Carmen, which appeared at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center this past Saturday, is a full-length Ballet Directed and Choreographed by Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre‘s Artistic Director Natasha Middleton. Middleton comes from a long line of ballet dancers from the original Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and Ballet Russes De Monte Carlo and a mother who was with the San Francisco Opera.   She has committed this originally five act piece into two acts, crafting the highlights of the opera-turned-ballet, into a sizeable endeavor.  It is based on Georges Bizet’s Opera and Prosper Mériméein original story and premiered in March of 1875 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. The Special String and Percussion Musical Arrangements were conceived by Rodion Shehedrinto which embellished the emotionality of this dramatic classic.

Natasha Middleton – Pacific Ballet Theatre – Photo: Dan Chapman

The opening reveals Carmen (the Gypsy) on a dark stage with a spotlight highlighting the fiery lead ballerina, danced and played by the diminutive and spirited Elen Harutunyan.  She was preceded by a line of tall, leggy, lithe corps dancers who peel off from lunges to feature the passionate Carmen.

Harutunyan, as Carmen, has a dramatic fervor and strength for the role and used that passion to hold our attention throughout the performance.  The bonus is that she is an excellent and sensitive actress, technically proficient and well suited for this role.  She molded the bridge from temptress to victim with such intelligence that the audience’s feelings for her grew during this two-act suite.

The next scene introduces one of the Dragoons.  First Zuniga (the Lieutenant of the Dragoons) danced by Ricardo Jony.  His presence tended to toggle between strength and hesitancy until the bearded Don Jose, danced by Grigori Arakelyan revealed his presence without fanfare.   Arakelyan is a strong masculine and adequate dancer with tenacious turns and forceful leaps.   At first it was unclear who Don Jose was, but was eventually conceded with Carmen’s advances, and a lovely seductive pas de deux, revealed the coupling.

As the ballet advances a new element is introduced, the presence of Micaela, a peasant girl and Don Jose’s childhood sweetheart, danced with delicate and sensitive lyricism by Damara Titmus. She is haunting with her lovely technique, and fragile innocence.  We see that Don Jose commits his love for Micaela in their lovely dance for two (pas de deux) to Bizet’s haunting music.

We then move on to the factory where the Corps becomes the star in a Fosse-esque chair piece, representing the female workers at the cigar factory.  From all their mouths hang cigars, shifting place from between their teeth, to between their fingers which never went any further from this uninspired toggle.   They work in unison, trading places and chairs.  Creatively, this nearly direct lift has the potential to be a show stopper but never succeeds in quite attaining such.  The Corps of long-legged beauties didn’t live up to the raw toughness of the factory workers nor the Dance Hall girls it was fashioned after.  These “girls” seemed too aloof to interact with each other, and to be believed to be colleagues who had worked together for years in a smelly hot cigar factory.   The subtext was unclear.

_Photo 6 - Damara Titmus as Micaëla in Bizet_'sCarmen-PhotobyTomPease Photo 16 - Alexander Fost of So You Think You Can Dance - Photo courtesy of Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre - alex17 Photo 5 - Preston Swovelin as Escamillo - Photo by Cheryl Mann Photo 12 - (l to r) Grigori Arakelyan (Don José) and Elen Harutyunyan (Carmen) - Photo by Cheryl Mann - tech314 Photo 2 - (l to r) Gregori Arakelyan (Don José) and Elen Harutyunyan (Carmen) - Photo by Cheryl Mann - tech324 Photo 1 - (l to r) Grigori Arakelyan as Don José and Elen Harutyunyan as Carmen CARMEN ACT 1 TAVERN PASTIA - Photo by Cheryl Mann Photo 6 - Duo Loparevi - (l to r) Oleg Loparevi and Natalia Lopareva (Spanish Couple) - Photo by Cheryl Mann - tech224 Photo 13 - Alexander Fost (Remendado) - Photo by Cheryl Mann - tech539 Photo 19 - Chloe Verkinder in Carmen - Photo courtesy of Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre Photo 4 - Damara Titmus (Micaëla) - Photo by Cheryl Mann - tech409 Photo 7 - (l to r) Elen Harutyunyan (Carmen) Grigori Arakelyan (Don José) and Damara Titmus (Micaëla) - Photo by Cheryl Mann - tech490 Photo 10 - Grigori Arakelyan (Don José) and Elen Harutyunyan (Carmen) - Photo by Cheryl Mann - tech700
Grigori Arakelyan as Don José and Elen Harutyunyan as Carmen CARMEN ACT 1 TAVERN PASTIA - Photo by Cheryl Mann

A scene changes and the ballet moves from the Factory to the outdoor courtyard, a Fiesta, a bullfight is about to take place.  The lovely costumes design by Ann Lindsey, fully fill the stage with color, fringe, Mantillas, bustiers, coined hip scarves worn by female gypsies, and robust male gypsy dancers in orange polka dots and mauve shirt tied at the chest; virtually making the stage spin with every hue in the rainbow.  The staging is well done in featuring individual dancers and discovering some of the characters as exposition for the rest of the ballet.  However, we are introduced to a featured Spanish couple, adding much fire and electricity to the performance.  Nataliia Lopareva and Oleg Loparev of “duo Loparevi”, do exciting cape work and lifts, but appear to be contemporary Adagio couple, plucked out of Cirque de Soleil, and just inserted into the ballet for no particular reason without concern for the actual period and conceit of the ballet.

We’re then introduced to Escamillo (the Matador) danced by Preston Swovelin.  Swovelin is filled with the guise of Macho-force and endurance, more than enough to cover the stage, and Carmen, beguiled by his supposed beauty begins her pursuit.    They become entwine in a complex and interesting movement piece with his sword, and are soon discovered by Don Jose, the jealous lover.  A steamy love scene with Don Jose and Carmen on a table ensues with fierce and erotic fervor and begins to intimate their devolving relationship.

This then bridges to one of the highlights of this production, although simple in its staging, it was an echo of the violent end and the fortune teller’s prediction for Carmen’s future.  As the gypsies reveal the cards, we feel in both the music and Carmen’s demeanor, a subtle and chilling unfolding as she insists on re- trying the reading several times, hoping to get different result. From there the ultimate crime of passion unravels and a beautiful yet fatal end to Don Jose and Carmen’s love finally seals their broken lives.  This also concludes this often intriguing and provocative, yet uneven version of Carmen.

To see The Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre production of Carmen, the following are the dates, location and times:

Saturday, September 22, 2018 at 8:00 p.m. at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Manhattan Beach, CA  90278.  General Admission Tickets for the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center performance are $40, $45, $50 and $60 each; a 10% Early Bird Special will be applied to these prices if tickets are purchased before September 15th.  Tickets can be purchased 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling at 800-838-3006, Press 1 and Mention Event #3376012.  Tickets can be purchased online at


Sunday, September 23, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. at the Janet & Ray Scherr Forum Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center, 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thousand  Oaks, CA  91362.  Tickets for the Janet & Ray Scherr Forum Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Performing Arts Center performance are $45, $55 and $65 each.  Tickets can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.  There is a 10% discount on all tickets purchased by September 10th.  Mention Code “Ballet 10” when ordering.  Tickets can be purchased online by clicking here.

To see a trailer of Pacific Ballet Theatre’s production of Carmen, click here.

Featured image: Grigori Arakelyan as Don José and Elen Harutyunyan as Carmen – Photo by Cheryl Mann

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