REVIEW: Boston Ballet’s sensational ‘Carmen’ program hails women as a force to be reckoned with

Some things are worth the wait.

Originally scheduled to take the stage at the Boston Opera House in March, Jorma Elo’s Carmen became a virtual digital experience that premiered on August 20 as a film due to the pandemic.  Ticket holders and donors had exclusive access to the director’s cut of the production which was filmed at the final dress rehearsal on March 11 at the Boston Opera House prior to Carmen’s original premiere date for a limited time.

Re-imagined from George Bizet’s classic opera of the same name, Jorma Elo’s Carmen delivers a sizzling, contemporary flair and alongside Helen Pickett’s vivacious Petal and fanciful Tsukiyo, this performance holds women up on a pedestal, nurturing their growth, unheralded beauty, and their sheer and striking enchantment.  Click here for more information on Boston Ballet’s upcoming season.

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Derek Dunn, Chisako Oga, and Lawrence Rines in Helen Pickett’s Petal; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos taken during Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal on March 20)

Steeped in vibrant colors and a sonic, violin-tinged score which evokes a soothing, building joy, Helen Pickett’s flourishing choreography make Petal an elegant and radiant journey.  Amid consistent and warm colors, the agile, jovial cast leaps and spins breezily to form into intriguing pairs.  Pickett’s scenic colors transform from brilliant yellow to a warm orange to a bold pink while allowing Nete Joseph’s pastel costumes to remain distinctive on each landscape. Maria Álvarez, Ji Young Chae, Chisaka Oga, and Haley Schwan seem to thrive with the athletic support of Derek Dunn, Daniel Durrett, John Lam, and Lawrence Rines.  Lifting them up and guiding them to the chiming and urgent rhythms of Phillips Glass, John Cocteau, Susan Marshall and Thomas Montgomery Newman’s Elizabeth Chooses a Career, each pair learns how to support each other in order to grow.  They float, tumble, sway, and spin as each female learns to soar.

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Lawrence Rines, Chisako Oga, and Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett’s Petal; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos taken during Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal March 20)

An exquisite highlight occurs in Ji Young Chae and Derek Dunn’s stirring pas de deux as they glide together leaning and depending upon one another.  Their intimacy shines through as she elegantly slides her head under his arm and tilts her head to one side.

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My’Kal Stromile and Soo-bin Lee in Helen Pickett’s Tsukiyo; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos done in Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal on March 20)

Derived from a Japanese fable, Tsukiyo is a moving exploration of love at first sight.  An ethereal creature adorned in a translucent gown emerges through a sea of mist.  Languid and beautiful, My’Kal Stromile, dressed in a sleeveless shirt and casual dress, is transfixed by Soon-bin Lee’s delicate and unattainable beauty.  Soo-bin Lee and My’Kal Stromile display striking and immediate chemistry in Stromile’s adulation and his pursuit of this wondrous beauty.  Their innocent, sweet, and beguiling pas de deux depict a rare connection as Lee leans into Stromile to hear his beating heart or when Stromile bows to Lee sweetly.  Arvo Part’s Spiegel Im Spiegel’s tender violin and Charles Heightchew’s diverse and dreamlike costuming embellishes their captivating encounter.  Mikki Kuntuu’s evocative lighting adds mystery and enchantment to this extraordinary moonlit night as they gradually discover one another once in shadow and then in a joyful embrace.

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My’Kal Stromile and Soo-bin Lee in Helen Pickett’s Tsukiyo; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos done in Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal on March 20)

Jorma Elo’s Carmen is an exciting, memorizing tale of one woman whose fierce independence enchanted every man and commanded every room.  Originally an opera by George Bizet presented in Paris, it was adapted by the Boston Ballet and made its world premiere in 2006.

With Rodion Shchedrin’s exciting and often familiar classic score, Mikki Kuntuu’s transformative lighting, and Benjamin Phillips translucent and haunting set design make Lia Cirio as steely-eyed Carmen light every room.  From her first appearance among the captivated cast in bold colors, Cirio is an unpredictable whirlwind as gypsy Carmen.  Each fierce and charismatic movement holds some in awe and others in jealousy.

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Tigran Mkrtchyan and Lia Cirio in Jorma Elo’s Carmen; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet (Photos taken during Boston Ballet’s final dress rehearsal on March 20)

Jorma Elo’s sensational choreography particularly stands out when showcasing Carmen’s teasing and dominating spirit, especially during her pulsing and teasing dance with Tigran Mkrtchyan as conflicted and impressionable Don Jose and her passionate encounter with Lasha Khazashvili as Escamillo.  Tyson Clark, Daniel Cooper, Daniel Durrett, Graham Johns, Sun Woo Lee, Benji Pearson, Alec Roberts, Michael Ryan, Matthew Slattery, and Desean Taber all fall under Carmen’s spell as they gather in line so she can select her next suitor.  Dressed in detailed, matching costumes by Joke Visser, Visser may be offering insight into how Carmen sees her suitors.  Her defiant, sharp, and at times rigid movements toward them lend to the prison Carmen traps others in, depicted in the rotating steel walls that sporadically surround the stage.

Viktorina Kapitonova, who delivered a beautiful performance in Boston Ballet’s Cinderella last year, is effervescent in white and exudes a fresh faced purity as Mikaela.  Joyful and sweet, Mikaela’s playful pas de deux with Tigran Mkrtchyan as Don Jose provides a welcome lighthearted moment in this exhilarating production.

The Boston Ballet recently announced their very first virtual 2020-2021 season.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for future events and more, follow Boston Ballet on Facebook and Twitter.

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