Pacific Northwest Ballet 2002

January 31, 2002

Ariana Lallone played a wild-child Carmen to Jeffrey Stanton’s José in Kent Stowell’s new version of the ballet.
Angela Sterling, courtesy Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Mercer Arts Arena

Seattle, Washington

January 31?February 10, 2002

Reviewed by Martha Ullman West

Kent Stowell’s new version of Carmen is at once intellectually interesting and emotionally satisfying, a skillful blend of innovative bare-bones set by Randall G. Chiarelli, costumes by Larae Theige Hascall, and video by architect Iole Alessandrini that forms both a mirror and a backdrop for the dancing, and classical choreography that speaks in its creator’s characteristically expressive voice.

Reminiscent of Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura’s Blood Wedding, in which the interactions of a flamenco company are spliced into the action of the drama, this Carmen contains a ballet within the ballet about Pacific Northwest Ballet’s dancers and their relationships with each other in the rehearsal studio and dressing rooms (fictionalized, I hasten to say). With rapid, filmlike scene changes created with the twenty-four-foot-high modular set of steel rods, the ninety-minute, one-act ballet holds fast to the viewer’s attention with multilayered action and a rather different perspective on the doomed love of Carmen, the hot-tempered gypsy factory girl, and Don José, the callow peasant soldier.

As danced by Ariana Lallone on February 2, Carmen is out of control, a vulnerable adolescent in the grip of raging hormones, not the calculating seductress of Bizet’s opera or the degraded slut of Roland Petit’s ballet. She does, of course, use her sexual charms to lure José, performed by the fresh-faced Jeffrey Stanton, into freeing her from jail, in a groping, gawky roll on the jailhouse floor. He, however, equally in thrall to his biological impulses, is ripe for the picking, adolescently careless of consequences. Throughout the ballet, their pas de deux were contentious, the dancing slightly raw, even occasionally awkward, until the end when Carmen, stabbed by Don José, went elegantly, eloquently limp in his arms in dancing that pierced the heart.

As Micaëla, Jose’s village fiancée, comes to Seville to bring him home, Patricia Barker danced with fluid sweetness and impeccable technique. Stanko Milov as the toreador for whom Carmen abandons José came straight from central casting with his dark looks, Russian style, and bravura technique.

This Carmen is both site- and dancer-specific: PNB, out of the Seattle Opera House for eighteen months while it is transformed into McCaw Hall, is dancing in a former hockey rink in which a proscenium stage and the opera house seats have been installed for the duration. Stowell wanted to take advantage of the intimacy of the setting to give the audience a closer look at behind-the-scenes aspects of ballet (including post-performance talks), as well as the ballet itself, his first new work since the 1998 Silver Lining. It’s a risky venture that paid off.