Starring Plisetskaya, Carmen Suite, is Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso’s ballet in one-act set to music by Plisetskaya’s, husband and composer, Rodion Schedrin (Russian). First choreographed in 1967, this enduring version is available on YouTube (below) and features Alexander Godunov, as well.
Bizet’s melodies are modernized with percussion, faster rhythms, and new color, heightening the effect of the instrumentality and choreography, which in turn violently accents the music’s rhythms and sharpens the senses, underlining the theme. There is an almost artwork-like approach to parts of the choreography-my favorite is the bull. The stark scenery, almost hell-like coloring and pit appearance of the walls, use of red and lighting, devil innuendo, slithering movements which contrast with the doll-like movements of Maya’s legs, Godonov’s solo is particularly moving in the bright yellow shirt, mocking his tender feelings, and making him appear the clown in love. The costumes, and lighting, creation of sharp contrasts in the choreography, movement between dark and light, black lines, and even the shadow-like manifestations of fates, bulls, and the watchful eye of the police in silhouette, which draws the viewer in on many possible different levels, sequence of the movement of film, impossible on stage alone, make this a most interesting use of cinematography and art in film and ballet. In a surrealist way, Maya is content to sit back, predatory almost, watching, while these other themes are played out, though all the while remaining the object of desire which results in the story being told in a sort of “round”, as the scenery suggests, and as in comedy, timing is given very practical and followable use here. Like a clock or time, in a sometimes whirlwind way the hand plays out, and the camera circles in much the same way, all in a dance. Many different things are going on at once, creating a higher sense of drama and a sense of urgency. Initially banned by the Soviet hierarchy as “disrespectful” to Bizet, the opera, and the ballet, it has since become Shchedrin’s best-known work and is more frequently attempted by companies, perhaps one of the only ballets which works better on film. Of particular interest is the fact that the artful components, and Plisetskaya’s natural understanding of how to play the role, not focusing as much on the dance, or acrobatics of it, but rather on the subtlety of the “less is more”, fine acting, upper body and expression, leaving a mystique to Carmen’s possibilities unlike any other, but also supporting the version of one of the readily available and best examples from the period of modern choreography with clear story-telling. Several other “stars” have attempted it on stage, but I like this version best. Another favorite, for other reasons, is Alicia Alonso’s version http://youtu.be/SEOmKbvHT_U which is a bit more Spanishy, perhaps, and simpler, but she is just a wonderful and physically expressive dancer. Some people prefer her version of it.
Uliana Lopatkina’s version http://youtu.be/5Zie4d4MbGo is a successful “copy” of it (in some senses), but the choreography is reworked to highlight Lopatkina’s assets, rather than focusing on the story and the original choreography, though able to be performed by her technically, it just does not resonate with me at all. Perhaps a case where Maya’s more sprightly and lightning quick abilities while moving, due to her small size, give her sufficient time to wait, pause and act. Despite Lopatkina’s obvious talents and abilities, this is perhaps not the best piece for her due to height. However, disappointingly, the full version of it is not available online, just a scene from the habanera. I am sure she is good-it would be so much better if it were, probably. Maria Alexandrova’s more recent version http://youtu.be/h8VUfO-3G4o is also pretty good, but I do not see the control or maturity in her movements in it that Maya possesses and what the heck, it’s wonderful, but not the same (to me). That version is also available for comparison below.