Stage: Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Stronger Every Day

New name, same results — Ballet Arlington takes Carmen to new heights.


Ballet Arlington seems to go from strength to strength. Each new program reveals another aspect of the company’s solid, no-nonsense growth. Its recent additional name, as the Metropolitan Ballet Company of Arlington and Fort Worth, may hint at the company’s expansive ambitions. (The new definition comes on the heels of Fort Worth-Dallas Ballet’s dropping its city names to become Texas Ballet Theater.)

Last weekend’s outing in Bass Performance Hall showed not only Ballet Arlington’s familiar Russian technique but a blossoming dramatic awareness as well.

A performance of Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite, premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet in the 1960s, was the catalyst. The soloists all managed to develop full-blown characters in this stylized, almost ritualistic synthesis of the familiar gypsy story. Bolshoi Ballet principal Marianna Ryzhkina, in the title role, danced brilliantly, creating a bright, sensual woman in love with life who revels in her ability to attract men; she found the cat-and-mouse interplay of courtship the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Following the outline of the Bizet opera, whose music is heard here in a jazzed-up orchestration by Rodion Shehedran, she seduces her army guard, Don Jose — strong, handsome, not too bright — and then runs off. Alexander Vetrov, as the infatuated soldier, danced the confused lover with bold, passionate strokes, showing us the living hell of love and jealousy that can tear a person apart as he chases his love.

Another army man, Ventzislav Petrov, dancing in supercharged macho style, tries his hand at impressing the gypsy with little success. Enter then the magnificent Mindaugas Bauzys as Escamillo: tall, lithe, a panther in matador clothing, strutting his bull-fighting stuff in slow motion around the intrigued Carmen. In a sexually charged duet sizzling with anticipation, they size each other up, two kindred spirits vying for control. Don Jose can’t stand any more and stabs Carmen, and it’s here that the ballet goes to another level. The dying gypsy gently brushes Don Jose’s hair from his face, wistfully shaking her head as if to say, “You never did get it, did you? It’s just a game. Life is a game. None of it really matters.” No bitterness, no recriminations, only the stoic acceptance that she’d been playing with fire and was paying the penalty. It was a special moment, and the audience erupted in a roar when the dancers came forward for bows.

In a lighter vein, the program began with George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, an early work of the choreographic giant’s, set to the music of Mikhail Glinka, using a corps of four women and one couple. A gentle, almost fragile piece that conjures up visions of a more innocent time, Valse unfolds in carefully graduated layers of difficulty for the corps, highlighted by bravura jumps and turns for the two soloists. Maria Kudyakova and Andre Prikhodko danced the leads with winning smiles and joyful energy, although both needed work in landing their jumps. His in particular came down with a wallop that looked painful.

Co-artistic director Paul Mejia staged the ballet, and, as usual, his dancers had the look and feel of Balanchine’s work, as well as the steps. There were rough edges to be sure, ensemble blips that more performances would iron out. On paper, choreography by the late master may look simple, yet it is frequently the most difficult to polish and make ready. For a small company with limited preparation time, this can be a challenge.

Two smaller pieces completed the evening — a contemporary Lithuanian impression of Michelangelo’s famous statue Pieta, come to life, and the exuberant Soviet acrobatic pas de deux Spring Waters. The Pieta proved an effective mood piece, danced by Bauzys and his wife, Vilija Putriute, both émigrés from the Lithuanian National Ballet, where he was a leading principal. Opening with Bauzys as the dead Christ draped across his mother’s knees, the emerging adagio transforms the tableau from religious icon into a moving lament of a parent losing a child. Particularly wonderful was the ubiquitous Tony Tucci’s atmospheric lighting; penetrating clouds of smoke lent mystery and an otherworldly quality to the dance. As one of the country’s leading lighting designers, he seems particularly sympathetic to ballet, adding extra dimension to any production.

Spring Waters was the kick in the pants you hoped it would be, with Vetrov and Marina Goshko dazzling the audience with the incredible lifts and twirls for which the ballet is famous. Followers of ice dancing could see some of the familiar moves of the sport in their original setting — in particular, an over-the-head, one-arm combination that leaves the ballerina sitting in her partner’s palm as he races across the stage into the wings. From Bolshoi Ballet visits in the past, I seem to recall more such moves than were seen here — in particular, the ballerina running diagonally downstage toward her waiting partner, jumping feet first at him with her body parallel to the floor, and he raising one arm and clamping down on her waist as she passes by. She’s stopped dead without a tremor showing in his body. If he misses, she ends up in the orchestra pit — none of which has anything to do with ballet, but it certainly is exciting.

Ron Spigelman led the Texas Chamber Orchestra in sensitive accompaniment throughout, attentive both to the dancers’ needs and that of the music. It was announced in the printed program that he will be back again next season, good news after an earlier report that he would not be returning.

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