Ballet West's tournée in Odgen with Amodio's Carmen

A tangled web of obsession, jealousy, love and betrayal takes center stage when Ballet West (Salt Lake City, Utah) presents the Ogden premiere of Amedeo Amodio’s Carmen, 2005, April 22 and 23 at the Val A. Browning Center for the Performing Arts.

Amodio, who created the ballet for his own company, Aterballetto, had been toying with the idea for his setting of the work for a number of years before he actually had a company on which he could set it.

The ballet employs a non-vocal setting of Bizet’s famous score (so the arias are all there, they’re simply given instrumental rather than vocal life). Its focus on the four principals — the fiery Gypsy woman Carmen; Don José, the soldier who becomes smitten with her; Don José’s would-be fiancée Micaela; and Escamillo, the arrogant but virile toreador to whom Carmen is also attracted — allows it to be performed in two acts instead of the opera’s four.

Amodio says the technical challenges of the main roles are those any good dancer could pull off and that the real challenge is in the character nuances.

Tackling some of those character nuances is newly-promoted demi-soloist Annie Breneman. Breneman has been dancing featured roles in every production the company has presented this season, acquitting herself marvelously in everything from the vivacious Queen of the Carriage Trade in “Offenbach in the Underworld” to the Sugar Plum Fairy to, in Carmen, Micaela.

“Micaela,” she comments, “is a hard character to play. She’s one of the people. I see her as strong and earthy rather than light; she’s innocent, but certainly not naive.

“Like every character in the story, she is being pulled in two different directions. I think Don José loves Micaela, but like a sister, where he’s totally obsessed with Carmen. Micaela believes in their relationship and will fight to make it work, but she also knows she’s losing him to Carmen.”

In terms of the pas de deux she dances with Don José, she said Amodio advised her to dance “like the wind when the windows have just been opened.

“In contrast, Carmen’s work is more dynamic; it blends smooth and crisp, strength with a sense of sensuality.”

She has a slightly different take on Amodio’s view of the technical challenges: “There’s a lot of movement in the back and torso in Amedeo’s choreography that you wouldn’t do in a strictly classical work. It’s sent a lot of us off to see our chiropractors and massage therapists after rehearsals!”

Breneman, who has previously danced mainly classical roles and moodily dramatic characters like Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, says she was surprised when she was cast in “Offenbach.”

“The Queen of the Carriage Trade was a very different sort of role for me. I think of myself as more of an adagio dancer; I’m not a natural jumper or turner. So the vivacity and the technical challenges of the role pushed me. In the end, I hammed it and just ran with it. I like the challenge of dramatic roles; it’s good not to get pigeon-holed into one type of part.”

Artistic director Jonas Kage sees Breneman’s versatility as one of her greatest strengths.

“Most dancers have a weakness in some area,” he comments, “but Annie can do it all. She has a nice warmth onstage, a nice musicality. I have been very moved by her onstage: she projects well and has great depth to her characterizations. And she is a real pleasure to work with.”

Breneman got hooked on ballet as a youngster. Originally from Florida, she applied to the University of Utah when she noticed the ballet department’s affiliation with Ballet West. She was invited to join Ballet West as an apprentice in 1998; through 2001, she concurrently served as an apprentice and pursued her BFA.

That gorgeous, strong, high arch that makes her feet look so spectacular on pointe? “I was born that way,” she confides.


Carmen, the ballet


In addition to the opera, there have been unusual movie adaptations and even an ice ballet featuring Gold Medalist Katerina Witt—and many, many ballets. About 25 productions exist, beginning with Petipa’s in 1847 (he choreographed based on the book before Bizet had yet composed the opera); the list of choreographers includes John Cranko, Ruth Page, Charles Weidman, Alberto Alonso, and Mats Ek.

So why another Carmen?

For one, Amodio had the idea to scale back the production from its often-extravagant production values.

“I wanted to explore the psychological inner workings and interrelationships of the four main characters,” says Amodio, speaking through a translator shortly before the production opened last fall in Salt Lake City. “It’s a small, intimate setting of the story.”

It also takes an interesting narrative twist: it begins with the fall of the curtain on a traditional performance of the opera. The audience is transported backstage, where the stage crew begins to strike the scenery of the show as the artists change into their street clothes.

A member of the crew tries on the jacket that the artist playing Don José wore in the opera. A violinist crossing the stage bumps into him; the cards with which he was playing scatter (this is the ballet’s nod to the fortune-telling scene and the “Death” aria from the opera). Suddenly, they are swept into Carmen’s world.

Micaela enters in search of Don José; she and Carmen get into a fight, for which Don José arrests Carmen. She escapes; he is imprisoned for his failure. To escape and pursue Carmen, Don José is forced to turn outlaw.

Act II introduces the great bullfighter Escamillo, who pursues Carmen; this act features a love pas de deux between Carmen and Don José, set to the love theme from the opera.

The final tableau takes on a surreal quality: Carmen, who has clearly been in Escamillo’s company, encounters a Don José livid with jealousy at the thought that the woman for whom he gave up everything might not be his alone. She dies at his hands — but also in his arms.