Dallas — It’s a given that love triangles will end badly. And in Carmen’s case, very badly.
Cuban choreographer/dancer Carlos Acosta’s slick, B-grade Carmen, making its American debut Friday night at the Winspear Opera House with Texas Ballet Theater, juiced up the love triangle even more than you would think possible. When Carmen or Don José or the bullfighter Escamillo are on stage, steam (metaphorically) rises. But when it’s up to the other characters—no matter how often they shed vests, shirts, caps and in the opening scene, pants—or how often they slide chairs around and jump up on tables, there is no there there. The dancing is frenetic and utterly banal.
So it’s all up to Carmen and Don José and to a lesser extent, Escamillo, to carry the show.
Fortunately, our Carmen (Leticia Oliveira) and Don José (Carl Coomer) offer riveting performances, giving their characters substance. Escamillo gets the fancy slides, leaps and turns, and the matador-challenging stance, but Jiyan Dai can’t make much more out of his character than then prowess and vanity.
Looming over the action is a giant red outlined circle at the back of the stage representing sun, moon, bullring—and imminent disaster. Within the circle, Fate, a towering figure in the form of a man with bull horns appears portentously, leaving the circle later to stab Carmen with his horns. Sets and costumes were designed by Tim Hatley for the Royal Ballet, where the work premiered; TBT’s American premiere is a co-production with Royal Ballet and Australia’s Queensland Ballet. The lighting is by Peter Mumford, recreated by Simon Bennison.
Our first view of Carmen, however, is not promising. She seems, to put it nicely, nothing more than a heartless flirt who enjoys luring man and then discarding them. Her defiance shows up later, when Don José carts her off to jail, a sleek steel enclosure, where she relentlessly piles on the sex thing. Being a good, honorable straight-up cop, he resists for a long time, but once he falls for her, he’s a goner.
Their first pas de deux seemed like something out of a Rube Goldberg cartoon, convoluted and tortuous, but unlike Goldberg’s cartoons, it’s steamy and barely missing X-rated status (at least, from a ballet perspective).
Ditto for Carmen’s pas de deux with Escamillo, really just a rehash of her pas de deux with Don José with a few flashier up-in-the-air twirls and low-to-the-ground spins.
It’s not until the fatal stab that we sense the two are real people. He reels backward, stricken, keens silently, sinks to the floor with his head drooping and palms open. All is silent.
Georges Bizet’s music as adapted by Martin Yates does its part to render much of the drama, while having a live orchestra—the Symphony Musicians of Fort Worth, the same musicians who are on strike against the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Association, and conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya—was a welcome bonus.
Although all the buzz was about Acosta’s Carmen, it wasn’t the only act. Christopher Wheeldon’s sleek and supercharged DGV: Danse à grande vitesse, taught to the TBT dancers by Wheeldon répétiteur Chistopher Saunders, is a love letter to France’s high-speed train. Michael Nyman’s minimalist score was composed for the inauguration of the TGV high-speed train. This performance marks the company premiere of a work by British choreographer Wheeldon, who won a Tony for the choreography in An American in Paris on Broadway.
Emerging from crumpled sheets of steel that curl upward (set and costumes by Jean-Marc Puissant for the Royal Ballet), dancers plunge forth in a steady and insistent rush, sometimes hurtling themselves in breathless canons, sometimes lining up to move like spokes and turbines, sometimes merely rocking back and forth. Into their midst, a couple will appear, in grand, sweeping lifts and arcs. There are four pas de deux, each one casting a different mood but each one glorifying bodies stretched out and taut as bowstrings.
The ending is magical. As light shifts from daytime to moonlight, the four couples reappear. They spin and spin, holding the women high above with their limbs at all angles like propeller blades. Speed sends them flying.
Dancers in Carmen alternate roles through the weekend; the program will be repeated Oct. 6-8 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see more photos, click the slideshow icon in the floating menu at bottom left of your screen.