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Miami City Ballet

March 6, 2015

Carmen, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, Symphonic Dances

Reviewed March 5, 2015

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances March 6 & 7, 8 p.m.)

MCB_carmen_dress_reh_photograph by daniel azoulay

Patricia Delgado as Carmen, Photograph by Daniel Azoulay

Let’s turn the clocks back a couple of centuries, and plant ourselves firmly in the heart of a flamboyant and fiery Spain. Now, add a couple of free-spirited characters, a sinister fortune teller, a bullfight and a love triangle.

The story is a quick one – it’s over in 40 minutes – but we get the full Spanish flavor, the long-haired ballerinas dancing in their flirty skirts and tight bodices, the handsome soldiers in their britches, the richly-adorned toreadors and the mysterious gypsy card reader in full flamenco gear who foretells Carmen’s untimely end.

The Miami City Ballet’s version of Carmen was created by British choreographer Richard Alston in 2009 for Scottish Ballet. Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s rhythmic score – heavy on strings and percussion — highlights Georges Bizet’s famous lyrical melodies from the Carmen opera, and is performed live by the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

Since its first performance as an opera, composed by Bizet in 1875, Carmen has been revived, adapted and adjusted to fit place and time. The original story comes from a 19th century novella penned by French writer Prosper Mérimée, who found inspiration in Spain.

The story is perfect for ballet and was first choreographed by Cuba’s Alberto Alonso for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1967, on Shchedrin’s score, based on Bizet’s opera.

Antony McDonald has designed lovely and flattering costumes for Miami City Ballet, and Peter Mumford’s set and lighting design adds just enough sense of Spanish architecture, and washes the stage with colour to reflect time of day and interior or exterior space.

The incredibly flexible Patricia Delgado makes her debut as Carmen. She’s arrogant and haughty and combative. Her duet with the carefree soldier Don José, performed by Chase Swatosh Thursday, is a memorable one that touches us with the passion of their ill-fated love, knowing of her approaching death at the hands of the despondent José in the shadows of the bullring. Oh the beauty of her death – this is ballet after all – is a fate she accepts with courage and pride.

The final of three works on the bill, Symphonic Dances, is an amazing showcase for the Miami City Ballet dancers. A triptych of fast-paced dances, created in 2012 by the famous classical choreographer Alexei Ratmansky for Miami City Ballet, Symphonic Dances propels the large corps of dancers through a veritable movement landscape that leaves images of shape and line in its wake.

Symphonic Dances, Photograph by Daniel Azoulay

second movement of Symphonic Dances, Photograph by Daniel Azoulay

The loose-fitting clothing, designed by Adeline André and Istvan Dohar, flutter with the quick moves, adding an element of its own. Only glimpses of individual dance rise above the continually flowing formations that bind and release the space filled by some two dozen dancers on stage.

The opening scene sets the piece into a bygone era, under melancholy lighting, coloured in muted and neutral tones with touches of setting sun and flashes of brilliant white that focus on fleeting moments. There’s a sense of something profound and meaningful that cannot be entirely fathomed.

The second of three movements is the most brilliant piece of choreography. With a sense of formality, the ballerinas are draped in masses of jewel-toned tulle and the men are head to toe in black, with large white corsages on their lapels. Clouds of colour whirl around the artists’ forms as they dance mostly in pairs, while little gems of movement emerge from the mass of bodies on stage. The focus keeps returning to two women shrouded in billows of aqua blue like twin clouds. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s dancey music carries the work into a world of joyous celebration.

Sandwiched between Carmen and Symphonic Dances is the George Balanchine classic Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux [Balanchine’s spelling of Tchaikovsky], a nice little transitional piece that showcases the technical precision of Miami City’s Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado.

The first time Miami City Ballet has come to Ottawa in more than a decade, its impressive triple billing presents an ideal opportunity to witness one of America’s most respected ballet companies, now under the artistic directorship of former New York City Ballet principal dancer Lourdes Lopez.

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