City Ballet Spins Perfect Storm with ‘Seasons’ & ‘Carmen’

Many ballet companies combine upbeat and dramatic dances in a single concert, but few can spin a perfect storm of fantasy and tragedy, as City Ballet of San Diego achieved with the premiere of Seasons and a revival of Carmen, at the Spreckels Theatre.

Ariana Gonzalez dances the role of “Carmen” and her real life husband Geoff Gonzalez (with rifle) becomes Don Jose. Image: Julia Hiebaum

Both ballets presented May 12-14 were full company works, and for several hours, gifted dancers invited us to escape the fatigue of work and politics, while listening to the exhilarating music of Vivaldi and Bizet played live.

Geoff Gonzalez, a company dancer and resident choreographer, reimagines “The Four Seasons” with Max Richter’s arrangement of Antonio Vivaldi’s famed score.  In his crisp, contemporary Seasons, the entire company shines.

Erica Alvarado and Derek Lauer dance the Spring duet in “Seasons.” Image: Chelsea Penyak

It opened like a pop-up greeting card, a burst of spring, which was a treat for many viewers celebrating Mother’s Day weekend.

Erica Alvarado and Derek Lauer drew applause for joyful spins, and women in pink and white moved as lady slipper flowers twisting in wind.  When Alvarado flicked her hands and coiled her fingers, there was a sense of vines growing up trellises. When she rolled over Lauer’s back, violin strings tugged at our emotions.

This was Erica Alvarado’s final performance. She joined CBSD in 2011. She and ballet husband Stephano Candreva have signed on with Atlanta Ballet.

While Gonzalez’s structure for Seasons was classical, his phrasing was contemporary.  Dancers accented sequences with claps and gentle slaps to thighs.

When his wife Ariana Gonzalez danced the steamy Summer duet with a mustachioed Brian Heil, their extensions and lifts made the old theater heat up like the Borrego desert.

The women of Summer wiggled with backs turned to us, and their skirts made of red strands evoked burning embers.

Karin Yamada designed the costumes for Seasons, including an unexpected combination for Kaylee Seklton, who danced the Fall section.  Skelton, a strikingly tall dancer, became a gorgeous tree in reddish brown tights, although a saloon-door pattern on top was distracting, but only for a moment.  On pointe, she towered over two men (Ryosuke Ogura and Sean Rollofson). They fluttered and dipped as leaves in the wind; it was a mesmerizing trio we must experience again.

Young dancers appeared in a spellbinding Interlude as little ghosts. Led by a witchy woman, they performed ominous gestures to foreshadow the blast of winter. A captivating Lucas Ataide had the power to make it snow. It kept snowing and the sensory feast continued as women seemed to skate over an icy pond.

The concert could have ended here.  But after a 20-minute intermission, we returned for Carmen, starring Geoff and Ariana Gonzalez as the dangerous Carmen and jealous Don Jose.

They are a loving married couple in real life and fooled everyone with enough passion for reality TV.  There were moments when we wanted to hit the pause button, because we knew the ending.

Ariana and Geoff Gonzalez dancing as Carmen and Don Jose requires transformation. Image: Chelsea Penyak

Ms Gonzalez played Carmen like a gangster. She sliced a woman’s face, and her expressions and timing in the Taro card section had a film quality.  We could be in Spain or on any street corner. Mr Gonzalez was brilliant and frightening as her tormented reject seeking revenge.

Carmen has been around.  It’s based on the 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée that used to be passed around in secret among gentlemen.Carmen was viewed as the devil.

George Bizet wrote his score in 1875. Roland Petit and Les Ballet de Paris created a dance version in the 1940s. The famed Russian ballerina Plisetskaya said Carmen was her favorite role.  Even if you’ve never seen the ballet or opera, you’d probably recognize the music.

Both halves of the concert were music driven, and the City Ballet Orchestra, directed by John Nettles, made Vivaldi and Bizet, and the whole production sparkle at the Spreckels.  Bravo to the horn section and percussionists, as well as first violinist Jonathan Smith.

City Ballet’s Carmen, choreographed by Elizabeth Wistrich, premiered the work in 1988.  Wistrich is the mother of Ariana Gonzalez, so they are passionate about this kind of dance-theater.

There were moments of levity.

With his movie-star good looks, Sean Rollofson added comic flair as Escamillo, the heart throb toreador.  Dressed in hot-pink tights, he strutted and flirted like a rock star.

The leads brought excellent technique and acting skills to the stage, but so did the secondary peasants and smugglers.  Standouts include: Kate Arnson, Karissa Myers, and Kyla Myers.

While there are many ballets designed for young viewers, Carmen is not one of them.  It was disturbing to watch a man become unstable and stab a woman in a jealous rage.  Bizet’s score is infectious, and the story is a classic, but should we be celebrating a story about a woman getting stabbed?  Some may wonder if it’s time for the shelf.  The ballet is a favorite among City Ballet patrons, in spite of its brutality, because it’s about passion.

Scenery was courtesy of Stivanello of New York.  Eye-popping costumes in brilliant jewel tones were by David Heuvel. Stephen Judson did the lighting.

The dancing was full-out, characterizations were worthy of a soap opera, and we cheered.

Still, we had suffered a kind of ballet whiplash.

As the curtain fell, our minds latched on to more pleasant images, such as flowers and trees twisting in the wind, and falling snow.

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