BALLET REVIEW

An experimental Carmen

Carmen
Libretto based on the novel by Mérimée, Directed and choreographed by: Ondrej Šoth, Written by: Zuzana Mistríková, Where: The Košice State Theater, Hlavná 58, Košice, Next performance: at 19:00 on December 18, 2003, Rating: 6 out of 10

Carmen

Libretto based on the novel by Mérimée, Directed and choreographed by: Ondrej Šoth, Written by: Zuzana Mistríková, Where: The Košice State Theater, Hlavná 58, Košice, Next performance: at 19:00 on December 18, 2003, Rating: 6 out of 10

THE STORY of the restless Gypsy-girl Carmen and her passionate quest for freedom has been the subject of a variety of interpretations in opera, musicals, plays, and ballets.

Originally set in rustic Andalusia against a backdrop of burning flamenco guitars and castanets, the question is how much of these original attributes can be set aside without losing the essence of this drama.

The Košice State Theatre has come up with its own version of Carmen.

Combining Georges Bizet's original music with the contemporary rhythms of the world music group Deep Forest, stage director Ondrej Šoth has created a modern ballet. It is stripped of most of its Andalusian colour and seems to struggle to keep the passion of the original.

The work starts out interestingly. Šoth's use of drums is suggestive and evokes an atmosphere of anticipation. Factory workers appear dressed in grey to the ethno-music tones of Deep Forest. José, the man who is to fall madly in love with Carmen, appears.

In the original tale, José is studying to become a priest. This aspect of his character has been taken away, and the ballet dancer, Mykhalo Novikov, is remarkably colourless in his performance. The choice of costumes does not help either. It is an enigma why the two male characters, José and Carmen's husband, Escamillo, perform in short pants that make them look more like swimmers than 19th century Spaniards. It creates an impression of ridicule and parody rather than drama.

However, Liudmyla Vasylyeva does not disappoint the audience in her playful interpretation of Carmen. She brings across all the moods and coquetry of Carmen, and impresses with her charisma as well as technical ability.

Andriy Sukhanov is charismatic but seems self-centred in his role as Escamillo. His jealousy does not come across. Even though Vasylyeva manages to express passion quite convincingly, the portrayal of the relationship between Carmen and Escamillo seems remarkably cold, and the choreography of the couples pas de deux is more frantic than passionate.

The group scenes with the factory workers are well performed, although the ecstatic screaming sounds of the female dancers make one associate them with Slovak folklore more than anything having to do with Spain.

This version's interpretation of the tale's ending, in which José kills the untamable Carmen out of jealousy, is interesting. Instead of showing it literally, Šoth has created a personification of death: a woman who comes and goes. Sometimes she is a silent observer in the background; at other times she dances with Carmen, then with José, and finally she wins them both over. When she throws her black shawl onto Carmen, we know that this is the final moment. The idea works well, but the dancer, Katarína Gašparová, looks too young and innocent to portray death convincingly.

All in all, the experimental Carmen leaves the viewer with an essentially fragmented impression.

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