For a full-length ballet like Carmen, with its powerful and dramatic story-line, I found it necessary to “live” with the characters for 2-3 years before starting to create the work, and thus I came to know Carmen and Don José very well. Carmen – a gypsy and a free spirit, possessed of a wild and rebellious nature combined with a charismatic appeal for the opposite sex. Don José – a soldier, disciplined, with strong principles. Two people, poles apart, who become lovers but in whole lives fate intervenes. During this gestation period I tried to analyze the protagonists and probe beneath the surface so that, eventually, I knew not only what they were doing, but why. Only then could I create steps to match the personalities of each character without disturbing the essential lyricism of classical ballet. Much use was made of Spanish style and technique but these have been adapted to fit in with the classical ballet idiom. George Bizet and his collaborators Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, who conceived the scenario of the opera, succeeded in my view in capturing the essence of the original Prosper Mérimee story and turning it into an excellent theatrical concept which I have attempted to convey through dance.
The more I listened to the music from the opera, the less it seemed to suit my needs for for it . So I enlisted the help of Musical Director of Tulsa Ballet Ramona Pansegrau (currently Music Director of Kansas City Ballet) to orchestrate an arrangement of Bizet’s music, This orchestration suited more closely Bahr’s conception for Carmen. The final score for the ballet mixes the Pansegrau’s interludes, Sarasarte’, Carmen Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra with the original Bizet suites as well as selections from L’Arlesienne Suites.
So my scenario is as follows:
From the opening of Carmen, the production is infused with the traditions and mysteries of Spain and the belief in the power of Fate. From the midst emerge one man and one woman whom Fate binds together, sealing their destiny with a flower.
In an alley outside of a cigarette factory, a group of soldiers reflect on their easygoing lives. Micaëla enters the square and asks Captain Zuniga if he has seen Don José. The Captain tells her that José will arrive when the new guard relieves the old, and the soldiers offer to entertain her in the meantime if she’ll accept their invitation. A bell rings, signaling a break for the women who work in the cigarette factory. They flood to the tavern on the square to enjoy their cigarettes. Carmen emerges from the crowd, and young men demand to know when the sensuous gypsy goddess will favor one of them with her love. José catches her eye, and she teasingly throws him a flower. A friend of Micaëla, tries to intervene Carmen’s advances to Jose and Carmen slashes her face with a knife. Carmen avoids getting arrested by Captain Zuniga and escapes.
Micaëla finds José, bringing with her a letter from his mother suggesting that they marry. Shouts from within the factory interrupt their reverie of life together; Zuniga has found Carmen and he demands that she explain herself, but she defies him. He orders José to arrest her and take her to prison. As Jose is guarding Carmen, she begins to seduce him. She agrees to meet José at the tavern if he helps her escape, and, intoxicated by the gypsy, he can’t refuse. Captain Zuniga returns to find Carmen gone, furious Zuniga de- ranks Don Jose and exiles him from the Dragoon Guard. Don Jose can only remember Carmen’s intoxicating beauty just by looking at the rose she once threw at him
Carmen and her friends entertain with gypsy songs and dances . Don Jose and Zuniga have their eyes on Carmen, and both declare their love. Flattered, she nevertheless refuses their advances. With impeccable timing, Zuniga arrives to seduce Carmen. In a fit of jealousy, José attacks his former Captain. Escamillo, a bullfighter, swaggers in and shares a drink with his admirers. Don Jose watches from the shadows, Carmen’s flirtations to Escamillo and becomes insanely jealous. Enraged, José nearly kills the bullfighter in a knife fight, which Carmen luckily interrupts. Undaunted, Escamillo invites Carmen and the others to his next bullfight in Seville and takes his leave. Tired of being persecuted, she tells Don Jose to leave her alone and then joins Frasquita and Mercédès for some fortune-telling. The cards promise nothing but death for her and José. In an abandoned room, Don José and Carmen share romance but not without a little fighting again. Micaëla alone searches for Don Jose, she has not seen him. Finally he shows up and she confronts Don José, and he tell her he no longer loves her. The day of the bullfight has arrived, and a dazzling Carmen walks to the stadium. Haggard and desperate, José emerges from the crowd and declares his undying love to Carmen and his knowledge of her new lover Escamillo. . She laughs at him, denies her new lover. His mind clouded with rage, José stabs Carmen to death and collapses on her body, as cheers for the triumphant bullfighter rise from the stadium.