|Kimberly Van Woesik (photo by Paula Lobo)
The gypsy Carmen has fascinated artist and public alike since Prosper Mérimée published his novella in 1846; a Frenchman traveling in Spain, he was as interested in the marginalization of the Basque and Gypsy cultures as he was in the personal story of Carmen and Don José.
Georges Bizet picked up the story and, with Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy as his librettists, composed an opera in 1875; too shocking and morally offensive for that decade, it soon became one of the most frequently produced of operas and the favorite of many operagoers. Its melodies, especially that of the Habanera, linger readily on the mind.
The dance history of the story has been somewhat less successful. Roland Petit choreographed a one-act version for Les Ballets de Paris in 1949. Alberto Alonso choreographed another for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1967 starring his wife Alicia Alonso in the titular role. Bizet's music was "adapted" by Shchedrin. Reviews were not enthusiastic.
A 1983 film by Carlos Saura told the story of a flamenco dance troupe rehearsing a performance of Carmen.
A tale can be told in words, music or dance. We would have loved to have seen a full-length story ballet of Carmen within the classical ballet idiom--by John Cranko or Sir Kenneth MacMillan for example. The 2012 work Carmen.maquia presented at the Apollo Theater last night by Ballet Hispanico in its New York premiere was not that work.
Taken on its own terms it is a bold and striking telling of the tale within the idiom of modern dance. Choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano told the tale tautly and economically, closely following the story laid down in the opera. The action corresponded closely with Bizet's Carmen Suite with a couple exceptions; a sexy duet between Escamillo and Carmen used music from Carmen's encounter with Don José in Lilias Pastia's tavern. Strangely, Micaela's theme music was used at the end after Don José has stabbed Carmen.
The dancing was in every respect sensational. Kimberly Van Woesik made a compellingly seductive Carmen and used her petite and flexible frame to great advantage. Christopher Bloom made a highly conflicted and sympathetic Don José. His duet with Ms. Van Woesik in the tavern scene was replete with stunningly original lifts and there was no denying the chemistry between them. His tortured body movements during the overture and at the end were disturbing.
Min-Tzu Li was appealing as Micaela and Mario Ismael Espinoza made an effectively arrogant Escamillo.
Like much contemporary choreography in the modern idiom, there was a lot of herky-jerky movements which conveyed Don José's torment but were not pretty to look at. Several elements raised questions; i.e. in the tavern scene, several dancers clustered together suggested a bull but one could not be certain.
The choreography avoided the clichés of flamenco but failed to have a distinguishing Spanish flavor. We yearned for some sazon! One interesting moment was when Don José's regiment marched in the area below and in front of the stage, while he reflected their gestures onstage.
The set by Luis Crespo comprised a few white elements in various shapes and sizes which were configured and rearranged for each scene. The costumes by David Delfin were mostly white with a backless illusion for the women and sheer billowing skirts. The military men wore skin-tight white long-sleeved tops with black stripes; the pants were unattractive and baggy-seated with tight ankles. At one point the corp appeared inexplicably in black shorts.
Confining sets and costumes to the non-palette of black and white suggested a denial of moral subtlety. The entire production was abstract but certain touches were jarringly realistic. In the catfight between Carmen and another factory girl they attacked each other tooth and claw with loud shrieks! In the guardhouse scene, one of the soldiers kept dozing off. We liked the realistic touches but they seemed at war with the abstract nature of the overall production.
At the end, Don José recapitulated the tortured body movements of the overture. At the curtain call, the two leads had blue stains down the front of the costumes which we failed to understand. They were clearly not "blue-bloods".
In sum, we were entertained but remained unmoved. The image we wish to retain is of the beautiful duet with its original lifts.
(c) meche kroop