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State Street Ballet Dances a Hot ‘Carmen’

The updated “Carmen” opened the State Street Ballet’s season with two full-house performances.

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{mosimage}Carmen, that enduring Gypsy seductress, danced to her doom once again on the stage of the Lobero Theatre, as State Street Ballet presented an updated and thrilling version by choreographer William Soleau.

Soleau originally made “Carmen” on the State Street company several years ago, part of his ongoing relationship with the Santa Barbara troupe that has produced a number of successes. They include “Starry Night,” an evocation of the van Gogh painting, and “Cityscape,” a touching tribute to New York and its people after 9/11.  

The updated “Carmen” opened the State Street Ballet’s season with two full-house performances, on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Artistic Director Rodney Gustafson was on hand after Sunday’s performance to accept congratulations from several members of the enthusiastic audience as they left the auditorium.

Leslie Drake danced the lead role, limning a sinuous and (overly) confident Carmen, who blithely jilted Ryan Camou’s lovesick Don Jose for the swaggering bullfighter, Escamillo. Enton Hoxha, a veteran of Albanian and Russian dance companies, was electric as the triumphant toreador.

Another exotic import was Mongolian-born Bayaraa Badamsambuu, an alumnus of Russia’s top-flight Perm Choreographic Academy. He was a vivid presence as Guard Captain Zuniga, Don Jose’s nemesis. Allyson Mattoon, who has been with State Street Ballet since 2000, was an appealing Micaela. Mercedes, Carmen’s Gypsy friend whose role it is to warn her of impending doom, was beautifully danced by Sarah Fuhrman.

Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen” has remained a fixture of the musical stage since it burst upon the scene in Paris in 1875. Despite, or perhaps because of, its shock value to audiences of the day, it has captured the imagination of opera lovers and, subsequently, balletomanes ever since.

The music for the State Street version was arranged by Rodion Shchedrin, well known in his native Russia as a composer. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory and has received a number of international accolades. His “Carmen” is faithful to Bizet’s original score, but includes some more contemporary instrumental additions that enhanced the score’s searing climax.

The company will take “Carmen” on tour, including to China. The Gypsy jade will undoubtedly work her magic on that audience as well.

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