“In the Upper Room” and 2 interpretations of “Carmen”
By Iride Aparicio

Photos by: Alejandro Gomez

BSJ Artistic Director, JOSÉ MANUEL CARREÑO,  former Star of ABT, and  BSJ  Principal Dancer,  ALEXSANDRA MEIJER
BSJ Artistic Director, JOSÉ MANUEL CARREÑO,  former Star of ABT, and  BSJ  Principal Dancer,  ALEXSANDRA MEIJER

SAN JOSÉ, CA – The “magic” in live-theatre, is that no two performances are identical. The reason  is that not even the same actor, singer or dancer could exactly reproduce  his or her performance on two different days.

On the May 9-11 Program of BSJ’s  ROLAND PETIT’S “CARMEN” (l949) with music by GEORGES BIZET, and “IN THE UPPER ROOM” (l986)  choreographed by TWYLA THARP presented at the San José Center for the Performing Arts, the changes in the interpretation of a role for a dance, by different dancers,  became apparent to those who saw the program twice, because on opening night and on Saturday May l0th, the role of Don José  was danced by Ballet San José Artistic Director JOSÉ MANUEL CARREÑO, former star of  The American Ballet Theatre , English National Ballet and The Royal Ballet, and the role of Carmen, by BSJ Principal Dancer, ALEXSANDRA MEIJER. On Sunday Afternoon,  the roles were performed by BSJ’s  Principal dancers, RUDY CANDIA and  OMMI PIPIT-SUKSUN, the only ballet dancer from Thailand dancing in the United States.

JOSÉ MANUEL CARREÑO is the Artistic Director of Ballet San José, but dancing in the ballet “CARMEN” on Opening night, he was “the star.”  The character of Don José, that he represented, is a Corporal in the Police Department, but CARREÑO’s Don José. strolled on  the stage  with the majesty of a prince.  CARREÑO’s  dancing style made each one of his movements look poetic,  and his “fish body figures” (in his Pas du Deux with MEIJER) aesthetic. He represented his Don José  with  Spanish Garbo: energetic and rhythmic “zapateado”  graceful arms and hands movements and very elegant.

In his acting, CARREÑO also impersonated his character well. His best performance on that night, was sitting on a chair smoking a cigarette, in Carmen’s boudoir, staring at her but feigning to ignore her, as she “teases” him dancing around the room alluringly,  trying to seduce him. Charged with erotic energy, the scene continues with a series of   Pas de deux, in which both two lovers “entice” each other by rejecting each other: they embrace, play violent games, and at the end, unable to continue feigning their mutual passion,  fall on top of each other on the floor, on each other’s arms.

CARREÑO also knew how to represent his jealousy well in the final scene, His physical fight with Carmen in front of the Bullfight Plaza, that the audience sees also artistically reflected as shadows on the wall, was masterfully performed. He was able to portray his rage at the beginning of the scene, and his Pathos at the end.

RUDY CANDIA’s  portrayal of Don José,  needed more passion in his facial expression, but he mastered all his dancing steps. His Pas de Deux, with OMMI  looked artistic, his zapateado was rhythmic, and his bedroom scene with Carmen projected the necessary passion in the part of both lovers to charge the scene with electricity.  Perhaps the only time when CANDIA’s  role portrayal  of Don José needed to be  stronger, was in the final scene that was rushed. Also the  fact that the shadows of him fighting with Carmen, were reflected at the very end of the wall, caused his scene to lose impact. At the end, CANDIA’s  facial expression, holding Carmen, required more pathos on his part.

Dancing her Role of Carmen, MEIJER was masterful in her movements. In her impersonation of the character of Carmen, however, MEIJER lacked conviction. Her Carmen danced more like a princess than as a gypsy. MEIJER, a Principal dancer of BSJ, had the technical know how required to dance the role, but in her dancing, she was unable to portray the passion required to play Carmen. In her bedroom scene, flirting with Don José, dancing around him  in pointe, raising her legs, doing perfect pirouettes her “flirting” movements did not look luring, because her face needed a suggestive expression in her eyes, and perhaps  a “sexy” smile.

OMMI PIPIT-SUKSUN’s version of Carmen on Sunday afternoon, also demonstrated her technical mastery of the steps required to dance the role. Yet, her version of Carmen the Gypsy, if not passion, showed feeling and her dance was executed with sensuality. When dancing around her room trying to seduce don José,  PIPIT-SUKSUN swayed her hips, and used her eyes, and seductive smile to flirt with him.

On opening night, DAMIR EMRIC seemed to have misunderstood his role as Escamillo. In his short dance, he portrayed the  bullfighter as effeminate in an exaggerated  manner. A more “realistic,” yet still funny Escamillo, was danced on Sunday afternoon by NATHAN CHENEY who portrayed the role better.

As Le Chef Bandit. RAMON MORENO,  who opened “CARMEN” the ballet, in a dance in which three ’Bandits” observe the working women from the cigarette factory dance,  played his “Bandit”  with a mischievous expression in his face, and danced his steps masterfully, delighting the audience with his high jumps, which are the dancer’s “trade mark.” On opening night, IHOSVANY RODRIGUEZ, danced the role well, but his “bandit” needed a different facial expression. On Sunday’s performance SHANNON BYNUM’s  dancing  a female role of  Le Chef Bandit, amazed the audience with the mastery of her rhythmic classic-ballet steps, and the variety of expressions on her face. Wonderful also in the same role was AMY MARIE BRIONES who played it on opening night. The male roles of  2nd Le Chef Bandit played by MAYKEL SOLAS on Opening night and AKIRA TAKAHI, on Sunday were danced with excellence by both dancers.   

CARMEN the ballet,  (its music played live by Symphony Silicon Valley) with its masterful dancing, beautiful choreography, (by PETIT) and its colorful Spanish costumes and scenery (by ANTONI CLAVÉ) was a visual. It dazzled the audience who gave it a long standing ovation.

Dancers “IN THE UPPER ROOM” choreographed by TWYLA THARP 

Dancers “IN THE UPPER ROOM” choreographed by TWYLA THARP

The audience loved  “IN THE UPPER ROOM” the dance described by  Dancer SHELLY WASHINGTON, “the Repetiteur” (The dancer Who taught the TWYLA THARP’s choreography to the BSJ dancers) “as a dance of endurance” during her talk before the show. And it is really a dance of endurance. It is executed by thirteen dancers, seven women and six men, wearing either tennis or ballet shoes, who dance not stop on the stage for 39 minutes, in a cloud of dry-ice which simulates fog. They enter the stage from all directions, dance alone or in groups. They march, they walk, they run, or dance classic-ballet steps. Moving, moving, at all times.

They dance in groups, they dance as couples, all dance together, they dance alone. to a series of  short recorded pieces of tunes which are accompanied by an ostenato (repetitive) beat. The dance has rhythm but not an identifiable melody, which probably makes even harder for the dancers to perform it. But the dancers of Ballet San José accepted the challenge and when dancing together, their dances were perfectly synchronized. demonstrating once more that the  dancers of Ballet San José are well-rounded, masterful ballet dancers.