Festival Ballet's emotional, sensual Carmen

Gypsy woman
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  January 25, 2011

LOVE AND OBSESSION Leticia Guerrero as Carmen.
Although the gypsy girl Carmen is most familiar from the 1875 opera of that name by Georges Bizet, local audiences have also become acquainted with the Carmen performed by Festival Ballet, which was commissioned by them and first appreciated in the 2003-04 season.

Choreographed by Victor Plotnikov, Carmen will again be presented by the company at Veterans Memorial Auditorium (February 4-6). Leticia Guerrero and Jennifer Ricci will alternate in the title role, with music by Bizet, Isaac Albéniz, and Manuel de Falla.

This rendition of Carmen centers on the obsessive love of Carmen by Don José. It also enhances the character of Michaela, the childhood sweetheart of Don José, presenting the romantic conflict from her point of view. Plotnikov hasn't changed the ballet since its initial production; he would like someday to expand a fan dance divertissement into a recurring motif, but he hasn't found the time.

Plotnikov was most familiar with the 1967 Russian Carmen Suite, which drew its music from the opera. "For me it was important to tell the story as close as possible, to see how the relationship built here and how it goes to there, how everything travels," he says. "That's why it takes so long. The Carmen Suite goes 40 minutes, and here I stretched it to two hours, to show the differences in relationship with Michaela, with Carmen, and things like that."

He says that even when working on a ballet that is abstract rather than narrative, he always envisions action unfolding for the sake of continuity.

"There is an underlayer, there is a story, is what I tell dancers, that doesn't have to come through to every single person in the audience," Plotnikov says. "Everybody can imagine their own thing, but the storyline has to exist. It cannot just be dancing to the music — because [then] you can just tell them do their best movements for a half-hour.

"I think it's very important. It's more interesting for me to work that way. Even with the very, very little pieces, which are very hard to put any story in, there has to be something. Like you create a movement and you say, 'Okay, this is love,' and then in the next movement you say, 'This is hate,' or 'Here's uncertainty,' or 'It's like death.' So there's always something conceptual there."

Plotnikov brings a highly emotional and sensual depiction to the fore in his Carmen. There is a palpable tension in all of his works, which can be a gripping yet problematic experience for the audience.

"Emotions can also destroy the movement," he says. "Sometimes when the emotions come you start to act, your face becomes a grimace, and it doesn't help. I try to make the movement flow."

Since his first choreography in 2003, Plotnikov has collaborated with Festival Ballet's artistic director Mihailo Djuric on Cinderella, The Widow's Broom, Coma, and Surrender. Plotnikov has also created dances for the Bolshoi Ballet workshop and the Richmond Ballet. His awards have included Best Choreography at the 2005 Helsinki International Ballet Competition and the 2007 World Ballet Competition, and Best Choreography at Arabesque 2008, the ballet competition in Perm, Russia. Plotnikov is married to Boston Ballet principal dancer Larissa Ponomarenko.

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