Cuba is a common thread running throughout the life and work of Septime Webre. The first work he developed as artistic director of the Washington Ballet traced his Cuban roots, and Webre, who grew up in Texas, also led the company on a tour of the communist country in 2000 — making it the first American ballet to perform there in 40 years.
So when the idea came up to stage Bizet’s Carmen in a cross-genre collaboration with the music-oriented InSeries, Webre decided to give it a Cuban twist.
“Carmen has been told in so many different ways and this seemed to be an interesting in to illuminate a new facet of Carmen, by invoking Havana in the 1920s,” he says. “You know, Carmen in a tobacco factory, and including music from the island — kind of blending Spanish and Cuban culture.”
Webre has co-staged the production with the ballet’s associate artistic director David Palmer, creating original choreography set to balleros popularized by the film Buena Vista Social Club. Webre has also reworked choreography from his 2000 ballet Juanita y Alicia. Yet the bulk of the movement comes from his dance adaptation of Carmen in 2001, set to the Spanish-inflected score by French composer Georges Bizet. Music director and pianist Carlos C. Rodriguez — whom Webre calls “a really fine musician” — will render the music live, accompanied by percussionists Ivan Navas and Gary Sosias.
Carmen in Havana is the sixth collaboration in ten years between the ballet and presenting organization the In Series. Previous productions explored topics ranging from Mozart’s childhood to the art songs and chansons of mid-century France. “It’s essentially a blending of genres, opera and dance,” Webre says. “It is both a classical music experience and a dance experience, with singers and dancers integrated fully.”
Six singers perform Bizet’s classic tragedy, including the great Anamer Castrello in the role of Carmen — and they’re complemented by nearly 20 dancers from the Washington Ballet’s Studio Company, an ensemble of aspiring dancers aged 18 to 22. “Really powerful dancers, great technique, very international — from Brazil, China, South Africa, France, the United States, Canada, really all over the world,” Webre says. “They bring a kind of fresh energy to the project.”
“By looking at Carmen, this important work of theater and opera, in a new way,” he continues, “we hope to illuminate some aspects of the production that haven’t been seen before.”
Bizet’s Carmen in Havana will be performed Friday, Feb. 5, and Saturday, Feb. 6, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 7, at 4 p.m. Lang Theatre at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets are $46. Call 202-204-7763 or visit inseries.org.
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