CBT opens new season with a winner 

A Sizzling Carmen — En Pointe!

The only drawback to being a busy classical music writer is that I rarely get to indulge my other cultural interests — like ballet. So I jumped at the chance to cover the Charleston Ballet Theatre's season-opening production of Carmen, based on Georges Bizet's ever-popular opera. I attended the production's second outing on Saturday.

This abbreviated dance adaptation remained relatively true to the original storyline. Likewise, the familiar music (canned, of course) turned out to be just as well-suited to dance as it is to opera; its infectious Spanish rhythms make you want to move. It reflected mostly what it did in the opera: Aria passages became solo dances. And somebody went to a lot of trouble to find recordings featuring solo-instrument arrangements to match.

Choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr crafted a vibrant synthesis of modern and classical dance elements; her dancers came up with nearly every trick in the book, and then some. Hardly any emotion or mood was missing — not even humor, as in the barracks scene with the dragoon soldiers in various states of undress. Speaking of the dancers, they were superb.

Miki Kawamura, in the title role, was the perfect vamp. She dripped sex appeal, managing to flirt wantonly with every male in sight while flitting across the stage with such effortless grace that you forgot how hard she was working. Her near-perfect partner much of the time was Alexander Collen, playing the hapless hero Don José. He delivered the evening's most athletic moves while portraying the insanity of the lovelorn with riveting intensity.

As the dashing matador Escamillo, CBT veteran Jonathan Tabbert was in great form, tempering his heroic swagger with just the right touch of effete self-worship. His ego-pumping "mirror" scene with Carmen was especially arresting: one of the evening's highlights. I recall Tabbert's concerns about bouncing back after recent surgery; he needn't have worried. Playing Micaela, Don José's jilted fiancé, Jennifer Balcerzak Muller danced her way into our hearts, radiating decency and heartbreak. Stephen Gabriel, portraying the bossy dragoon commander Zuniga, made for a convincing martinet.

The ensemble scenes were mostly well-done, too. There were a few slightly out-of-synch moments, as the massed dancers whirled and clapped in Spanish style — but I've only seen better group work from a handful of big-name troupes. I was grateful for this potent reminder of Charleston's outstanding year-round dance scene. The CBT remains a world-class jewel of our fair city.

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