Firebird Dance Today

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy New Year...Now let's talk about Halloween.

We'd like to wish you all a very Happy New Year! 2010 is here. New Year's Eve has come and gone. The ball has dropped and the confetti has landed. What now? Why, Halloween, of course!

You may not think that January is the time to think about Halloween. So let us prove you wrong and explain why we seriously have Halloween on the brain and why you should be seriously excited.

On December 19, we had an encore performance of our latest show, Simcha. It was about family, tradition, love, history as tangible and true to life as an old photo album.

Now it's time to turn over a new leaf and start a brand new show. And this one will take us in a whole new direction. We have begun the first steps of work and choreography for our upcoming show, A Vampire Dinner Party, which should be ready by October 2010, in time for Halloween.

And where Simcha was all about a loving tribute to real life, A Vampire Dinner Party will be a departure into a much more fantastical world.

It's a world we've just begun constructing,

a world that will be deliciously decadent, imaginative, mystical, funny, spooky, wild, mysterious, bold, carnivorous, and breathtaking. Imagine a mansion on Halloween night where the real, the imagined, the living and the not-so-living come together to toast to the wildest night of the year. Imagine a grand ball. And imagine yourself as a guest and a voyeur, catching a peak into the many rooms of this mansion, each holding different stories, secrets, and surprises. Any proper mansion — and especially one on Halloween night — has a good ghost story, a good love story, a skeleton or two in the closet, deadly thrills and lively music. It's a Vampire Dinner Party. And your invited — as dinner.

We wanted to share with you some of our first ideas, impressions, and images of the choreography and the costumes for the show that's already got us possessed. Take a look at the photos of our first steps towards putting this show together.

Enjoy the photos and of course, we'll keep you posted with more spooky developments. In the meantime, Happy New Year... and Happy Halloween.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Simcha, behind the scenes

A conversation with artistic director, Lotta Lysaya Burton

On December 19th, Firebird Dance Theatre will be presenting an encore performance of their latest show, Simcha, along with a festive Chanukah bazaar for the whole family. The 1-year-old show is being revived for a Chanukah Celebration and rehearsals for the encore are in full swing. 

It's midnight on October 6, and Firebird's artistic director, Lotta Lysaya Burton is lying on her couch at home, touching up a costume. For the day, the phone has stopped ringing. The dog is asleep. So I corner her to have an unexpected chat about the side of the show that the audience hasn't seen. In a casual, late-night conversation about Simcha, Lotta Lysaya Burton, the artistic director tells us about her inspiration, the creation of the show, and the most memorable behind-the-scenes moments.

Visit the official Simcha website for more info and tickets

What was your inspiration for this show?

Lotta Lysaya Burton: My childhood memories, my grandma, everything I learned from my grandparents, my mother. Basically my childhood experience. That's something that I wanted to put into a show and this was my inspiration. But then I had to do a lot of homework. I had to read all the Sholom Aleichem stories, and to research a lot about Jewish heritage.

Your first show was Alice in Wonderland, and you followed that up with Quintessence. And now, Simcha. You've moved from fairytales, myths, and abstractions as themes for your shows to something much more tangible and familiar. It's quite a departure. Talk about that.

L.L.B. I guess when you get older, there are some things in your past that become more important to you than when you were younger. And you think about your — ancestors is a big word, but — you think about your past more seriously, you want to talk about people who are no longer with you. And it's not only about my family. It's about their generation. About something that is...kind of going away. That culture is almost gone. And when our grandparents die, it looks like there won't be anybody to continue, to preserve that. It's being lost and it would be sad if it was completely lost. And I think it would be really nice if that culture still had a part in our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren. 

And I don't want to sound cheesy. But it was quite educational in the most charming and beautiful way, for all the dancers. The older they are, the more they understand. And the younger they are, well, they may not understand as much, but they FEEL. They feel something happening. And that's how they learn. I had parents of my young students sitting in the waiting area and just listening to the music that I was using for the show, and literally crying. I would come out and see them red-eyed and tears were streaming down their cheeks and I didn't even have to ask anything. Because I knew why. And they would say, "Oh God, my grandmother was singing this song to me when I was a child." or "I remember this little episode being a part of my family," "Oh, my grandfather told me that."

Simcha was something that the audience could really IDENTIFY with. This was something they could LIVE. Not just appreciate, but really identify with it. I have never had so many heartfelt words that were told to me about my work. 

So this time around you found much more inspiration in life than in something magical?

L.L.B. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think the next show is going to go into magic again. I guess this is how I work. It's not good to dig very deeply but very narrowly into one thing. For me it's interesting to try different stories, different perspectives. And it also has to do with the people whom I'm making it for. Because it's not enough for me to be inspired. I work with people whom I have to inspire. And unless the whole crew and the performers ARE inspired, there isn't going to be any magic on stage. This is something that comes from within. So I guess that with Simcha, it happened, since we could hear people laugh during the performance, and we could hear people cry. People would come backstage to thank us for the performance. 

In terms of your own creative process, how do you get your ideas for the choreography?

L.L.B. Well it's very different. This process doesn't have one side. It can be either listening to music and just seeing the picture in your head and then bringing that to your dancers and fitting what you envision onto your performers. Or you can get inspired by your dancers and what they have to offer and start from there. And one thing leads to another. So it can vary. But it's a joint effort.

This isn't the first time that Firebird is going to be performing Simcha. They've performed it before. Will this encore show be different from previous Simcha performances, and what can people expect?

L.L.B. I guess the biggest new part of this event is going to be the Chanukah Bazaar before the show, which is going to be done for the first time. And this should bring a new flavor to it. Because instead of being just the audience of the show, you get to participate. You become the guest of a little shtetl from Sholom Aleichem's story. And this is something I'm very much looking forward to creating and to being a part of, and to seeing what will happen. Because the show is done. We have all the props, all the costumes, all the performers. But the Bazaar is a new side to what we do. And it's creating something new, and this is always exciting. 

You mentioned costumes. People who know you know that — besides dancing — you have a love affair with fashion. How does that translate into the costumes, and can you tell me some more about fashion in the costumes for the show?

L.L.B. Well people are always saying that I'm crazy for spending so much money on the costumes for our shows. It's a huge part of what's going on onstage. I believe that wearing the costumes, especially if it's a period piece, makes a big difference for the performer. It transforms a person. With the costumes for Simcha, I was trying to make them look like the performance came from a painting of Marc Chagall's, who is one of my favorite painters. All the colors of his pictures are amazing. There is so much imagination, so much hope in them. And I was really hoping that the colors, the costumes, the sets, the lighting would create a picture that would be unique and I really hope that we have achieved it. 

There is no doubt that this show, or any of our other shows, we could dress for less. But it is much too important for me to dress my dancers the way that I would dress myself: they are all the children of the show and I can't have less integrity dressing them than dressing myself. Because after all it is my show, so what's the difference? 

And what else is interesting is that it IS a period piece for a traditional story. But neither the sets nor the costumes are completely traditional, and definitely have a modern twist and a theatrical twist to them. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you chose to do that?

L.L.B. When you create your dances, your costumes, your lighting, your sets, you always have to think: who are you talking to? Who is your audience? So if you make a period piece and there is no twist to it at all, without the arrow of the compass moving towards the younger generation, then you're not going to speak to the younger generation. They're not going to listen to you. And the whole idea of this show was to preserve and to continue to get the younger generations interested in the past. 

So that's why I would say that the sets of this show are also very modern and done by a very young and talented person [Alisa Rabin]. The sets and the lighting are hers, and I think they are done in a very talented way. It was really exactly what I wanted and exactly what I needed. And it's no surprise because she's very young, so it had to be the work of a younger generation. It IS in a way like Chagall's pictures: if it was just pictures of the shtetls without that imagination and a twist, we would never look at it today. It would stay where it was.

During the process of making the show, there was a lot of time spent in preparation. A lot of long hours. Was there anything memorable or funny that happened behind the scenes that only the cast saw, that the audience would never see?

L.L.B. That is a truly magnificent question. I have to think. There were so many. Well: Igor [the rehearsal director and one of the principal dancers], he had to grow out his beard. He had to stop shaving two months before the show to get the right length of his beard. In the show he plays a father, and his image is to have a beard. And for the second act, in New York, he plays a young man. He had to be clean shaven, in a white hat and a cool suit. So during the intermission between the first and the second acts of the show, he actually had to frantically shave, and he looked like a completely different person. So that was a cool moment.

He has to do that over and over for every show?

Yea [laughing], this will already be the third time he has to do it. 

I guess that's a good reason why there always have to be at least two months between each show!

L.L.B. That's right. That's why we don't do two shows in the same day!

Good things take time.

L.L.B. Good things take time! [laughing]. Another very touching moment was how the characters of the Rabbi and his wife came to be a part of the show. Both those dancers were our students who used to dance with us for over 10 years. Recently, they got married. And I saw them again, actually at the wedding of another student who danced with us for many years. And we were just talking they asked about our news and I told them that I'm making this Jewish show. Both of them are Jewish and they became very interested. The next day they told me that they wanted to be a part of it. So I created these parts specially for them, so it's cool. And on the other hand, the dancers who play the bride and groom in the show, in the process of work, they were always teasing each other and bickering like a real husband and wife. And the real husband and wife [George and Gina, who play the Rabbi and his wife] were never fighting! 

Also it was funny because the bride and groom [Alisa and Mikhail] had to rehearse "Mazel Tov," the dance where they actually get married, over and over again, and they were joking that they couldn't keep track of how many times they had been married and divorced [laughing].

Also, you are usually extremely calm under pressure. When you have a lot of things to worry about and multi-task, dancers, kids, music, crew, you always stay very calm. But I think that the most nervous I saw you had to do with a small prop.

L.L.B. Yes! [laughs very loudly] This was a very cute moment! I mean we had our dress rehearsal and hundreds — hundreds! — of costumes, and literally about a hundred performers and the crew and lighting, everything together! And the thing that I was most worried about were these fake prop candles that I — the character I was playing — was supposed to "light" on-stage during the show. So we had these artificial candles, and in one dance, I was supposed to turn them on, as in "light them" during Sabbath. And I was so nervous about that! During the rehearsal they wouldn't work. One of them wouldn't light! So when I actually made both of them work, my God! I thought "Yes! Thank God it worked!" I was more relieved about being being able to turn two fake candles on and off than about the whole performance running so smoothly! Because the performance was something that was in my control, but those damn candles...!

By the way, this was your first time back, dancing onstage in years. How was that?

L.L.B. It was fun. It was really fun. On the one hand I missed it and I really wanted to do it. But on the other hand, during the dress rehearsal, and during the performance, there were at least ten times when I thought, oh God, I should have never done it! I can't be here and there at the same time. And even though my presence on stage was quite short — just a few numbers — it is so important for the director to oversee the whole picture, that I thought, "I'm definitely not doing this again in the next show!"

But you know, Woody Allen usually casts himself in most of his own movies.

L.L.B. That's why I mostly like movies where he's not playing, just directing! [Laughing,] Two of my favorite movies of Woody Allen's are the ones where he's not playing!

Visit the official Simcha website for more info and tickets

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Season, New Site

Well, a new season has begun at Firebird Dance Studio. Welcome! 

We decided, that in the spirit of new beginnings, it was high time to dust off our Firebird Dance Studio wesite. And so we have. Come and visit us to see all the new changes to the site, and all our plans for the exciting upcoming season.

We've filled the site with new photos and updates. You can check out the new photo gallery, with show, festival, and studio galleries. While you're at it, visit our new video gallery, where we've posted a few new videos for your enjoyment!

We have a lot of exciting plans for this season, and you can keep up to date on this blog and on our website. But to give you a quick idea, here are just some of the things we have in store:
  • We will be choreographing a whole new program of fusion world-contemporary dances. That means, lots of new material and choreography, new upcoming performances, lots of preparations for next year when we will celebrate Firebird's 20th Anniversary! (It also means many late nights of pacing around the living room in headphones, and hand-sewing detailing onto costumes in the wee hours of the morning for our artistic director, Lotta Lysaya Burton).
  • We will be exploring and delving deeper into new forms of dance. And that means you can look forward to exciting workshop intensives on Cuban Latin Dance and Artentine Tango right out of the gate. Both of these workshops will be within the first six weeks of the 2009-2010 season, so there is lots in store for our dancers!
So, without further ado, we're off to teach, dance, perform, and create, and we hope to see you there! We're very excited. Join us for our studio's last year in its teens, before Firebird gracefully turn 20 next year.

We will leave you with a look back over the best memories of the first 18 years. Take a look at this slideshow of the warmest, funniest, loveliest moments in Firebird Dance Theatre history!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So You Think You Can Dance Embraces Russian Dance with Open Arms

Fox's So You Think You Can Dance has always been known for the wide variety of dance styles that if features. But in the past, ethnic dance has not had a presence on the show. This season, however, saw the first steps of international world dance on the main stream American national stage. The first was a Bollywood style Indian dance, but it was the finale's Russian Trepak dance that really brought the audience and the judges to their feet. The two male finalists, Twitch and Joshua were impressed and challenged by the beautiful, vibrant, and acrobatic tricks that Russian and Ukranian dance has to offer.

The dancers and staff of Firebird Dance Studio were happy and very proud to see Russian dancing being so well-received by American audiences nationwide. But we were not surprised! We have been teaching Russian Dance to students of all ages, as well as performing to audiences around the bay area, California, and internationally for 17 years. And we couldn't be happier that America's love of Russian dance is spreading! Below, you can see the routine that Twitch and Joshua performed, and compare it with photos of our own Firebird male dancers of all ages doing some Russian Dance tricks.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Welcome to the Firebird Blog

Welcome to Firebird Dance Studio's Blog where you will find our thoughts, news, events, articles, and photos of Firebird Dance School and Theatre, world dancing, and the bay area dance community.

As summer comes to a close and the days are growing shorter, we are excited to welcome in the fall, and with it, the official opening of Firebird's 2008-2009 season. Look forward to new classes, new choreography, new performances and, in December, our brand new show, Simcha. For more information on Simcha, you can visit the show's official site.

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