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Bob Bernard's Corner: Carmen IS Dance

Did she even invent the pole dance?

By Bob Bernard

This below photo evokes adjoining memories of performances of Roland Petit’s choreography, illustrating how these dance interpretations have gone hand-in-hand with Bizet’s music, manifesting the score’s inherent grace, strength, and passion.


Left to right: Natalia Makarova and Denys Ganio in 1986; Zizi Jeanmaire and Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1980

Very especially, Ms. Jeanmaire, the widow of Roland Petit, also danced this production’s premiere performance in 1949(!), and we remain graced by her today at age ninety-three.

France’s long-established tradition of ballet in opera was followed to a T with the Metropolitan Opera’s employment of classical ballet dancers for its 2010 production by Richard Eyre, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon:


Left to right: From the overture; from the beginning of Act 3: an approach to life in the mountains

The dancers here were Maria Kowroski, Principal Ballerina for the NYC Ballet, and Martin Harvey, a graduate of London’s Royal Ballet School.

Latvian mezzo Elīna Garanča was a terrific Carmen for this same 2010 Met Production. A year earlier, she had sung the sweet, pure title role for the Met’s 2009 production of La Cenerentola, but at an intermission interview for the Met HD audience, she complained: “I’m tired of being Ms.Goody Two-shoes. I want to be bad. I want to be Carmen.” Here she is, being really, really bad as she shows some leg for the benefit of the Don José of Roberto Alagna during the Habanera:


Right: Meditating about love

Later, with Carmen set to be incarcerated (following the fight in the cigarette factory), the Seguidilla affords her a singing/dance vehicle in which to tempt Don José to, instead, free her and join her for drink and romance at Lillas Pastia’s tavern. For a production with Ms. Garanča’s Latvian National Opera [LNO], her Carmen was secured by being tethered to a pole. There, invoking the bromide "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," she extemporized a very contemporary pole dance:

The essential plot elements of Carmen also inspired dancing …. on ice! In 1990, former Olympic figure skating champions Katarina Witt and Brian Boitano led a full cast in the dance motion picture Carmen On Ice, filmed in Spain and Germany. Here are clips from their Seguidilla segment:

In sharp contrast to Witt & Boitano on ice, the combination of mezzo Anna Caterina Antonacci and tenor Jonas Kaufmann “set the Royal Opera House on fire” [the words of one reviewer] for the Royal Opera’s 2006 production. Here are clips from the Seguidilla, with Ms. Antonacci getting up close and personal:

For the Los Angeles Opera [LAO] production from 2008, dancer Ornili Azulay provided classic Flamenco interpretations for both the opening scene from Act 2 at Lillas Pastia’s tavern and for the entr’acte music that precedes Act 4:

For her on-the-table dance, Ms. Azulay employed the flamenco twelve beat buleria rhythm, with its rapid, asymmetrical accentuation pattern. For the two-minute entr’acte segment, she was joined by members of Santa Barbara’s Linda Vega Flamenco Dance Company, using choreography designed by Nuria Castejon.

A full-blown flamenco adaptation of Prosper Mérimée’s novella is the 1983 Spanish film Carmen, directed by Carlos Saura, as the second part of Saura’s flamenco film trilogy. Using Bizet’s music, the plotline has dancers re-enact in their personal lives the tragic love affair, right up to its fatal climax. Here are clips of the film’s protagonists: the late Antonio Gades and Laura del Sol:

It is evident: When it comes to dance interpretations - just as she selects her lovers - Carmen cannot be tamed.

She remains forever free.

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Author: Thomas Lady
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