The argument that one can successfully adapt ballet to film is not supported by Barbara Willis Sweete’s well-intended but clumsy adaptation of “The Firebird.” There’s obviously nothing wrong with this ballet perennial — Igor Stravinsky’s score is among the most extraordinary musical compositions ever conceived and James Kudelka’s fabled choreography always inspired audiences.
But when placed before the camera, it just doesn’t click — at least not here. Sweete never seems certain where to put the camera: it is either too far away or too close or circling the dancers in distracting tracking shots. Sweete also unwisely employs cheap special effects which often create laughs rather than awe. The most astonishing FX faux pas is when the eponymous avian (actually ballerina Greta Hodgkinson in a red tutu) zooms into view. She is flying in Peter Pan style across the set with animated flames burning from between her legs. Either this Firebird needs a fire extinguisher or a megadose of penicillin!
The costume designer seems to be odds with the rest of the production. The evil demon who reigns in the enchanted forest is depicted by a guy wearing goth make-up and a black wrap-around skirt. Princess Vasilisa and her fellow aristocrats are all wearing bubble gum pink shower caps that match their rather chintzy-looking bubble gum pink dresses. And when the princess is joined in union with Prince Ivan at the close of the piece, the forest spirit who unites them is a chubby woman covered in a head-to-toe in an Islamic outfit which appears to have been purchased from a Taliban boutique.
Only Aleksandar Antonijevic as Prince Ivan comes out of this thoroughly unscathed. He is a marvelous dancer and, even better (in regard to this production), an excellent actor with a strong and sensual screen presence. Pity that Antonujevic is stuck in a gooney bird of a “Firebird” movie.