Posted by: viewfromtheriva | April 18, 2011

Split Ballet’s Carmen sizzles!

A tempting seductress, Carmen dazzles her men dancing on a table

Split’s glorious ballet company has scored another triumph with a sizzling version of Carmen, wonderfully choreographed by Valentina Turcu, but marred with a decision to end the piece where no one but people in the first three rows or in the balcony could see it.

Irina Caban, volcanic as the seductive Carmen, was mesmerizing from the moment she appeared–hip thrusting, leg strutting and tempestuous as she commandered the top of four tables that served as the ballet’s set.

With legs like this, who wouldnt want to dance!

With a body born for dancing and legs that went from here to Dubrovnik, Ms. Caban was divine.  The  role of dreams, her Carmen was completely winning–a tigress, a coquette and so much more.   Whether en pointe or twisting herself around her lover, Ms. Caban was thrilling to watch.

Vlad Ilcenco and Artjom Zusov, as Jose and Escamillo, were extraordinary and it’s always so annoying that male dancers this good somehow never get to shine when ballerinas like Caban and Monica Dinoni make you forget anyone else is on stage.

Bizet’s music, re-interpreted by Scredin, was beautifully played, with special kudos to the percussion section.  It’s quite marvelous to hear how well this orchestral warhorse holds up!  Ms. Turcu clearly agreed and missed no opportunity to fine tune her company to Bizet’s twists and turns–especially fun was how she had Carmen’s lover mime a machine-gun to a staccato riff, mowing down a legion of his fellow soldiers.

Lets dance!

While the dancing was sublime, the lighting and costuming were a surprising disappointment.   Set in a steamy cafe, whose tables became a dance floor, a cell as well as a hall of mirrors, the lighting was so dark and dreary it really detracted from the wonderful movement.

Rather than take their cue from a matador’s “traje de luces” (suit of lights), the costume and lighting designers opted for basic black….the lights and mirrors attached to the underside of the tables added a bit of visual drama, but nothing to enhance the dancers.

It was as if Goya was in charge of the lighting and costumes rather than Gaudi.

Michal Negrin, an internationally-recognized Israeli jewelry and clothing designer,  seemed to forget that color has power and also kept everything dark. The crimson accents on Carmen just weren’t enough.  Painted leotards and creative use of hot Spanish tropical floral colors would have worked far better; especially considering the dim lighting and blackout set.

Known for her subtle Victorian-era color palette, Ms. Negrin clearly decided that less was more and to this viewer, she missed a singular opportunity to showcase her talent  (like her magical new store here in Split) .

The other faux pax was choreographic.  Carmen’s love-making scene and the final death scene were also not handled well from the audience point of view–rather than have these scenes elevated; for example, Carmen’s limp body could have been placed on a downstage table acting as a bier–instead, only the front orchestra seats got a view…and those in the balconies.

The program began with Napoli, a classic set piece from the mid 1800’s that was purposely chosen to offset the tempestuous Carmen to come.  Based on folk material, with couplets of prim dancers each doing small charming duets and solos, it was pretty to watch but had so little emotional content, it was like sitting in on a master class rather than a ballet.

The audience, polite but itching for Carmen, was clearly unmoved–but it was not so much the fault of the dancers–who were all winning and never lost their smiles–but of the piece itself.

An evening like this is a challenge all artistic directors face—what do you program with Mahler?  What do you program with Carmen?

The program cover for Napoli and Carmen

I’m still bowled over by the power and professionalism of this company–in a seaside city of just 200,000 famed for its Roman history not its art.  But it’s clear that being here they get to do some mighty fine work with some fabulous choreographers like Yuri Vamos, Rami Be’er and Ms. Turcu.

Lucky me, spoiled by living in Russia and seeing the Bolshoi while living in Moscow, I can now walk to the HNK and watch the Split Ballet. Although my Russian friends will think I am crazy, this company can dance with the best.

Enjoy our new Croatian vacation portal

Read more about Croatia at secret dalmatia’s unique blog

Coming to Split?


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