Libretto Alberto Alonso based on the story Carmen by Prospero Merime
Choreographer: Alberto Alonso
Designer: Boris Messerer
Music Director: Pavel Sorokin
Assistant to Choreographer: Sonia Calero Alonso
Lighting designer: Alexander Rubtsov
In 1960s Maya Plisetskaya was officially called Prima ballerina assoluta of The Bolshoi Theatre. She didn’t lack performances, yet the feeling of artistic discontent was growing bigger. She wanted to dance not only classical pieces, but something new, staged specifically for her. After attending performance of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba at end of 1966 that stopped in Moscow during its Soviet tour, an idea to invite Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso for Carmen ballet production sparked in her mind. She craved for it for some time already.
The Bolshoi premiered Carmen Suite on 20 April, 1967. Ballet was completed quite quickly. Music, taken from opera Carmen by George Bizet, was transcripted in a record time by Shchedrin - it took him only twenty days. Splendid and accurate decorations, whose key idea ballet master formulated by this concise sentence: “Bullfighting is Carmen’s entire life”, were designed by well-known theater artist, Maya Plisetskaya’s cousin, Boris Messerer, principal artist of Moscow Art Theatre. Premiere cast (and the only cast for a long time), besides Maya Plisetskaya, included Nikolai Fadeyechev (José), Sergei Radchenko (Bullfighter), Natalia Kasatkina (Fate), Alexander Lavrenyuk (Corregidor); conducted by Gennady Rozhdenstvensky.
Baffled by the novelty, audience took ballet quite coldly. One of the few people who unconditionally accepted new performance was Dmitri Shostakovich. He immediately reported on that to the Ministry of Culture. Creators of such unusual and erotic Carmen Suite (clearly interpreted as politically incorrect) desperately needed support as their work was banned right away. “You betrayed classical ballet”, – Soviet Minister of Culture Ekaterina Furtseva would claim outraged. Comments on this statement can be found in the book Portrait of Plisetskaya by Andrei Voznesensky. “In Carmen she first stepped on the soles of her feet, not on pointes, but solidly, flatly, in a flash-and-blood human way”.
Ballet was prohibited from being shown at Expo 67 in Canada (tour of The Bolshoi Theatre Ballet troupe was a part of cultural program of exhibition), yet it wasn’t banned there. From time to time Carmen gained success and would tour worldwide. The most precious recognition for Plisetskaya was by Spanish audience “When they (Spanish) shouted out “Ole”, I realized that I won” – she said.
“There was an interesting moment in Cuba. After our performance, Raul Castro came backstage. He congratulated artists and greeted Alexander Lavrenyuk, who had a role of Corregidor like this: hello, my military colleague. I think his sarcasm gave evidence that he got it: it was a political performance. Even If there was any evil deed in Carmen, it definitely was the political rationale behind, not the erotic one. In any case, erotica was not welcomed by Soviet government anyway (from interview to The Bolshoi Theatre newspaper, 11.2005).
“When telling the story of Carmen she usually mentions that Furtseva strongy recommended her to cover thighs. Spartak that was staged a year later had thighs exposed too. However it was perceived as ideologically correct. Costumes were not the problem. Her costume produced an effect of hyper sexuality onstage. The role interpretation was built around it. And that – like with any other roles as well – attracted to her thousands of people. Combination of imperial kremlin theatre with such apparent sexuality could not leave people indifferent (A. Ratmansky, from booklet for anniversary gala, 2005).
Revived in 2005, to celebrate 80th anniversary of legendary artist, ballet continues living its second life on The Bolshoi Theatre stage. Prima ballerinas of different generation at The Bolshoi Theatre decided to try out the title role such as Galina Stepanenko, Maria Alexandrova, Svetlana Zakharova, Ekaterina Shipulina, Ekaterina Krysanova, Anna Nikulina, Olga Smirnova. This list, without any doubt, will be adding more names on it!
Translated by Anna Muraveva