Music by Georges Bizet – Rodion Shchedrin
Choreography by Alberto Alonso
Production Choreographer: Viktor Barykin
Production Designer: Boris Messerer
Lighting Designer: Vladimir Lukasevich
At the heart of the ballet lies the tragic destiny of Carmen the gypsy girl and José the soldier who falls in love with her, though Carmen abandons him in favour of the young Torero. The relationships between the protagonists and Carmen’s death at José’s hands is predestined by Fate. Thus the story of Carmen (in comparison with the literary source and Bizet’s opera) is presented symbolically, which is reinforced by the unity of the setting of the plot (an arena which hosts a bullfight).
Carmen Suite was first staged in Moscow in 1967 by the Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso for Maya Plisetskaya, at her own request and at his own desire. The music for the ballet is a transcription by Rodion Shchedrin of Georges Bizet’s grand opera. At that time there was no talk of foreign choreographers, though a politically-motivated exception was made for the Cuban – following the Cuban Missile Crisis things were different. But those who allowed it could not have imagined what they were getting involved in.
First of all, the ballet was provocatively un-classical; Plisetskaya paced across the stage not en pointes but in plain shoes, neither did she wear a tutu, but rather in a risqué short skirt, and her body did not look remotely balletic. And in general the ballet was intense in utterly impermissible passion, true eroticism and the equally impermissible – and so intoxicating! – idea of freedom that was so clearly expressed in it that it could never be shown in any Soviet theatre.
But it happened – for the same purely political reasons. The final decision was preceded by a battle between two women. “You are a traitor of classical ballet!” exclaimed the Minister of Culture Yekaterina Alexeyevna Furtseva with pathos, “Your Carmen will die!”; “As long as I live Carmen will not die,” replied – with just as much pathos – Maya Mikhailovna Plisetskaya.
Carmen did not die – she was to be one of Plisetskaya’s major roles, her calling card, and not because Plisetskaya danced this ballet longer than she did Swan Lake or Don Quixote, but because the image of Carmen was the best expression of her individuality and her expressive and dazzling gift; impertinence in character and impertinence in dance, a passionate nature and musical subtlety, a loving challenge and a challenge to the canons of dance. And a sharp silhouette, a vivid profile, and heat and tragedy.
Apropos, the non-Russian Alonso actually staged it even more freely and radically; it is known that Plisetskaya and Fadeyechev asked him to control his ardour and reduce the erotic element so that the ballet was not totally banned. This took the heat out of Alonso, but even in such form the authorities were in a state of apoplexy. Alonso spoke of how in this work he had combined the classics with elements of Spanish and Latin American dances. But more than that, he had included, if not “modern” dance, it was a totally new, unheard-of expressionism in the USSR. It was constructed on two dance postulates: the classics taken to the extreme – iron-like movements, iron-like poses, pointes as if nailed to the floor, battements tendus and bodies taut like a string (that’s where the classics blend with Spanish dances), and here we have an utter rejection of the classics, he rejection of any carcass – the same feet “digging”, the hot response of the body and, ultimately, those turned-out poses that make the fateful woman Carmen seem like a stubborn girl. Alonso also said that he was inspired to produce his Carmen by dramatic theatre – the movements have to “speak”. Since then much has happened in dance and now it seems so clear, but there is something else that is much more important: back then, in the Thaw of the 1960s this ballet was part of a general theatre context – the Taganka Theatre had been on the go in Moscow for three years, and Carmen Suite with its – for the time – shocking conditionality and asceticism of stage space were at the cutting edge. Apropos, in the acclaimed Taganka production of The Good Man from Sechuan there was a mise-en-scène in which the characters sat on chairs set in a semicircle – a motif comparable with a similar motif used by Boris Messerer in his set design’s for Carmen Suite. In Moscow Carmen Suite was Plisetskaya’s “best” ballet – without Maya it did not exist, and neither did Maya exist without it. But there were other performers of it throughout the world. Also in 1967, Alonso staged it in Havana for the great Alicia Alonso (having taken into account the Moscow censorship “corrections” and restoring the passion cut from the duets) and then produced it internationally, moreover not staging just the same production but variations; each time the chorographer has brought something new to Carmen.
In Moscow the ballet only existed as long as Plisetskaya danced; she has gone and only the legend of Carmen remained. But twenty years passed and the Bolshoi Theatre took a risky yet victorious step – for Maya Plisetskaya’s jubilee year her Carmen was revived, as a tribute and as a homage. The elderly Alonso came, too, and staged another new version for the theatre’s prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova; then came other performers and the ballet now sits firmly in the repertoire. The legend has become a classic. “Now Carmen will never die,” Plisetskaya said.
In 2007 during a tour to the Bolshoi Theatre Ulyana Lopatkina appeared in this ballet. She presented her own interpretation, her own vision of the role. The new Carmen was externally reserved; her passions were all on the inside, rarely coming to the surface. But the theatrical iron of Lopatkina’s Carmen is less of a contrast between classical plastique and free plastique as it is a sharp plastique accentuation of the music – it is from this sharpness and these accents that the image itself was born.
Today Moscow’s Carmen can be seen at the Mariinsky Theatre, at last joining the repertoire’s legacy.
World premiere: 20 April 1967, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 19 April 2010
Running time: 45 minutes
Age category 12+
Сoncept, Direction & Choreography by Wayne McGregor
Music by Max Richter
Set Design: Julian Opie
Lighting Design: Lucy Carter
Costume Design:Moritz Junge
Sound Design: Chris Ekers
Restaged by Antoine Vereecken
Assisted by Miranda Lind
Sound realised by Mark Thackeray
Light realised by Simon Bennison
Today the ballets of British choreographer Wayne McGregor adorn the playbills of the world’s leading ballet companies – the Opéra de Paris, the Royal Ballet in Great Britain, New York City Ballet, the Nederlands Dans Theater and Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre, invariably amazing audiences. Through his interest in modern technology, in his productions the choreographer tries to produce a dialogue between dance and the latest multimedia achievements. In his ballets, alongside the dancers there are computer-generated figures and 3D architecture, digital video and animation are employed. And all of this in combination with original plastique. McGregor’s interest in the mechanics of movement produces enchanting results – refined body combinations in duets and the flow of mechanical poses you cannot draw your eyes from as they flow from one to the next. And despite the pure refinement of the beauty of the dance you have a sense of absolutely natural movement – the plastique reality is bewitching, it draws the audience into its own magnetic field that is created not by external energy coming from the music or the plot but from the form of pure dance in its own right. For his collaboration with the Mariinsky Ballet McGregor has selected the one-act ballet Infra, created in 2008 for the Royal Ballet in London. “The Mariinsky Ballet’s magnificent dancers give the choreography their own energy, they change its character,” says the choreographer, “When I chose to stage a ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre I really wanted something suitable specifically for this company that combines lofty technique and emotionality. Everyone has their own story to tell but in a crowd these stories are lost and, when doing their everyday tasks, people can become really lonely. I have tried to get into the hidden depths of the human soul and show people’s inner sides – prosaic, imperfect and vulnerable. Infra is about that, it’s just a ballet about people.”
The translation from Latin means “under, underneath”. The contrasting chaos of people’s everyday inner lives is visualised in the designs by Julian Opie: high up, high above the stage plane there is a light diode screen with a series of conventional walking figureless digital people, while below the screen to the resonant and piercing monotony of the strings’ melody (composed by Max Richter) twelve dancers tell the story of desires and collisions, passing meetings and lost illusions, wrongful breakups and unattained happiness.
World premiere: 13 November 2008, The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera Housе, London
Premiere at the Mariinsky II: 24 February 2014
Running time: 30 minutes
Age category 12+
In the Night
Music by Frédéric Chopin
Choreography by Jerome Robbins (1970)
Staged by Ben Huys
Costumes by Anthony Dowell
Lighting by Jennifer Tipton
Recreated by Nicole Pearce
Prior to the appearance of this ballet in the Mariinsky Theatre repertoire, Russian audiences knew Jerome Robbins only as a hypostasis – Robbins-the-choreographer-of-musicals, Robbins-the-Broadway-triumph. Not for his “live” productions, of course, but rather for his film version of Westside Story, which caused a veritable furore in the cinemas of the Soviet Union. In 1992, the Mariinsky Theatre brought another Robbins to the country – Robbins the lyricist and the intellectual, one of the two leading figures at New York City Ballet. The man who took Chopin’s nocturnes and in 1970 created In the Night – a short ballet for three couples. Initially they appear on stage in turn, while in the finale they all dance at the same time. Each of the couples offers their own version of the dialogue between man and woman – and, impeccably reproducing the choreographic scene, all the performers bring their own ideas of paired relationships to these dialogues. The good-natured coquetry and the claims of divine service, competing in the dazzle and the childlike thirst for trust – all different people, and so every time In the Night looks just that little bit different from the previous display.
World premiere: 29 January 1970, New York City Ballet, New York
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre:18 March 1992
Premiere of the revival: 5 May 2009
Running time 25 minutes
Age category 6+