Alberto Alonso's Carmen Suite Gets a Rare U.S. Revival

Sonia Calero-Alonso gives notes to the cast, which includes ABT principals Cory Stearns and Sarah Lane. Photo by Matt Stamey, Courtesy Santa Fe College

A ballet once banned in the USSR is set for an historic revival this November in Gainesville, Florida.

In 1948, Alberto Alonso, along with his brother Fernando and sister-in-law Alicia, co-founded what became the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. During a 1966 company tour to Russia, legendary Bolshoi ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, impressed by Alonso's choreography, asked him to create a Carmen-themed ballet for her. It was the first time the Soviet-era Bolshoi Ballet had engaged a foreign choreographer.

When Carmen Suite premiered, Soviet authorities deemed it a scandalous travesty. Alonso's erotically charged, expressionistic choreography, incorporating elements of Spanish and Cuban dance, pushed the classical vocabulary to physical extremes. And as Alora Haynes, chair of fine arts at Santa Fe College, explains, the ballet's story of personal defiance and individual freedom was inherently unsettling for Kremlin officials.

Calero-Alonso, with a colorful blue scarf draped over her shoulders, uses both hands to adjust Lane's arm, which is loose at her side. Lane laughs with Ribagorda; they face each other, standing loosely with their left legs in forced arch, upstage arms linked around each other's shoulder and waist. Luis Ribagorda and Sarah Lane rehearse with Sonia Calero-Alonso. Matt Stamey, Courtesy Santa Fe College

Carmen Suite went on to become Alonso's most famous ballet, but it's rarely been seen in America. Now, through the tireless efforts of Haynes, Carmen Suite will be revived at SFC in a production staged by Sonia Calero-Alonso, the choreographer's widow.

Calero-Alonso says her blueprint for this staging is the 2005 Bolshoi revival supervised by her husband, starring Svetlana Zakharova. "Alberto made some changes and innovations he told me he wanted to stay that way," she explains.

The lead roles of Carmen and Don José will be danced by American Ballet Theatre principals Sarah Lane and Cory Stearns. Lane's husband, ABT corps member Luis Ribagorda, will dance the toreador, Escamillo. Members of the New York Dance Project provide the corps. Rodion Shchedrin's score—as controversial in 1967 as Alonso's choreography—will be performed by The Gainesville Orchestra.

Lane tilts off balance as she extends her upstage leg forward at ninety degrees. Her opposite arm stretches forward as her torso twists away from the lean. Sarah Lane rehearsing Carmen Suite Matt Stamey, Courtesy Santa Fe College

Lane performed the love duet from Carmen Suite at SFC in 2011 under Calero-Alonso's direction. "It's a gritty role, very emotional and passionate," says Lane. "I feel at the point in my life where I have the maturity for it."

For Haynes, this revival is a labor of love. In 1993, after Alonso and his wife defected from Cuba, Haynes was instrumental in securing him a position as master artist in residence at SFC, where he remained until his death at age 90 in December 2007.

"Carmen Suite was way ahead of its time," says Haynes. "I want people to recognize Alberto's legacy."

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