Thrilling Dancers Bring This Carmen Ballet to Life

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
Philadelphia Ballet’s new Carmen is now at Philadelphia’s landmark Academy of Music until October 15, 2023. 
By all accounts on opening night, the audience went wild for the intensely high level of dancing and dramatic power of this ballet created, rearranged, and adapted from the famous opera by Georges Bizet. This Carmen is condensed into a 75-minute drama with a 30 minute intermission. Artistic Director Angel Corella choreographed this new ballet. He has given ample opportunities for his male dancers to shine in outrageously difficult choreography reminiscent of the Bolshoi Ballet. For example, overhead lifts abounded, and dramatic tension never faltered throughout. 
This evening, Carmen was Nayara Lopes, and she was unforgettable in the role. Ms. Lopes was seductive, dangerous, and incredible, all while occasionally wearing little more than a red napkin for a dress, or rolling about fetchingly in bed with a shirtless Don Jose, or, later, in bed with Escamillo. She surely joins such goddesses as Diana Vishneva and Ukrainian Svetlana Zakharova whom many have seen in the Bolshoi production of Carmen Suite
The men were immodestly gorgeous in their dancing. The choreographer lavished loving care for an incredible role for Arian Molina Soca, tonight’s Don Jose. Mr. Arian Molina Soca danced a stupendous Don Jose, riveting from start to finish. Sterling Baca as the General was all fire and brilliance. Jack Thomas was a dashing, seductive Escamillo. All three had effortless grace while performing the most improbable choreography requiring Herculean vigor. They all looked and danced wonderfully, even as both were murdered by Don Jose, one by sword, the other by pistol.
Act Two opened with an unforgettably fine male sextet where Don Jose led his troupe of bandits in perfect synchrony. Breathtaking.
Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron led her orchestra to perfectly align with the dancers on stage; no mean feat in itself. Congratulations on the daring decision to make the principal trumpet, vital to the orchestration, sound increasingly wayward and boozy, perfectly reflecting the off-kilter theme of jealousy, obsession, and murder.
Sound effects were imaginative, with the dancers having a prolonged finger-snapping episode accompanying the dancers. In the future, to prevent the dancers from rheumatoid arthritis, the old clicker used by nuns in grade school might be a solution to five minutes of finger snapping. 
The design was arresting. A blood-red theme was prominent. At one point a large, stylized bull’s head dominated the backdrop. Many in the audience undoubtedly noticed it was reminiscent of the stylized bull’s-head in the Bolshoi production of  Carmen Suite which also featured a red background, like the one seen here.  
Curiously, families with young children abounded, eager to experience sexual obsession, jealousy, murder, and promiscuous sex. Well, there was a lesson for the young ladies. Don’t work in a cigar factory, because you will get in a knife fight with a floozy and you’ll all lose your jobs and be forced into a life of prostitution and robbery. These children even had the experience of seeing Don Jose stab Carmen to death in a chapel. Not since Saint Sir Thomas a Becket have we seen that.
If you like dashing, athletic men, beautiful, heroic women, action, great music, innovative stagecraft, stupendous choreography and dancing, and lots of violence, hurry to see Philadelphia Ballet’s ripping good Carmen. 
For information about this as well as future productions, visit … .
Future productions will include Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Giselle, A Mixed Program, and, intriguingly, a double bill, The Dream with Prodigal Son!

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