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Carmen


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#1 sylvia

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Posted 19 April 2002 - 05:56 PM

I went into Carmen on Friday half-expecting it to be a wasted evening since the first 2 ballets were seen recently and I'm not a huge fan of Mats Ek, but I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed Carmen enormously. It shrugged off my jetlag and had me captivated the whole way through. Sylvie is beyond fantastic. Her Carmen doesn't seem so much a woman or even human, but more an animal or spider the way she uses her long limbs and predates on men. She comes across as very sexy and very powerful.

Massimo Murru I had a hard time picking out near the beginning but his despair was hilarious and very touching. Jonathan Copeís Escamillo made me laugh aloud. His grand entrance in bronze lame, the way he shakes his bonbon for a good 60 seconds at the audience and struts around the stage has to be seen to be believed. I was sitting at the front of the amphitheatre so I couldnít really see, but was he doing this with a straight face?

The choreography IS ugly. The positions the Carmen gets into are horrible but so humorous it doesnít make me cringe the way say some of MacMillanís stuff does. It's original and fascinating and the emotions and drama get across, though admittedly I didnít have a clue what was going on for most of the ballet. Guess I should have read the programme notes. The business with Carmen dragging scarves out of Jose and Escamillo from leaves a lot to the imagination! Still the beautiful music pulls it through (will we ever get to see Roland Petitís version?) and everything clicks into place at the end. The portable Swiss cheese sets and the stunning super-garish costumes only add to the humour. I really have to give full marks to the dancers because they looked so confident in themselves in a style that must be so new to them. Hearing them shouting was so strange, and must have been even stranger for them. Definitely not Royal Ballet and to be truthful I can only take Ek in small doses, but a fun ride for me. Lord help us if Stretton really does invite Ek back to create something for our dancers. I canít wait to see what Tamara Rojo makes of the role.

In the middle was excellent Ė Zenaida Yanowsky especially and I havenít tired of it yet. I canít really say the same for Por Vos Muero. I can sort of see why critics find it so shallow. Itís still very beautiful and I love the first big group number, but itís less enjoyable with subsequent viewings. The ballet doesnít really hold attention and I found myself drifting halfway. The poor lighting in both had me squinting for most of the way trying to pick out dancers. Still I thought this triple bill as a whole was the most interesting mix of ballets so far in the season.

#2 Estelle

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Posted 20 April 2002 - 06:00 AM

Thanks for your review, Sylvia!

I saw that "Carmen" on video by the Cullberg Ballet, and also live once by the Lyon Opera Ballet. In general I like Ek's works, I don't like that "Carmen" as much as some of his other works like "Giselle", "Swan Lake" or "Meaningless meadows" but still found it quite pleasant and funny.

It must be difficult indeed for ballet dancers to perform it... The Paris Opera Ballet has his "Giselle" in its repertory, they've danced it for several seasons so now they probably have got used to it, but in interviews the dancers said that when it entered the repertory around 1993, it was quite hard for them to get used to Ek's style.

When I saw "Carmen" in Lyon a few years ago, the main role was danced by Ana Laguna, Ek's wife, who had premiered the role (and also most of the main roles in his ballets), she had been invited as a guest. I think that she has retired since then (she was in her early 1980s). What a striking dancer she was! Definitely not a ballet dancer (but I think she had had some ballet training), with rather large shoulders and legs with strong visible muscles, a rather big nose... But she had an incredible stage presence, when she was on stage one could only see her. And she had a great partnership with Yvan Auzely (who created the role of Escamillo), Ek's style looked very natural on them.

#3 Odette

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Posted 20 April 2002 - 06:28 AM

Sylvia, thanks for your thoughts! I agree with you about Sylvie-wow! Although not a role I would care to dance!! Interesting that it wasn't created on a classical artist. I also felt that it was the best of the mixed bills so far.What bits of Macmillan make you cringe-you intrigue me!!! By the way, are you a ballet dancer/student yourself?

#4 sylvia

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Posted 20 April 2002 - 04:41 PM

Thanks for your insights Estelle! Jonathan Cope said some similar things about Nacho Duarto - that it took a number of years for the style of movement to really get into his body. Remanso came into the rep 3 years ago and only now he says he feels he's starting to get it. But as long as it must take for dancers to get used to Ek's style, I think audiences here might need a little longer! I think Carmen worked for them here because it had so much humour and Sylvie can work wonders on this audience. I wonder if they'll respond similarly to Tamara Rojo.

Odette, I'm not a dancer or student of ballet, just a uni student and an ardent fan of the RB! As for Macmillan, I meant stuff like the gaolers scene in Manon I find kinda tasteless. It's just a bit too in-your-face for me the way he spells everything out, but I like most of everything else. I'm really looking forward to next season since so many of the ballets are new to me.

Btw, I doubt I'll get a response to this but does anyone remember the 1998 Winter Olympics figure skating Free Dance? The Russian silver medalists Krylova & Ovsiannikov skated to Carmen which I thought was the most over-the-top, hideous FD I'd ever seen and if they weren't such brilliant skaters I'd have put them dead last. It just occured to me how similar their Carmen was to Mats Ek's - the creepy-crawly spidery feeling, the same kind of awful bent over positions and hanging arms, the wierd shapes and movements that must have meant something to them but had the whole audience wondering what on earth was going on. And Anjelika more than anyone reminds me of Sylvie, with her height and her lean super-flexible body, not that there's any connection there. But I wonder if they were inspired by Ek as I'm completely clueless as to how else they came up with such a bizarre skate.

#5 sylvia

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Posted 23 April 2002 - 05:52 PM

Carmen on 23/4 was brilliant! Tamara Rojo as the seductress herself, Thomas Whitehead as Jose and Bennett Gartside as Escamillo, all so very different from 1st cast but absolutely no doubt they were just as good. Again they seem to really throw themselves into the choreography and dance with so much enthusiasm and conviction. Tamara's wonderful! Really sexy and exotic with her dark hair against the bright red dress. I had wondered how anyone could possibly top Sylvie Guillem's performance but Tamara was arresting from the moment she ran on and started screaming on stage. Thomas Whitehead impressed me to no end. I thought he made an even better and more vulnerable Jose than Murru, equalling Tamara in spite of Jose's wimpier status. He's still a first artist at the RB so I'll definitely be looking out for him in future performances. Bennet Gartside - wow! Brian Maloney impressed too. It's good to know that the RB doesn't have to rely on guest dancers to bring off extremely good performances. I loved it. And I enjoyed the wierd choreography even more this 2nd time, especially since the plot made much more sense and I could start picking on the logic and dramatic reasoning behind the steps. Bizet's music is fantastic of course, and I think Ek has used it so well. And I love the sets - one gigantic bullet-ridden fan, 2 baby ones and an enormous silver ball to boot.

My only quibble? The size of the audience! I think it was only half-full, the emptiest I've ever seen the auditorium and so depressing. The top-price seats were selling for £25 (just before curtain-up didn't check for student standbys but I assume they're going too) so there's no excuse for not going now! It's a shame triple bills don't seem to sell well without Sylvie Guillem's name attached. I think Rojo's name would have been enough to attract a bigger audience had the bill included some new ballets but some terrible miscalculation was made in repeating 2 of the 3. They really work together as a whole but it's just too soon. Still, even if you've tired of In the Middle and Por Vos Muero, it's worth seeing for Carmen alone. Carmen is so incredibly funny, dramatic and moving, extremely engaging and I left in a very happy frame of mind.

#6 sylvia

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Posted 24 April 2002 - 08:35 AM

Thomas Whitehead is posting a diary of his rehearsals on Carmen on Barre Talk, which also includes an RB Q&A on the ROH website. The first entry is now up here.

In case I forgot to mention, his Jose is wonderful! A must-see!


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