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The latest Royal Ballet mixed bill opened tonight, with Viscera, Afternoon of a Faun, Tchaikovsky pdd and the new Carmen (from Carlos Acosta). Was at the dress rehearsals last week, to put together a gallery of the opening night cast:
 
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Viscera - Nehemiah Kish, Leticia Stock
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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Carmen - Marianela Nunez
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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Carmen - Marianela Nunez, Carlos Acosta
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

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Set from DanceTabs: RB - Carmen, Viscera, etc mix bill
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr
By kind permission of the Royal Opera House

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As the curtain went down on last night's Carmen I was hoping that the person sitting next to me was not going to ask my opinion. I was spared any awkwardness when it was dismissed as ****.  In effect it was a turkey.That was my sentiment too. The dancers worked hard. Marianela Nunez gave a robust performance, but it was not ballet as I know it. It failed to exploit the dance opportunities and the orchestration sapped the music of its vigour.

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My first night impressions:

 

Viscera - I was pleased to see this again and a wonderful enhancement to the piece was seeing Leticia Stock being given the spotlight. She danced beautifully and based on this performance I do hope to see more of her in future. Gosh...between her, Yasmine and Frankie the RB has a delightful decade (and hopefully more) ahead with their young and very talented dancers.

 

Afternoon of a Faun - another lovely, languid performance of this vignette from Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov. I love the way he portrays the man as someone who is struck by his own beauty each time he looks in the mirror.

 

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux - wow, an amazing performance from Steven McRae and Iana Salenko. This is a fun piece in which technical fireworks can be let off with great abandon, and last night was November 5th and New Year's Eve rolled into one big bang. McRae makes everything look so easy, and no matter what he has done in the air, and how long he has been up there, he lands softly and with feet in position. Salenko managed to combine grace and femininity with very difficult footwork and jumping. She matched McRae's virtuosity step for step, jump for jump and turn for turn. Speaking of which, at one point she casually threw off a fouettee with about six rotations. As no-one was expecting it, we didn't count...but she just kept on rotating. This is the kind of piece where the dancers can show off and have fun. This fun was shared by the audience who gave them a huge ovation at the end.

 

Carmen - I was very disappointed with this new version. Carmen has been done so often, in so many guises, in so many different branches of the arts, that to tackle it once again and try to make something fresh and different of this story is a big risk. Whilst I admire Carlos Acosta for trying, the risk didn't pay off. There was no clear narrative, no character development, no depiction of the relationships between the characters other than a couple of pretty basic pdd, generally bland choreography (although I did enjoy a couple of the ensemble pieces), only bits of the original music; he has interspersed other music which works to varying degrees....so I'm afraid I was bored for most of it. Much of it was 'sameish' to me: once again, a band onstage while people get to do a little dance, once again, cries of 'ole' and other bits of spoken Spanish, once again, a guitarist onstage (he was wonderful) accompanying a singer...it would seem that since Tocororo these are requirements in every piece. And don't even start me on poor old Matthew Golding who had to spend much of the duration with grey and black paint all over his face and body, and, even worse, bulls' horns on his head. He reminded me of a Jamiroquai album cover.

 

On the positive side: lovely dancing from all, as usual. Things picked up a bit when Federico Bonelli made his entrance as Escamillo. It was funny and very well done; here is a real man, and he lets us know it! Carlos as Don Jose danced very well and emoted where necessary, but there just wasn't enough (if any) clear storytelling for it to work. It is not clear why he lets Carmen go in the first place; it seems much more like she does a Houdini and escapes her shackles, whereas Jose should be giving some thought as to what the consequences will be if he lets her go...then throw caution to the wind because he can't resist what she is offering. Thus should begin the countdown to murder, but it all just skims over. Marianela Nunez does her best with what she is given, but for me she isn't a natural vamp or sex bomb. Much of the pdd here (both with Carlos and with Federico) involve hands over crotches, breasts, bums....should this kind of blatant allusion to sex and sexual allure be necessary? If you want to see how it could and should be done with not one such touch, watch Carlos Sauro's flamenco version starring Antonio Gades and Laura del Sol. In it, there is more sex and eroticism in one tap of the foot, one flick of the wrist, than there is in this whole piece. The other positives in this new production are the set and lighting, both of which I liked. However, this is not enough to sustain me through an hour so although I have tickets for two other shows I don't think I will be sitting through it again. I am only sorry that this is the piece that will be remembered as Carlos's last as a member of the RB. His DonQ was infinitely better...but then he had established and long-lasting choreography to work with.

 

As a mixed bill I thought the evening was well put-together. Four very different pieces, each with something to say. What Carmen said to me I won't repeat here.

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 What Carmen said to me I won't repeat here.

 

I agree and I think that is why people on here have been unusually slow to comment.

 

For me, the middle section (Faun and the Tchaikovsky pdd) was a delight with Vadim Muntagirov and Steven McRae absolutely stunning - but, of course, in completely different ways.

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I too agree with Sim's comments.

I loved the first three pieces...especially the pas de deux with McCrae and Salenko who were sheer delight together.

I found myself dozing off a bit in Carmen, sadly....

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...don't even start me on poor old Matthew Golding who had to spend much of the duration with grey and black paint all over his face and body, and, even worse, bulls' horns on his head.

 

 

 

 

Carmen had a little bull

Always covered in soot

And everywhere that Carmen went

His sooty foot he put

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I hope it is not sacrilege to say this but I worry about Acosta as a choreographer.  I found Don Quixote very sameish and unremarkable with a lot of 'now we'll do some folk dancing' type moments in it.  I didn't book for his Carmen for that reason and reading these reviews I'm glad I didn't.

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Viscera started terrifically but, for me, dragged in the central slow pdd (I don't know whether this was down to the choreography or the dancers).

 

Faun was extremely well danced (very languid and sensuous) and Vadim and Sarah were great together in this. I still don't think that I really 'get it' though.

 

Unlike other posters, I wasn't won over by the Tchaikovsky Pdd. I thought that the timing was off in the first section (the pdd) and it didn't quite come together. Yes, Steven was his usual ebullient self but the piece, for me, lacked the necessary sparkle and polish.

 

Carmen was a muddle. There were too many ideas (some clashing) and too many complications: on stage musicians; on stage chorus plus soloists; off stage chorus; fussy props; shouting / speech. The design was a muddle too with some costume oddities. Some of the singing and orchestral playing was surprisingly poor. One of the most disappointing aspects of the performance was the rather muted score, which contained little of the vibrancy that you expect to encounter in Carmen. Carlos would really have benefitted from a dramaturg to develop the characters and tighten the narrative. Having recently seen Matthew Bourne's version, The Car Man, this piece came a poor second for originality, staging, drama, sense of place, suspense, character development, fun and pretty much everything else, I'm sorry to say. I think that if this ballet comes back all aspects will need to be radically reworked.

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Oh, thanks so, Sim and others.  After the wit and subtlety of Robbins' Faun and Balanchine's TPDD - both in and of themselves ripe with the potentials of life - I felt my heart plummet with a stolidly deafening thump during Acosta's Carmen as if that particular dance piece was somehow attacking my own sensibilities with the fickle horns of Golding's (sorry, Fate's) unfortunate head gear.  My soul somehow seemed to be seeing red.  I left flailing myself; feeling certain that it SURELY MUST BE JUST BE ME.  I cannot tell you how relieved i am to know that this was not ENTIRELY the case.  Bless you for that.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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.Having recently seen Matthew Bourne's version, The Car Man, this piece came a poor second for originality, staging, drama, sense of place, suspense, character development, fun and pretty much everything else, I'm sorry to say. 

 

For me it comes a very poor last behind (in no particular order) the choreography by Roland Petit and Matthew Bourne and various versions from Russia, starting with the original for Maya Plisetskaya.

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I wasn't won over by the Tchaikovsky Pdd. I thought that the timing was off in the first section (the pdd) and it didn't quite come together. Yes, Steven was his usual ebullient self but the piece, for me, lacked the necessary sparkle and polish.

 

 

I am.......speechless.....

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Following on from much of the above, some of what has appeared on Twitter from a number of critics suggests that Acosta's Carmen is likely to take quite a beating as their reviews are published.

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Oh dear! Judging from the posts above & Twitter comments, this doesn't bode well for my enjoyment of Carmen at this Saturday's matinee & evening performance. Or the live cinema relay (tickets already booked)  :unsure:  

 

Is it likely to be tweaked / revised between now & its next performance to address the shortcomings, do you think? Or would that be unlikely? I'm not sure how these things work. Nor any idea of how substantially it would need reworking / the time needed, as I haven't seen it yet.

 

Whatever I think of Carmen at Saturday's matinee, I certainly plan to stay on the Saturday evening to see it again, if only for the casting of Matthew Ball as Escamillo, Tierney Heap as Carmen & Vadim Muntagirov as Don Jose...

 

Hugely looking forward to Saturday though, especially as the other three ballets sound wonderful.

 

[Edited for clarity]

Edited by Indigo
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You can be speechless, Bill. That's my opinion (we rarely agree anyway) and at least one other person on Twitter was critical of Salenko's dancing. Some of the 'finishes' in the first pdd were ahead of the music, which created a rather ragged effect.

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Oh dear. The reviews aren't good - for Carmen at least; although they are generally complimentary about the rest of the bill. The best of them appears to be on the lines of "brave attempt", which is a bit damned with faint praise....

 

Those are the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Evening Standard and the Stage. There may be others I have missed.

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When I was in New York to see NYCB a lady told me that with Balanchine the dancers should finish just slightly ahead of the music. Patricia Neary staged this TPDD here and I can't believe that quality dancers like Salenko and McRae would get this wrong. Thoughts?

I am grateful to all the posts above as it has vindicated my decision just to see the cinema relay. Apart from DonQ I can't say I've liked anything Acosta has put together.

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Many -including me - were disappointed with Carlos' Don Q. I was very surprised to see another collaboration with Martin Yates.

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I thought that Viscera got a better performance this time round than it did in its first run at the Opera House. The  dancers looked as if it was well within their bodies whereas first time round.it looked a bit like people wearing clothes that didn't quite fit them and was very obviously a ballet made on another company. Now it looks like they own the choreography. As I understand that Wheeldon has made some changes to the choreography it may well be the case that these changes make the choreography a better fit for the dancers than it was first time round.

 

Faun was beautifully danced with just the right enigmatic feel to it.For me Lamb is better than Hamilton was as the girl because she is far less knowing. Muntagirov was cool,self regarding elegance. I love the way that Robbins manages to work in allusions to the choreography of the Nijinsky original without labouring the point.Tchaikovsky pas de deux is great fun, but should the dancers break off at the end of each section to acknowledge applause to the extent that they did last night? It is a feature that I have noticed has crept into performances of several  Balanchine ballets which previously were danced through. It even crept into the performance by the Friday night cast of Enigma Variations at Sadler's Wells.The Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux was well danced but there was something missing. Technically there was little to criticise but  it lacked the essential elements of  wit and elegance.

 

In spite of my comments about the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux I was having a very enjoyable evening until Carmen.There is something very wrong with a ballet when the best element in it is the design. The dancers did everything that was asked of them and delivered far more than Acosta was entitled to expect given the choreography that he created for them.He may think that  ballet needs to contain more popular forms of music than is currently the case and  he may be right.Including a chorus and individual singers in a performance can work. It works in Daphnis and Chloe and Les Noces but  not here. For me the entire piece lacked coherence and any effective use of ballet steps or movement.It was dull and I suspect rather expensive.

 

It isn't true that no great dancer has been a great choreographer but such dancer/choreographers are few and far between. It is certainly the case that mastery of classical steps in performance does not guarantee that you have mastery of them when it comes to creating a ballet.It all seemed a great waste of good dancers. As to Nunez not being sexy it has everything to do with the choreography I seem to recall that Nunez managed very well in the role of Lykanion, the experienced woman who seduces Daphnis in in Ashton's Daphnis and Chloe but then we are talking about a master choreographer who could conjure up virtually anything.It strikes me that Carmen is a very expensive failure, Expensive in terms of performers opera singers don't come cheap and in terms of Acosta's reputation if he wishes to establish himself as a choreographer rather than a teacher.

Edited by FLOSS
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I thought that Viscera got a better performance this time round than it did in its first run at the Opera House. The  dancers looked as if it was well within their bodies whereas first time round.it looked a bit like people wearing clothes that didn't quite fit them and was very obviously a ballet made on another company. Now it looks like they own the choreography. As I understand that Wheeldon has made some changes to the choreography it may well be the case that these changes make the choreography a better fit for the dancers than it was first time round.

 

 

 

Scarlett?

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The ROH/RB have clearly been working very hard to counteract the potential for bad reviews as the Evening Standard has a page 3 feature claiming that the cinema relay on 12th Nov will break all records and providing a re-run of Carlos Acosta's back story. There is even a related editorial. Hmmmmm!

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As tomorrow's Links will show, the ROH is on a loser promoting this Carmen and might be better employed pushing the three other works.  Just out - 1 star from Mr Crisp, and that for 'Bonelli's artistry.'

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The ROH/RB have clearly been working very hard to counteract the potential for bad reviews as the Evening Standard has a page 3 feature claiming that the cinema relay on 12th Nov will break all records and providing a re-run of Carlos Acosta's back story. There is even a related editorial. Hmmmmm!

Thought it was a pity they did this as it may put a lot of people off ballet cinema relays if they see this and are disappointed.

 

I am puzzled why Carlos Acosta is 'indulged' re choreography.  To my mind Don Quixote was not a great ballet and from what I read, his Carmen is disappointing.  Acosta is one of the great dancers of our time but why does he think he is a choreographer and why is RB putting money behind his ambition?  I wish him well and great happiness because he has provided joy for many balletgoers but  I think it is unwise to pretend that right now he is a choreographer.  The New York Times says exactly that.

 

I notice that the same largesse was not extended to Johan Kobborg who arguable had better credentials.

Edited by penelopesimpson
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I was there last night and came out of the theatre feeling perplexed.  Perfectly happy with all the other ballets presented but the main talking point is Carmen and that is the ballet I had booked specifically to see.  I can empathise with all the comments made so far and am still have very mixed feelings about Carmen. Experience tells us that seeing the first night isn't necessarily the best time to see a new ballet - it benefits from bedding in, but overall of course, we see the structure.  For me, it lacked story telling. It appeared to be made up a series of sometime random scenes and the whole thing felt patchy. The dancers gave it their all and cannot be faulted. Marianela must have been totally exhausted by the end both physically and mentally.   

 

I too noticed echos of various choreographies from various ballets and didn't necessarily mind that, but I didn't feel the whole piece hung together, even individual pdds  I really didn't like the early prison scene where the chains reminded me of La Fille and the pink ribbon, but actually jarred horribly on my consciousness. It also looked really messy. Curious that violence and sex  in Manon, for example, comes off, but in this Carmen it didn't. 

 

Having criticised Carlos for his acting in the past, last night I felt his pathos was immense. So, I suffered highs and lows as I watched the ballet - sometimes really moved and others times cringing. I'm someone who goes to the ballet and takes my enjoyment from the emotion it generates - hence my comment that I came out perplexed as I had suffered so many different emotions during the ballet.

 

One definite high was the performance of Federico Bonelli, who was just stunning. For me, it's the best performance I have ever seen from him. (I'm generally neutral when I see him dance).  

 

So, some highs and some lows. So, let's hope they can iron out the lows in future - and quickly.  I really don't want to see it fail as I love Carlos and what he has done for ballet 

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Thought it was a pity they did this as it may put a lot of people off ballet cinema relays if they see this and are disappointed.

 

I am puzzled why Carlos Acosta is 'indulged' re choreography.  To my mind Don Quixote was not a great ballet and from what I read, his Carmen is disappointing.  Acosta is one of the great dancers of our time but why does he think he is a choreographer and why is RB putting money behind his ambition?  I wish him well and great happiness because he has provided joy for many balletgoers but  I think it is unwise to pretend that right now he is a choreographer.  The New York Times says exactly that.

 

I notice that the same largesse was not extended to Johan Kobborg who arguable had better credentials.

 

I have yet to see Carmen but your point is exactly what I was thinking. I suppose that the commitment to Carmen was already made by the time Acosta's Don Q premiered, but given that Don Q could hardly be described as a resounding success, why on earth didn't the RB management intervene more to steer this new Acosta production to a better end result ?

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Well, there seems to be this view that choreographers are artists and that 'the suits' should not be allowed to interfere with their creative vision and the creative process. Demanding oversight of the creation of new works is probably regarded by some choreographers as an insult. However, the days of putting expensive turkeys on a main stage are now gone. Companies have to run a much tighter ship and can no longer afford costly mistakes (and new works are extremely costly). IMO, Martin Yates' score / orchestration has detracted from, rather than contributed to, both of the works on which he has collaborated and Tim Hatley's staging and costume design for both works have been a mixed bag, with some spectacular effects but some significant failures as well.

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Well, there seems to be this view that choreographers are artists and that 'the suits' should not be allowed to interfere with their creative vision and the creative process. Demanding oversight of the creation of new works is probably regarded by some choreographers as an insult. However, the days of putting expensive turkeys on a main stage are now gone. Companies have to run a much tighter ship and can no longer afford costly mistakes (and new works are extremely costly). IMO, Martin Yates' score / orchestration has detracted from, rather than contributed to, both of the works on which he has collaborated and Tim Hatley's staging and costume design for both works have been a mixed bag, with some spectacular effects but some significant failures as well.

But, Acosta is NOT a choreographer and I think he has now demonstrated this twice.

 

A pity for such a wonderful career to go out in this way but I blame RB.  It should not have been allowed to happen.

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Three glorious ballets (and performances) followed by, what, expensive pointless tosh? Why was Acosta allowed this indulgence? With heavy promotion it may fool the ignorant but Acosta's work on Carmen belongs more in some deadly West End "musical" than on the stage of Covent Garden.

 

What a way to remember him, aspiring to be a choreographer but in fact flailing about as if trying to recapture the energy and invention of half-remembered pieces he has danced. The work lifts for about ten minutes at the point Escamillo arrives (which leaves 50 minutes of head in hands tasteless whatnot) Perhaps just that section could be salvaged for galas etc in the future, saving face for Acosta.

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Hey ho! You can't win them all. Some works must have the right to fail. Not every ballet will be a work of genius, but people need to be encouraged and try things. If a work is adequate, revive it once or twice and then let it go (cf Bintley throughout his choreographic career), if a work is disastrous, recognise the fact quickly and let it disappear quickly (e.g. Macmillan's Olympiade and Ashton's The Creatures of Prometheus) but let people try. The Acosta Carmen, I fear, is in this latter category and needs to be dispensed with as quickly and humanely as possible. The sad thing will be if it obscures Acosta's glittering and marvellous career with the Royal Ballet. Let us remember him as a remarkable dancer who produced exceptional performances over many years and thrilled and delighted just about everyone who saw them.

 

It would have been better if some experienced theatre and ballet director (but who?) could have been on hand to advise and help, but the failings are as much choreographic as directorial and no choreographer would willingly accept interference (no matter how tactful) from another choreographer - so the best thing now is to remember Acosta the dancer and move on from this piece as quickly as possible.

 

Perhaps next time, if there is a next time, a smaller scale work in a less-exposed location would be worth trying.

 

Earlier in the programme I felt that neither dancer in Faun had quite the degree of self-absorption the piece ideally calls for, though it was on the way to being good. The Tchaikovsky almost always comes up fresh in part because Balanchine tinkered so much with it for the different dancers that when the curtain goes up you're never quite sure what choreography you are going to see. The first four men I saw in this were Villella, d'Amboise, Martins and Baryshnikov and they all performed quite different texts. The women they partnered were Verdy, McBride (twice) and Farrell. They had fewer differences, but differences there were! As such, in this work, I'm reluctant to criticise timings, steps or emphases. I thought both Salenko and McRae were rather good (at times, dazzling) and the performance was both exciting and enjoyable.

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But, Acosta is NOT a choreographer and I think he has now demonstrated this twice.

 

A pity for such a wonderful career to go out in this way but I blame RB. It should not have been allowed to happen.

Roslyn Sulcas of the New York Times agrees with you. The review was not glowing to put it nicely. She said that Carlos is simply "not a choreographer" and there is no nice way to put it. She also said that the work suffers from "multiple personality disorders" as it isn't clear if the work is a "contemporary ballet pared down to its essence" or is it supposed to be an opera-ballet amalgam a la 'Orpheus and Eurydice' with singers onstage, moving amidst dancers. There are more zingers in the review as you'd expect... but I won't go on. The dancers come out OK - Carlos gets mauled.

 

I was a bit wary of this but kept thinking positive thoughts and booked tickets for two different casts...oh well (sigh). I like the other 3 ballets and it'll be interesting to see what he RB does with them this time around. Initially I was happy that Morera got a crack at the role - now I think it might have been best if she could've saved her legs for something else...

Edited by Jamdancer
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