A Very Agreeable Piece, With Fascinating Choreography, And First-Rate Dancing.
This five scene ballet, based upon Bizet's 1875 opera, was choreographed by Roland Petit for his dance partner and wife, Zizi Jeanmaire, who premiered the character of the Spanish gypsy in 1949, Petit partnering her as Don José. In this film made 30 years after for Canadian television, ballet buffs will enjoy a 56 year old Jeanmaire as she reprises her part, while in this instance her partner is Mikhail Baryshnikov, artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, who fills the role created by Petit, supported by the latter's troupe, Le Ballet National de Marseille, an organisation that he helmed for 26 years. Some critics have expressed disdain for Jeanmaire's essay here, obviously having persuaded themselves that she was too old to play Carmen, specially when she was paired with an ebulliently callow Baryshnikov at the height of his terpsichorean powers. Howbeit, the part is vested in her, and she fluently segues between the emotional plums that Petit has cleverly constructed, switching from one mood to another, all the while having complete command of the impassioned character, her favourite to dance. There have been past a score of Carmen ballets formed upon Bizet's ever-popular work, a census of these revealing that each is married closely with the original. In any event, this meridian of Petit's choreographic career has consistently packed the greatest punch for a good many audiences, and although he and Jeanmaire had filmed CARMEN elsewise, this concise (44 min.) production must be ranked near the top of the entire assemblage. For it is here that Petit utilises that to which he has referred as his own "ambience", a blend of skills that includes more than dancing, as his well-drilled performers are trained to both sing and mime. Petit has long wished to popularise ballet and, while episodes within this film are frankly erotic, they are yet not vulgar. Although jazz-flavoured CARMEN is highly sensuous, it also is notably reflective of the irrational as well as pungent tone that Bizet creates for his musical melodrama. At least as significant as contributions from the two leads are the dancing and acting of the corps, along with other soloists of the Marseille company, in particular Denys Ganio as the Toreador, rival of Don José. Petit's determination to film one final performance of his most famous work will be welcomed by a majority of the film's viewers. Visual and audio quality are excellent and of a piece for both VHS and DVD formats.
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