Salzburg Ballet

October 16, 2004

Salzburg Ballet
Salzburg Landestheater, Salzburg, Austria

October 16, November 3, 9–13, 18, 19, December 14, 29, 30, 2004

January 9, 18, 28, February 6, 24, 2005

Reviewed by Kate Mattingly


European opera houses—jewel-like theaters nestled into cities like Stuttgart, Brussels, and Salzburg—are studies in contrast. Their beautifully ornate interiors provide a distinct backdrop for the contemporary productions put on their stages, such as Peter Breuer’s Carmen. The Salzburg Ballet artistic director, who favors dramatic spectacles, uses his international mix of classically trained dancers with flair.

Carmen—with its passion, lust, sex, and violence—is right up Breuer’s alley. Yet despite those juicy elements, he uses costumes, music, and lighting more than choreography to tell the story of the Gypsy girl. In the title role, Cristina Uta’s wonderfully sultry quality makes her a natural Carmen, even though her facial expressions seemed to shift from angry to smiling without much in between. Her repetitious choreography primarily consisted of straddling partners and high-extension seduction scenes. To describe how Carmen took advantage of her lovers, Uta pulled a wallet out of her partner’s pocket. When she became angry with a fellow worker in the cigar factory, she sliced her neck with a knife and fake blood trickled down (a brutal moment in the wake of recent terrorist events). It’s unfortunate that Breuer, with such a capable cast, opted for literal interactions instead of portraying emotions or advancing the story through choreography.

The dramatic, Cuban-born Alexander Pereda played the role of Don Jose with gusto. As the soldier who arrests Carmen for murder, becomes infatuated with her, is seduced, and forever intertwined in her affairs, Pereda displayed his torment more with furrowed brow than dancing. His glaring, stomping, leaping, and turning bolstered a predictable mix of classical ballet steps.

One wonders how much the opera house environment affected Breuer’s choices. Could his theatrical tendencies result from creating for audiences who regularly see opera and theater? Maybe Austrians prefer literal interactions to those with innovative dance vocabularies. (Wasn’t William Forsythe asked to leave Frankfurt because audiences missed story ballets?)

The souvenir program was filled with ideas from Ernest Hemingway and Bernard-Henri Lévy about the intrigue of death and the nature of jealousy. If only these ideas, the fascination with hunting and bullfights, or the reasons for jealousy-fueled violence were evident onstage.

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