When planning a finale, drama and passion are your friends. You use one to balance the other, you up the ante by throwing everything dramatic into the plot, then you up it one more time by adding a healthy dollop of passion. The Carolina Ballet understands drama and passion. They have employed it during this entire season in performances, such as the Mephisto Waltz, Rhapsody in Blue and, yes, even The Little Mermaid. But, as the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Normally, the women are the shining stars in the ballet, but after last night’s tour-de-force performance, this reviewer declares Carmen’s lead male dancer, Marcelo Martinez, the Superman of dance!
Carmen is the perfect transition to next year’s performances, the Carolina Ballet’s 20th season, which looks to be a stellar season, including old favorites like The Nutcracker, as well as iconic love stories like Romeo and Juliet and Sleeping Beauty. The ballet’s artistic director Robert Weiss spoke of the 20 years since he took over the company, years that have been filled with a combination of classical standards and newly choreographed works that quickly became Carolina Ballet favorites. One hundred twenty new works have been introduced in the past 19 years, with over 200 ballets total performed. For one who has experienced ballet in some of the world’s major cities, this reviewer can positively state that the Triangle has world-class ballet on its front porch.
With live music performed by the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle and choreography by Weiss, the ballet starts quietly with a sweet and light introduction to Michaela (Jan Burkhard), Don Jose’s (Martinez) fiancé. The music of Georges Bizet and Pablo de Sarasate is instantly recognizable and heads bob knowingly throughout the audience. Burkhard’s personification of the innocent country girl is brief, but repeated later in the ballet; and she leaves enough of an impression that it’s believable that Don Jose stays faithful to her throughout temptations such as native girls, gypsies, and cigarette girls, all of whom flirt with the handsome stranger.
Marcelo Martinez commands the stage throughout these moments, lifting and carrying various ballerinas throughout the performance. This role is a demanding one, and he is onstage throughout the whole three acts. By the middle of the third act, there is a moment where Martinez appears tired; but he recovers quickly, and as the true hero he is, he supports Carmen (played by the phenomenal Lilyan Vigo Ellis) both physically and emotionally, in a fiery and passionate pas de deux that is exhausting in its leaps and lifts, especially at the end of what has already been an athletic ballet.
Ellis’ Carmen, also onstage throughout most of the performance, is a confident one. She appears at ease with herself, often veering away from the lurid, passionate manner that some other ballerinas have employed when they portray this character. With her typical elegance, Ellis dances the role as a woman who knows her value thus doesn’t need to flaunt it. She makes even the most complicated of moves appear effortless, as if she is completely comfortable with this role and this woman. When she dances, it is impossible to watch others on stage, because her persona is the quintessential prima ballerina. It is bittersweet that this is her last role and that the Carolina Ballet will move on without her during its 20th season.
There are many stars in this colorful triangle based on Bizet’s 1875 opera. The incredible length of the leaps and jumping spins of company member Kiefer Curtis in his role as Escamillo (the Toreador) hint at a long and solid career in dance. Carmen’s friends, Frasquita and Mercedes, are perfectly played by Alicia Fabry and Lindsay Purrington. Fabry gazes straight out into the audience as she executes her knife-sharp sissones during her pas de deux with Purrington. Even during the slightest of moves, Fabry appears pure and classical. Purrington’s character glances downward most of the time, creating a rather distant connection with the audience. She, too, is elegant, though less reachable. Carmen’s nemesis, Manuelita, is played with bravado and barmaid swagger by Randi Osetek, who manages her fight sequence as well as the coquettish flirt going on with Don Jose (Martinez). The smugglers (Adam Crawford Chavis, Maximilian Isaacson, and Miles Sollars-White) are often in the background, acting as support for gypsy girls or cigarette girls, but their cohesion and “bromance” dances provide a bit of comic relief. And Adam Schiffer is pompous and at times, a ridiculous character, as Zuniga, Captain of the Regiments.
As the characters jockey for romantic position, Bizet’s music quickens, forcing the pace of the dance to become more frenetic, as well. At times, the audience gasps in delight as complicated and dangerous dance moves are accomplished easily; and it seems that the dancers themselves revel in a successful performance when they take their final bows — as well they should. A performance such as Carmen is what keeps an audience coming back; and if this is any indication, the Carolina Ballet‘s 20th season should be a spectacular one.
SECOND OPINION: May 19th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/carolina-ballets-carmen-a-riveting-tale-of-romance/; May 17th Raleigh, NC ArtsNow guest blog by Lilyan Vigo Ellis: http://www.artsnownc.com/since-the-age-of-3-i-was-determined-and-driven-to-dance/; May 17th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/carmen/Event?oid=6218971; May 15th Raleigh, NC ArtsNow interview with Lilyan Vigo Ellis, conducted by Bill Leslie: http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/16703298/; and May 13th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Linda Haac: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article150225757.html.
The Carolina Ballet presents CARMEN at 8 p.m. May 19, 2 and 8 p.m. May 20, and 2 p.m. May 21 in the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30.15-$83.15, except $20 per ticket for college students with ID.
BOX OFFICE: Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets. Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or http://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/carmen, https://www.facebook.com/events/659256030889726/, http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/carmen-7185, and https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/repertoire-entry/P9.
2016-17 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2016-2017-season.
Carmen (1875 French opera): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmen (Wikipedia).
Georges Bizet (French composer, 1838-75): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Bizet (Wikipedia).
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet artistic director and choreographer): http://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.