Quixotic Cirque Nouveau premiered “Firebird,” the re-imagined folk tale set to arrangements of Radiohead songs, at the Lied Center of Kansas in Lawrence on Friday. The Kansas City-based performing group has a reputation for ambitious productions with sexy-cirque presentations at festivals and events across the nation.
The production was directed and choreographed by Robert Dekkers, with co-creative director and Quixotic founder Anthony Magliano. The spectacle blended dance, acrobatics, projections and laser lighting bouncing off mirror balls through the fog. Magliano and Stephen Goldblatt collaborated on visual design with lighting designer Chandler Thomann and technical designer Will Funk, the coordination between lighting and rigging cues a feat of choreography all its own.
Shane Borth and Rick Willoughby arranged fourteen Radiohead songs in straightforward adaptations for a rock drum-heavy chamber ensemble. Borth, who also played the menacing, scheming King, was onstage much of the time on solo violin.
The scenario was difficult to follow, based on spare program notes that provided quotes from John Keats instead of a synopsis. Not difficult to follow, exactly, since the scenes were broadly theatrical, but difficult to align with expectations of the traditional story, altered from the familiar Stravinsky version, though many versions of the folk tale exist.
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The 70 minute show was divided into two separate acts with no intermission. This performance was not as reliant on tricky projections as past productions, with a mostly static, nearly minimalist scenic design (though I missed the first few sequences due to a creatively unhelpful navigation app and an unfamiliarity with southside Lawrence), often displaying a screen of ambiguous images that could have been sunset clouds, morphing stalactites or pastel nebulae.
An elaborate technical moment involved Rachel Coats, as the Firebird, dancing behind a projection of flickering plumes of flame, with large red fabric “wings” filling the stage, though her elegance en pointe was underutilized and constrained.
Dancer Christian Squires was the hero, Prince Ivan, and also designed the show’s detail-oriented costumes and accessories: deep red for the Firebird, white/silver for the prince, black/blue for the menacing characters and gold for the dancers. He had the unenviable task of dancing the finale scene soulfully, in underwear, partnered with the limp body of Coats (the Firebird having been killed by King Koschei in the scene previous, Borth stabbing her with his violin bow), sliding to hit their mark for the last spotlight.
This final scene was especially striking because of vocalist Calvin Arsenia’s on-stage performance of “Fake Plastic Trees,” accompanying himself and the dancers on harp.
The aerialists and acrobats garnered much of the audience’s rambunctious applause throughout the show, especially Megan Stockman on lyra, David Matz on cyr wheel, and Andrey Moraru balancing on his hands. Terry Beeman choreographed the sequence “Firebird Rising,” featuring Elizabeth Fraley.
Quixotic, which does not often trade in subtleties, went for the visceral punch of thudding rhythms and bright lights, aerial stunts and glittering costumes, successfully appealing to the crowd with a distinct and unique “Firebird.”