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Review: Festival Ballet's Stunning CARMEN, Up Close on Hope

CARMEN is a classic story, and one that Festival Ballet has mounted before with great success due to the talents of resident choreographer Viktor Plotinkov and dancers Jennifer Ricci and Mindaugas Bauzys. This time around, the grand production is shrunk down to fit into the black box theatre on Hope Street, which strips away most of the sets and dramatic lighting and leaves the viewer with a production which is minimalist but powerful. The principal dancers rotate each performance, so every one is a unique experience. The Friday night premiere featured Eugenia Zinovieva as Carmen, Alex Lantz as Don Jose and Kirsten Evans as Micaela.

In order to still be able to capture the dramatic movements of Carmen, the Hope St. black box theatre is expanded to its maximum width, but taking out part of the wings, and the people in the first row get closer than at any other production in this space before. The sets are minimal, but incredibly effective and the dancers manage to simulate all kinds of different scenarios just using costumes and movements. It's truly astonishing to watch how every movement communicates so effectively. In addition, the costumes and style of dance, while still ballet, leaves absolutely no doubt that this is a story that takes place in Spain. The long skirts get flung around with bullfighter-esque flicks of the wrist as the incredibly familiar score of Carmen plays.

The story of Carmen is one of doomed love between Carmen and Don Jose. At first Don Jose is in love with Micaela, but then Carmen catches his eye and he quickly falls under her spell leaving Micaela in the lurch. The early duet between Don Jose (Alex Lanz) and Micaela (Kirsten Evans) was so moving and sincere that when he abruptly leaves her for Carmen, it's just as crushing for the audience as for Micaela. Evans brings a sweet sincerity to the performance, but in no way seems like a shrinking violet.

Eugenia Zinovieva is striking as Carmen. She oozes charisma as she slinks across the stage and lures Don Jose into her web. You know in no uncertain terms that she is no good, but you're drawn to her the same way so many of the men seem to be. Zinovieva really plays up Carmen's wickedness and manipulation, and after having watched Don Jose treat Micaela so poorly, you're almost glad when he and Carmen both get what they deserve. It's strange to be so entranced by such self-centered, manipulative people, but even though you many not like them, you still can't look away. The chemistry between the two dancers is smoldering.

This is where the rotating of the principal cast becomes so intriguing. Lantz and Zinovieva were completely in sync because they were both focused on the evilness of their characters. How different would this production be with a more sympathetic Don Jose? Can that even exist? These performances are so layered and fascinating that it makes you want to keep going back and discovering new emotions.

While it's always fun and energetic to see several short performances Up Close on Hope, there is truly something immersive in watching a longer ballet in a space this intimate. The only frustration is that sometimes there is so much going on on stage that the audience can't see it all. While there's a lovely duet in the foreground, there's also fantastic corps work in the back and the human eye just can't take it all in! Paired with the frenetic music, it's almost overwhelming, but so exciting. It's a full dose of sensation that tickles every emotion and should not be missed.

Viktor Plotnikov's Carmen. Choreography: Viktor Plotnikov; Music: Georges Bizet

Mar. 24, 2017 - 8:00pm, Mar. 25, 2017 - 7:30pm, Mar. 26, 2017 - 6:00pm, Mar. 31, 2017 - 8:00pm, Apr. 1, 2017 - 7:30pm, Apr. 7, 2017 - 8:00pm (added performance)

FBP Black Box Theatre (825 Hope St., Providence RI 02906)

Tickets: 401-353-1129;

L to R Eugenia Zinovieva as Carmen, Alex Lantz as Don Jose. Photo by Dylan Giles.

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