The Arty Semite

Traditional Dance With a Fiery New Spin

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Andrei Riskin
Firebird dancers perform at the Palo Alto JCC.

The Firebird Dance Theatre dancers soared on stage last month at a benefit performance at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., in celebration of the company and school’s 20th anniversary. With a 21-part program featuring Firebird’s signature fusion of modern, folk, lyrical, ballet and ballroom styles, dancers ranging in age from 3 to 26 joyfully honored the memory of founder and original artistic director, Roza Lysaya, who died in a car accident 12 years ago.

“She is unfortunately gone, but the tradition, the legacy is alive,” said Lotta Lysaya Burton, Firebird’s director, of the work her mother did in translating her success as the director of leading dance schools in the Former Soviet Union into a new school which has flourished over the past two decades in Silicon Valley. It was the Palo Alto JCC that provided Roza Lysaya a professional home upon her immigration to the United States, and Firebird has maintained close ties to it even years after having moved into its own studio space in nearby Mountain View.

Part children’s dance recital, part professional-level concert, the performance showcased inventive, complex, and well-executed choreography based on traditional Ukrainian, Russian, Armenian, Moldavian, Argentinean, French, Latin and Gypsy steps. Traditional folk costumes worn by the dancers during many of the numbers helped emphasized the classical approach and folk fundamentals Roza Lysaya meant to instill in her students.

On the other hand, the neon-colored wigs and pounding electric hip-hop beats of many of the pieces served as an exciting counterpoint. “It was important for my mother to keep the classical way of Russian dance in the U.S., and it worked very well,” explained Burton, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Institute of Performing Arts. “I took what she brought and twisted it in a contemporary direction.”

Burton has labeled what has become Firebird’s signature style as “modern folk,” or “contemporary folk.” “It’s important to keep traditions, because it’s a good way for people to communicate their different cultures. But you need to be up-to-date to attract new generations. This need has created a way of dancing and a choreography all its own,” Burton asserted. Judging by the troupe’s positive reception at prestigious venues such as San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts and Montreal’s Place Des Arts, this fusion has proved to be a successful one.

Firebird creates an original full-length production every two years. Its first was an interpretation of “Alice in Wonderland,” and its most recent was a celebration of Jewish and Israeli dance traditions, called “Simcha.” Audiences can look forward to “Imaginarium,” the theater’s 20th anniversary show, which will have its premiere this spring.

Burton opened the JCC performance with “Spectacular,” a number from “Imaginarium,” as a teaser, a means of gauging audience reaction. The number, with its highly creative story, energetic choreography, and eye-popping costumes, lived up to its name. And if it is any indication of what else we can expect from the new show, then we will be in for a big treat.

Watch Firebird Dance Theatre’s ‘Simcha’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: St. Petersburg Institute of Performing Arts, Lotta Lysaya Burton, Palo Alto, Renee Ghert-Zand, Roza Lysaya, Dance, Firebird Dance Theatre, Imaginarium

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.