GO? St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s “Carmen”

The preview below involved one of those maddening situations where no video of the ballet existed–and I’d never seen the company. I read everything I could find on the troupe (on Nexis, for example, and the ballet boards)–but there wasn’t a single review, even, of this particular ballet, which could either be marvelous or a bust. I hate being reduced to a reporter–just reporting what the director says and not being able to offer an independent eye. It even makes the questions you ask less precise. But it can’t always be helped. They were coming to Long Island, so Newsday could use a preview.
What I could gather about the company was that sometimes the young dancers (median age of the principals: about 24) give in to sloppiness (probably from exhaustion, given their grueling touring schedule) and yet they have reserves of technique and feeling to call upon whenever humanly possible.
The company’s claim to fame for ME, anyway, is that Leonid Jacobson once ran it–it was originally named after his specialty, “choreographic miniatures.” (Its official Russian name now is the St. Petersburg State Academic Ballet Theatre–shortened for American tours.) Jacobson’s work is rarely seen here, though you might know him from the ballet “Vestris,” which made Baryshnikov famous and vice versa. There are also great clips on Youtube of other of his short-story ballets.
Anyway, the company has the rights to all Jacobson’s works–and yet they haven’t made an evening of them here! I can understand it might be hard to sell the rest of the country on the ballets–people want their long ballets–but in New York, at least, we would feel honored. The Baryshnikov Arts Center could join forces with the Joyce and sponsor a week of Jacobson–I think SF Ballet has one ballet and perhaps other U.S. and European companies do, plus this company. The Russians are very proud of this man, I keep finding out whenever I talk to artistic directors of these touring companies.
I really enjoyed talking to the current director (through a translator),Yuri Petukhov. He was modest and smart–not only knew his ballet’s history, but had thought about what one thing and another meant. A real pleasure.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone who gets to see this “Carmen.” I am going to try to make it, but my schedule may not allow it.
Here’s that short Newsday preview:

Yuri Petukhov, artistic director of Russia’s St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, is not the first choreographer to recognize “Carmen’s” potential for dance. Like many a great ballet, the popular 19th century opera sets at its heart a lowly woman who ignites lawless passion in an upstanding man. Spanish, Swedish, French and Cuban dancemakers have all made exciting use of it.

Petukhov has admired these productions: Carlos Saura’s stark 1983 flamenco film; Mats Ek’s buoyantly eccentric 1992 modern dance (“He can think in movement,” Petukhov says); Roland Petit’s erotically charged 1949 ballet; and Alberto Alonso’s 1967 Expressionist distillation. Still, he felt there was room for another – one that combined the most distinctive aspects of his predecessors’ styles, yet approached the characters from a new angle. Thus, the “Carmen” charging into Staller Center at Stony Brook Sunday night.

“Women usually head a ballet, but in my version Don José tells the story,” Petukhov explains via a translator while on the road between Burlington, N.C., and Charlottesville, Va. Like many post-Soviet troupes, the company depends on foreign tours to stay afloat. This year they’re visiting 112 U.S. cities over the course of four months.

Carmen announces at the start, “If you don’t love me, I will love you, and if I love you, you’d better watch out!” She sticks to her word straight to the bitter end. Don José, on the other hand, is conflicted — a modern hero: “José is a loyal soldier, but he deserts. He murders for Carmen, then regrets it,” explains Petukhov. “He loves her, but also [his betrothed] Micaela. One is his passion, the other his soul. I felt I could draw different colors from José.”

As for the dancing, Petukhov has used the defiant, earthy stance and sinuous arms of flamenco, the reach and collapse of the torso in modern dance and the incisive legs of ballet. The women’s specially designed footwear reflects this hybrid, with the pointe shoe’s boxy toe affixed to a low-heeled character shoe.

When Petukhov wants to emphasize Carmen’s seductive powers, the ballerina digs those heels into the ground. When her expansive passion needs underlining, she rises onto her pointes. “The pointe shoe was introduced in the Romantic era so the ballerina could ascend to the gods,” he explains.

Russia lacks a modern dance tradition. In line with the nation’s rich ballet history, experimentation is less about throwing out the old than adding in the new. So, those bred on the iconoclasm of American modern dance might find this “Carmen” derivative, while those expecting traditional ballet might find it “unacceptable at first,” warns Petukhov.

“But it is better to see than to think about,” he says. “And it will grow on you.”

WHEN&WHERE St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre appears in Yuri Petukhov’s “Carmen” Sunday at 7 p.m. at Staller Center, Stony Brook University. Tickets $42. Call 631-632-2787 or visit stallercenter.com.
Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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  1. Freya Koss says

    the St. Petersburg Ballet is now performing in Delaware and I’m considering seeing a performance. Would love to know what the reviews were and did you get to see them?
    thank you.
    Freya Koss, a ballet lover
    Apollinaire responds: I didn’t get to see them. The critics found “Giselle” slightly ridiculous and “Carmen” abominable. Oh, well!
    Here are links to “Giselle” reviews:
    Here is a “Carmen” review: http://www.nj.com/starledger/stories/index.ssf?/base/entertainment-1/1205732111247650.xml&coll=1

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