'The Infernal Dance,' an oil painting by Betty Barss, was inspired by the brass ensembles' contribution to the piece.

Art exhibit centers on Stravinsky's 'Firebird'

A group of 18 artists explores the musical landscape within composer Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird Suite."

For their exhibit, the artists collaborated with Rogue Valley Symphony, which plans to perform an orchestral version of the ballet at its concerts, scheduled for Friday, Feb. 25, in the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland; Saturday, Feb. 26, in the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford; and Sunday, Feb. 27, at the Performing Arts Center, 830 N.E. Ninth St., Grants Pass. (Friday's show is sold out.) The artists are set to display interpretations of the piece in the lobbies of respective venues one hour before each show.

"It ('The Firebird Suite') was created to be a multimedia thing, beginning with a fairy-tale tradition, which this dance instructor (Michel Fokine) and music writer (Stravinsky) made into this very visual experience," says Judy Bjorlie, one of the participating artists and a cellist in the symphony.

The ballet, written in 1910, is based on a Russian folk tale about Prince Ivan, who is lost in an enchanted forest belonging to the immortal, evil ogre Katschai. The prince aids the Firebird, a nondescript, red bird, who in return gives him one of its magic feathers. As the tale concludes, Prince Ivan, with the help of the Firebird, destroys the ogre, thus releasing the spellbound kingdom, including his beloved Princess Elena.

Each of the artists, including several from Ashland's Art & Soul Gallery, was presented with a copy of the story, as well as CD of the music.

"I wanted to encourage them to let the music speak to them," says Bjorlie.

She challenged the artists to avoid being too literal — painting an instrument or ballerina — and, instead, focus on the piece's emotions, colors and characters.

Each artist came away with a different impression of the story. Bjorlie, like several others, sought to illustrate the Firebird as she imagined it to be. Bjorlie patterned the likeness after that of a snowy egret but with crimson plumes and a feather in its bill.

"I wanted a bird who would shake and struggle to break the enchantment," she explains.

Other artists took a more abstract approach to the story. Linda Boutacoff's "Infernal Dance" captures the angry ogre "in an abstract full of sharp, angular lines, drippy bits of paint and lots of blue, reds and browns and energetic shapes," describes Bjorlie.

Several artists, including Wyn Pederson, Charlotte Peterson and Betty Barss, were inspired by the suite's musical aspects and incorporated sheet music, musicians and instruments.

Heavy on watercolor, the show also features oil, acrylic, pastel and collage work. The Firebird exhibit has been displayed at Art & Soul Gallery for the past two months.

For a list of participating artists and to view work, see www.rvsymphony.org. For more information, call 541-488-0364.

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