'Carmen' revisits its creator

"Carmen," starring Amanda Phillips- Bosshardt, left, comes to the Phillips Center Saturday.

Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 10:52 p.m.



WHAT: The Dance Theatre of Santa Fe presents the Sarasota Ballet performing Alberto Alonso's "Carmen," with music by Rodion Schedrin after Georges Bizet. The Dance Theatre of Santa Fe performs a mixed repertoire.
WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday WHERE: Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Hull Road and SW 34th Street
TICKETS: $10-$35 (352-392-2787)

Alberto Alonso's "Carmen" comes to Gainesville on Saturday after seducing audiences worldwide for 37 years.
The 87-year-old choreographers' fiery, ground-breaking version of "Carmen" has been performed by the Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and the Tokyo Ballet, to name just a few, sealing his reputation as one of the most distinguished ballet personalities in the world.
"'Carmen' is one of the ballets that I've done that's had a fabulous success," said Alonso, now the resident choreographer at Santa Fe Community College who is thrilled to see "Carmen" come to Gainesville. "It's been done in Mexico, Spain, Russia, Tokyo, Argentina and God knows where else."
The ballet's journey started back in 1967, when Alonso and his wife of 39 years, dancer Sonia Calero, were traveling across Europe with "El Solar," Alonso's critically acclaimed, Cuban-themed musical. After one performance on a frigid Moscow night, prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya sent a note backstage that she wished to meet with Alonso.
"She threw it on my face: 'I want you to do a ballet for me; I want you to do "Carmen."' It was an honor," recalled Alonso, who is often credited as the founder of Cuban-style ballet.
As a guest of the Soviet Union, he worked through the Moscow winter to create what would become a dance masterpiece.
In Plisetskaya's autobiography, she devotes a chapter to the creation of "Carmen Suite." So moved upon seeing "El Solar," she wrote: "I felt as if a snake had bitten me." She thought Alonso perfect to choreograph her "Carmen" and recalled how "the ballet was made in a frenzied rush."
It took Alonso three months to come up with a fresh idea from Bizet's famed opera about the gypsy Carmen. He moved the story to a bullfighting ring, "where you have the game of life and death, with the bull symbolizing destiny." He infused his ballet with many Cuban-inspired steps - "on the toes," he said.
"(The character) Carmen is completely the opposite of Shakespeare's Ophelia," said Alonso. "Ophelia commits suicide because she can't handle a man's world. Carmen is killed because she goes against it, because she's so strong. She demands a woman's privilege to decide what ... she wants. I think that hit the audience, and that is why it's been such a success."
His version raised the eyebrows of the Soviet Union's cultural police, who were critical of the ballet's eroticism, but Plisetskaya's substantial star power punctured their resistance. The ballet made its successful American debut in 1974 with the Bolshoi Ballet.
Alonso's "Carmen" is in the repertoire of only three American companies: the Indianapolis Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre and, now, the Sarasota Ballet.
"He doesn't allow just any company to do it," said Alora Haynes, artistic director of Dance Theatre Santa Fe at Santa Fe Community College, who is credited with persuading Alonso to come to Gainesville. "They have to be a higher ranking company to do justice to his choreography. It's what's known as a virtuoso ballet."
Sarasota Ballet Director Robert de Warren collaborated with Alonso on what he describes as "an intensely dramatic interpretation of 'Carmen.'" Alonso selected Amanda Phillips-Bosshardt to dance the lead. She had never even performed a two-minute solo onstage until "Carmen" opened in Sarasota in November.
"The performances were sold out, standing ovations at every performance," gushed Alonso.
And he feels his creation is in good hands with de Warren.
"He's a wonderful person, a very intelligent man," Alonso said. "He's incredible. He's a very good director, very calm. I really love him. I think Sarasota is very lucky to have such a director. I mean it with all my heart. He knows how to handle people. We artists are sometimes very complicated."
SFCC's Dance Theatre of Santa Fe will share the bill with "Carmen" on Saturday. They'll perform two other Alonso creations - the ballet "Concerto" and a salsa piece. Guest choreographer Brian Brooks of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company will unveil a modern piece and also perform a modern solo. The program also will feature an African piece by Mohamed DaCosta of the University of Florida Department of Theatre and Dance and the UF Center for World Arts.
"The performance will be representative of all the different dance styles we teach here at Santa Fe," said Haynes.
This summer, Alonso and Carero travel to London to stage "Carmen" on the Royal Ballet, with the starring role played by Sylvie Guillem. He'll turn 88 in May.
Julie Garrett can be contacted at (352) 374-5049 or e-mail to garretj@gvillesun.com.

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