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State Steet Ballet

'Carmen'

by Kathy Lee Scott

August 17, 2007 -- John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, California

Santa Barbara, California-based State Street Ballet brought its latest production, "Carmen," to the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, for its West Coast premier on August 17. The 18-member company performed William Soleau's choreography set to George Bizet's music, arranged by Rodion Shchedrin.

Before an almost full audience, the 13-year-old troupe performed the traditional story of an ill-fated romance between the gypsy Carmen and soldier Don José. The first scene begins at the point of Don José's execution, and the rest of the ballet is told in flashbacks.

Carmen (Corina Gill) first encounters Don José (Spencer Gavin) when she and her gypsy compatriots whirl and flirt with several soldiers and Captain Zuniga (Bayaraa Badamsambuu). All but one of the ladies enjoyed flipping her peasant skirts and enticing the men to partner her in lifts and spins, stolen kisses and quick fondles. Dancing as Carmen's friend Mercedes, Leila Drake seemed too serious in her facial expression. She rarely smiled throughout the flirtatious dances.

Don José sat apart from his colleagues, ignoring the seductive girls. But finally they lure him to join the joyous movements. His brief foray ends when his fiancée, Micaela (Andrea Blankstein) arrives.

Their subsequent pas de deux incorporated modern dance depictions of closeness interspersed with traditional ballet steps. Blankstein totally embodied her role, especially in this initial pas de deux with Gavin. Her face radiated joy and happiness and she maintained intense eye contact with him.

They apparently set a date for their marriage, hug lovingly and she departs. He catches Carmen's eye, and she tries to entice him away from the pristine Micaela, but he's not interested.

The men then perform a unison dance using deliberately turned-in feet, flat hands and slaps on their knees. As with other interludes, the six military guys needed to be more coordinated. When they were supposed to be sharp and together, their starts and stops stuttered. Sergei Domrachev danced the most dramatically of the corps men, exaggerating his moves so the last row could see. In such a small venue (1,240 seats), he appeared too over-the-top, although the audience appreciated his comedic interactions.

Carmen fights with a fellow gypsy girl and Captain. Zuniga arrests her. He instructs Don José to escort her to the jail, and this leads to their first pas de deux. Carmen alternately pleads with and cajoles her captor to let her escape. She uses her wiles on him, even running after him and flinging her handcuffed arms around his neck.

While dancing assuredly, Gill seemed too sweet for the most part, even when she was acting provocative. She needs to find that sultry side of herself to portray the gypsy girl.

However, the best moment of the evening came in the Scene III pas de deux between Carmen and Don José when the condemned man confronts the gypsy girl and they renew their passion for each other. The pair connected emotionally as well as physically, moving smoothly from floor to air, together and apart.

Spencer Gavin danced Don José superbly. He felt the part: conflicted by his attraction to Carmen while loving his fiancée, Micaela. He and Gill produced magic together, creating a believable couple. He also connected tenderly with Blankstein as his Micaela.

As the dashing toreador, Escamillo, Enton Hoxha failed to generate any charisma despite his height and magnificent costume. He wielded the full-length cape well and supported Gill adequately, but he appeared uneasy and worried about his technique. Fortunately, he wasn't given difficult steps to perform.

Corps dancers successfully distinguished between the pliant, lustful gypsies and the stiff, haughty townsfolk enamored of Escamillo in the final scene.

Soleau's incorporation of modern lexicon into classical ballet seemed disjointed. At times he used modern moves exclusively for a portion, then switched to classical ballet moves for the next, giving the entire piece a disorganized feel.

It would have been nice if the choreographer had set specific moves for the various couplings to distinguish them from each other. Instead, Soleau used a common modern movement – turning one partner with a hand to the back of the neck – with all the pairs.

A. Christina Giannini's costumes were simple yet effective. The final elegant gowns on the ladies were scrumptious. A couple of nitpicks: When the men changed into their gypsy outfits (black dance pants with white tops), their suspenders could be seen through the sheer white fabric. Similarly, with the men's gypsy vests, their suspenders again were revealed due to the wide front opening of the vests. Using flesh-colored elastic would reduce this mishap.

The regional troupe provided an enjoyable evening of dance for an audience allowed to bring food and drink to their seats.

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