftung Ballet Academy in Munich, and danced in all the canonical European productions. As far as propane tanks and fiery tutus go, she's being a remarkably good sport.
Firebird: L'oiseau de feu runs Wednesday through Saturday, April 9-12 and April 16-18 at the Crucible (1260 Seventh St., Oakland). 8:30 p.m., $30-$55. $150 for the special wine reception on Friday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m. TheCrucible.org