San Jose Cleveland Ballet

February 24, 2000

Roland Petit’s Carmen with Ana Lobé and Norbert Nirewicz.
Photo by John Gerbetz, courtesy of SJCB

San Jose Cleveland Ballet

San Jose Center for the Performing Arts

San Jose, California

February 24?27, 2000

Reviewed by Rachel Howard

The question of how the San Jose Cleveland Ballet won permission to perform Roland Petit’s notoriously difficult-to-acquire  Carmen (the only other American company ever to mount it was American Ballet Theatre when Mikhail Baryshnikov was artistic director) was instantly explained when one saw this production’s sets and costumes. Detailed, dazzling, meticulously reproduced from Antoni Clavé’s 1949 originals, they drew gasps from an eager audience at the ballet’s company premiere.

But production values proved half?perhaps even less than half?of San Jose Cleveland’s credentials. From the cigarette makers’ first smoke-puffing entrance, this was ensemble synergy at its zenith, a  Carmen of unflagging sauciness and fatalism, performed with more than enough zest to earn new converts to Petit’s decidedly theatrical, but negligibly musical, choreography.

The driving force was not the characters of Carmen and Don José, but Ramon Moreno and Nancy Latoszewski as the two lead bandits. Their cartoonish enthusiasm rallied the entire cast and gave the ballet’s most spectacular moments a dramatic anchor?especially the chair-spinning, orgiastic bar scene. Anna Lobé, returning to the company after the birth of her daughter, made for an unusually sympathetic Carmen, though not a particularly fiery one. Lobé lacked a down-and-dirty fighting spirit, though her vulnerability led one to understand why Carmen’s flagrant independence amounts to self-defense in a society full of vituperative Don Josés. Kwang-Suk Choi as Don José was imposing in stature but sometimes self-effacing in expression. It was the supporting roles, such as Norbert Nirewicz as a delightfully hubris-filled toreador, that invigorated this twisted love story.

Without Carmen’s over-the-top drama to act as a buffer, the program’s first two works revealed a company of great technical equality but expressive unevenness. Artistic director Dennis Nahat’s occasionally plodding  Mendelssohn Symphony (performed for the first time in classical tutus) felt like a curtain warmer. The women’s delicious élan and vigorous attack were cheapened by some of the dancers’ cheerleader-style smiles. Joanne Jaglowski provided a coolly insouciant counterpoint to the ballet’s otherwise angelic populace, though she has an affected habit of rolling her shoulders. Sprightly Le Mai Linh was the overwhelming crowd-pleaser here, gliding through his marathon petit allegro like a stone skipping over water.

The company turned in an impressive interpretation of Balanchine’s  The Four Temperaments, capturing the work’s Darwinian urgency. The lanky and absolutely riveting Oscar Hawkins gave a smoldering edge to the Phlegmatic variation.

It was heartening to see that San Jose’s audiences had the good sense to give the first-rate company they play second home to a lengthy standing ovation.