Teatro alla Scala Ballet

"Carmen" & "Amarcord"

Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, CA
April 11, 2001

By Azlan Ezaddin

I don't think I've seen so much sex on stage before. I counted at least three acts of sex in tonight's performances of Amarcord and Carmen, that is if you don't count the bumping and grinding that may or may not be alluding to a sexual act. Again, if I counted correctly, one sexual act was empty, another was perverted, and the third passionate.

However, with all this sex on stage, only one ballet, Carmen, was actually sexy. The other ballet of the night, Amarcord, choreographed by Luciano Cannito, was simply not very stimulating for this ballet goer. Cannito himself writes in the program notes, "Telling a tale which delves into feelings and abstract themes through ballet is certainly intricate, if not well-nigh impossible." How right he is. Drawing his inspiration from Federico Fellini's film of the same name, Cannito evokes practically none of the magic and awe of the original masterpiece. Perhaps Cannito should have tackled an easier subject, as Fellini -- along with Akira Kurosawa and Krystof Kieslowski -- was a filmmaker who excelled at creating beautiful yet economical choreography of movement, words and music on film. A ballet version of something that's already beautifully choreographed, albeit in another medium, is almost doomed to failure at conception.

Even avoiding a comparison to the film -- with its references to fascism, naiveté and innocent love -- this ballet as a work of dance left me empty and annoyed. There was hardly any dancing, unless aerobics-like kicking-and-leaping and the boogie-woogie can be considered dancing. The lighting was either too stark or too dark, obscuring the subtlety in the acting, which is important in conveying the action of the narrative ballet. Nino Rota's music, so full of life and irony, seemed lifeless and dull out of context. Needless to say I didn't enjoy this ballet, except perhaps for the very end when Volpina the vamp appears on stage as snow is falling, adorned with ostrich feathers... finally, a Fellinesque pose that is worthy of the master.

Thankfully then we had Roland Petit's Carmen to invigorate us after the intermission, with Viviana Durante taking on the role with sexy might against Massimo Murru's arrogantly passionate Don José. Perhaps because I'm seeing it with a new set of dancers, but this ballet from over half a century ago still seemed fresh when danced by the La Scala Ballet. There is vibrancy and sensuality here that I had not seen recently in this choreography. I could almost feel the sexual electricity when Murru pulls back the curtain to reveal a sultry Durante in bed and during the ensuing jealousy and obsession-driven pas de deux. The sexiness wasn't confined to the Principals -- the supporting dancers also beautifully and sensually projected Petit's intent.

Murru, a tall, slender and stylish dancer, was majestic in the hypnotic "bullfight" dance in the famous habanera. Rhythmically stepping to Bizét's driving score, Murru commandeered centerstage -- a subtle but crucial element in this section of the ballet, requiring a captivating onstage presence without which the bullfighter is easily lost against the eroticism of the background dancers.

Durante, replacing the pregnant Alessandra Ferri, of course was the star of the show. It is difficult and almost unfair to compare any ballerina in this role to Zizi Jeanmaire, Petit's original Carmen. The choreographer himself was quoted as saying that only "a few" dancers have achieved the ideal of Carmen after Jeanmaire. Durante in this production however exudes her own brand of contrastingly delicate and fiery sexuality -- almost as if she draws from both her English and Italian heritages and experiences.

The pulsating score, alluring costumes, warm lighting, and dramatic sets all set a strong contrast against the first ballet of the program. However in one aspect, the latter ballet was similar to the former; at the very end, in the aftermath of Carmen's death at his hands, Murru I felt failed to deliver the requisite anguish that brings the ballet to a dramatic close. The result was almost, well, Fellinesque.


Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Marie.



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