The lights dimmed and the audience hushed as the curtains lifted. A solitary dancer stood motionless center stage. He performed a triumphant ditty between two rows of empty chairs, the thud of his feet on the stage rolling out across the seated patrons.
This dance, which introduced Ballet Idaho's back-to-back performances of the dark and psychological Carmen and the funny and bright Don Quixote at the Morrison Center Feb. 9, bridged the thematic division between the evening's two halves and felt like a misplaced entr'acte.
Carmen is a tale of murder, sexual conquest and guilt. The titular character kills a fellow worker in a cigarette factory and to secure her freedom, she seduces her guard, Don Jose, who sacrifices his honor and rank for her love. When she falls for the toreador Escamillo, Carmen dies at Don Jose's hands.
Alex Ossadnik's moody choreography started slowly, intensifying through a dream sequence when Carmen meets the ghost of Fate. Dressed in blue, Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti portrayed Carmen as sensitive and vulnerable--not bitchy or cunning, like most of Carmen's treatments. Her feminine movements took the sting out of the famous Carmen Suite and made her death in the bullring a sad, rather than strictly tragic event.
Unfortunately, the intermission barely gave the audience time to brace itself for the tone shift between Carmen's anxious modernity and the full-hearted grandiosity of Don Quixote.
The curtain lifted, revealing a fully realized Spanish piazza and idly chatting townsfolk. Ballet Idaho selected "Kitri's Wedding" from the original Don Quixote ballet. Kitri and her lover, Basilio, come from distant sides of the socio-economic spectrum. Kitri's father, enamored with the riches of a visiting nobleman, Gamache, dismisses Basilio, who fakes his own death to save Kitri from the foppish buffoon.
Where Carmen was probing and introspective, "Kitri's Wedding" was lavish, expansive and rich in visual puns and bawdy humor. Long solo performances, daring stage acrobatics and winking asides from beautifully conceived characters flooded the performance, which at times felt too big for the stage.
Don Quixote's large, expressive cast and elaborate set design won the performance a standing ovation, but its light would have been dimmer had it not been preceded by the black-and-blue Carmen, a gem of rare subtlety. The two acts, representing two sides of the Spanish coin, made the applause from the audience feel like the crack of a whip.