Home Backstage Carmen

Return to BalletNotes Home Page



Choreography & Concept: David Nixon
Music: Georges Bizet, Jules Massenet, & Rodion Shchedrin
Costume Design: David Nixon & Lynn Holbrook
Scenic Design: Carla Risch Chaffin
Lighting Design: David Grill

World premiere of Carmen
by BalletMet Columbus, Ohio Theatre, October 23, 1997
These notes compiled by Gerard Charles, BalletMet Columbus,
October 1997







David Nixon's Carmen

When coming to see Carmen it is "important not to expect to see the opera danced en pointe" says David Nixon. Although made popular by the opera, the story has been with us for much longer. It is his view of the essence of Carmen that Mr. Nixon seeks to explore in his medium - dance. In fact he feels that dance is a very good way to get to the Spanish heart of Carmen, as it is in dance that the Spanish people have found a true form of self expression. There is a natural understanding of dance in Hispanic culture.


David Nixon's Carmen is not set in any particular time period. He did extensive research to narrow down a time frame but realized in the process that no historical references reinforced or added meaning to the story. Indeed it was the timelessness of the emotions and the ever present flavor of Spain that Mr. Nixon felt was at the heart of the tale.

Even people who have never been to Spain have a sense of the place and expectations. We think of bullfighters, heat, ladies in big frilly dresses etc. Unlike Bizet, who never entered the country, Mr. Nixon has spent time in Spain and indeed is well known for his Spanish dancing.

Mr. Nixon does not seek to imitate Flamenco dancing in Carmen. He is not working with a group of trained Flamenco dancers, nor is his usual choreographic style Flamenco based. However, he hopes to intelligently synthesize his knowledge of the dance form into his own choreographic voice, creating a marriage of style and feeling.

The more he listened to the music from the opera, the less it seemed to suit Mr. Nixon's needs for his ballet. When he heard Shchedrin's arrangement of Bizet's music, however, he sensed that although it was a more contemporary composition it had a more primitive and authentic feel. This orchestration suited more closely Mr. Nixon's conception for Carmen. The final score for the ballet mixes the Shchedrin with the original Bizet suites as well as selections from L'Arlesienne and Massenet's Le Cid, another Franco/Spanish composition written at about the same time.

The groups of dancers play an important role in the ballet. Although the main drama exists between the central characters, they are put in perspective by those around them. Many of the situations would not arise without others being present.

It is a factory fight that first brings Carmen into Don José's life. In a slight departure from tradition, David felt it was important that the first moment they meet should be "it", that Carmen and José should realize there is an overwhelming destiny that will bind them. Theirs is not, however, a romantic love story. José's passion is to possess Carmen. She is equally passionate not to be possessed and yet she finds herself inextricably linked to him.

José is obsessed with Carmen and sees her everywhere he looks. Her image plagues him and he becomes jealous. When José fights his superior, whom he finds with Carmen, it is important for Mr. Nixon that one man must end the fight in death. After José has killed for Carmen he has no hope of returning to his former life. The blood he has spilled for Carmen binds José to her. From then on he must lead Carmen's life, free of the society that so controlled his being. José departs from his former values but Carmen still refuses him. She is seen in the company of Escamillio, the male equivalent of Carmen in Mr. Nixon's eyes. As a man Escamillo is accepted and looked up to for exactly the same reasons that Carmen, as a woman, is condemned.

Even at the end José gives Carmen a way out, but she will not take it, preferring to die rather than carry an obligation to José. For Mr. Nixon the words of Carmen to José as written by author Prosper Merimée are very important; "I will love you in death, but I will never love you in life."

An important new character in the ballet is Fate. Mr. Nixon has added her as the personification of the destiny that guides the main characters of the story.

Return to top of page


The Story of David Nixon's Carmen



From the opening, the ballet is infused with the traditions and mysteries of Spain and the belief in the power of Fate. From the midst of the group emerge one man and one woman whom Fate binds together, sealing their destiny with a flower.

We see Carmen in the cigar factory where, more inclined to revel in life than to work, she and two gypsy friends begin to dance. At the height of the dance, a fight breaks out between Carmen and a woman, who ends up being cut by Carmen's knife. José arrives with the soldiers to arrest Carmen; but, as José approaches her the room stills and Fate once again shows her power. Left alone to question Carmen, José falls prey to her charms. He makes her a deal that he will allow her to escape on the way to the prison.

Stripped of his rank and imprisoned, José reflects on this woman who has seeped into his being. He attempts to throw away the flower but Fate will not allow this.

At Pastias, a tavern, where Carmen and her friends dance until the late hours before setting out on their nightly adventures, we encounter Escamillo. Proud and elegant, he relates in dance his conquests of the day. He seeks to win over Carmen, who initially leads him on, but in the end Escamillo leads the revelers into the streets. Carmen is about to leave too when José appears from the shadows. She is amused and ready to honor her debts. José, no longer able to resist Carmen, possesses her for a moment. When he shows his nervousness, Carmen mocks José and, feeling her debt is paid, kicks him out.

José struggles to keep his attention on his guard duties but he is haunted by Carmen. In the shadows lovers meet and dance. In all the women he thinks he sees Carmen. Obsessed, he seeks out Pastias again.

José finds Carmen, but in the arms of his captain, Zuniga. She refuses José's demands that she come away with him. In desperation, José challenges Zuniga to a fight in which Zuniga is killed. Drawn by the bond of spilt blood, Carmen leads José safely away and to her way of life.



Carmen appears in disguise among the women of society in order to lure the wealthy men into her net. In the shadows, the fugitive José tries to steal a moment with Carmen. Rejected, José reflects upon his life . . . although he has lost forever his old life and its values, he does not have Carmen's love. He is whisked away by two gypsies. Carmen is successful in leading the wealthy men into the shadows where José and the gypsies rob them.

At dawn, José must retreat from the public eye. From his hiding place he sees the street children, the dragoons, and is shocked to see Carmen flirting with Escamillo. When the crowd departs, José emerges worn and destroyed. He longs to shed his fate but finally he accepts it.

Carmen is preparing for the bullfight. She has taken a new lover. Frightened by the vision of Fate in her mirror, she is relieved to find it is only José. He desperately tries one more time to possess Carmen but she will not be tamed. When he threatens her with a knife, Carmen only laughs at her fate . . . she will not be possessed or caged.

In front of the arena, the people display their best dresses. Carmen arrives with Escamillo and together they fire up the fiesta. José arrives, externally transformed to his former self but internally he is driven by one thought and one passion. The tension grows as Carmen refuses him and continues to dance with Escamillo. As the celebrations proceed into the bullring, José forces Carmen back. He will possess Carmen or deny her to anyone else. Carmen equally of one mind, refuses him. As Carmen turns and sees her fate, she falls upon José's knife. Was it her fate to be stabbed, or did she buy her freedom on his knife? As Carmen kisses José good-bye, she pulls the fated flower from his pocket. Fate removes the flower and leaves José in eternal possession of Carmen.

Return to top of page


Carmen as a Ballet

Petipa, before his days as the great choreographer of Russian ballet, drew on Mérimée's Carmen for his Carmen et son Toréro in Madrid, 1845, some thirty years before Bizet's opera.


Carmen was one of the popular ballets produced at London's Alhambra Theatre and was seen in at least three different incarnations: October 20, 1897, with choreography by A. Bertrand and music by Georges Jacobi; in 1903 with choreography by Lucia Cormani and music by Georges Bizet & George W. Byng; and again in 1912, choreography by Augustin Berger and music by Georges Bizet, George W. Byng and George Clutsam.

During the late 1800s ballet in Europe was out of favor and dancers were usually engaged only for incidental dances in operas. In London ballet took root in two great music halls, The Alhambra and the Empire in Leicester Square, where it occupied a large part of the program alongside variety acts. Ballet flourished in these theaters and attracted a large following. However, the raising of artistic standards was not paramount. These audiences were seeking light entertainment and above all wanted to feel that they were experiencing a show that was up to date. Initially there was little dramatic action in these ballets but by the 1890s ballets with complicated plots were being presented.

The Alhambra maintained a large corps de ballet and engaged celebrity choreographers including A. Bertrand, Carlo Copi, Alfred Curt and Joseph Harness. Male dancers were at a premium and usually confined to dancing a national dance or an eccentric number; a pure classical dancer was regarded as effete or even loathsome. For this reason the roles of young men were often taken by women following the British traditions of the "principal boy" in "pantos" being played by a female. The music was generally arranged by the theater's musical director, George Jacobi, who held the position for twenty six years during which time he was associated with some one hundred ballets. He was succeeded by G.W. Byng in 1898.

No expense was spared on star ballerinas who included Emma Bessone, Maria Bordin, Cecillia Cerri, and most famous of all, Pierina Legnani who performed her famous thirty two consecutive fouettés at the Alhambra before introducing them in Petipa's Swan Lake.

The first adaptation of Bizet's music to full ballet was by Roland Petit for his Ballets de Paris in 1949. The many dance rhythms in Bizet's score make it ideal for dancing. The music for Petit's ballet (in five acts, that loosely follows the opera), was re-arranged by André Girad. Renée (Zizi) Jeanmaire was Carmen, and Petit took the role of Don José himself. It was for Carmen that Renée Jeanmaire first cropped her hair and thus initiated a fashion, as did Antoni Clavé with his designs that made the corset type bodice a fixture of ballet design of the period.

Petit's Carmen has been filmed for television including one version with Jeanmaire, Baryshnikov and Petit's Ballet de Marseilles.

Apart from selections from the original Bizet score and the subsequent orchestral suites, the most used adaptation of Bizet's music is that composed by Rodion Shchedrin for the ballet created for his wife, Maya Plisetskaya, by Alberto Alonso.

Alonso began to create his Carmen before a note of the music was prepared. Two years before he visited Moscow and worked with Plisetskaya he began working out movements with members of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Only once Shchedrin saw the rehearsals with Plisetskaya did he commit to writing the music. The scenario was developed by Alonso and departs from the familiar opera plot. The emphasis is on the characters of Carmen, Don José and the toreador rather than the plot. The setting is an abstraction of a bullring with dancers in masks seated on tall stools representing the spectators. The fatal contest within this arena of life is between Carmen and her Fate - in the manifestation of a black bull. Neither is victorious; they die simultaneously because, as Plisetskaya explains, "Carmen and her fate are one and the same." Boris Messerer designed the set. The premiere took place April 20, 1967 with the Bolshoi Ballet.

Return to top of page


Selected productions of Carmen as a ballet
Choreography: Marius Petipa (Carmen et son Toréro)
First Performance: 1845 or 46
Choreography: A. Bertrand
Music: Georges Jacobi
First Performance: Alhambra Theatre Ballet, London. October 20, 1897
Choreography: Lucia Cormani
Music: Georges Bizet & George W. Byng
First Performance: Alhambra Theatre Ballet, London. May 7, 1903
Choreography: Augustin Berger
Music: Georges Bizet, George W. Byng and George Clutsam
First Performance: Alhambra Ballet Theatre, London. January 12, 1912
Choreography: Charles Weidman (Farandole)
Music: Georges Bizet
First Performance: June 29, 1932 as interlude for the Cleveland Stadium production of Carmen. Presented as separate work Lewisohn Stadium, New York, August 8, 1933
Choreography: Roland Petit
Music: Georges Bizet arranged and orchestrated by André Girard
Scenery and Costumes: Antoni Clavé
First Performance: Les Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit, Prince's Theatre, London February 21, 1949
Choreography: Ruth Page
Music: Georges Bizet arr. Isaac Van Grove
Scenery and Costumes: Nicolai Remisoff
First Performance: Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet, Dubuque, Iowa. January 11, 1960
New productions January 8, 1962 with scenery and costumes by Bernard Dayde. May 12, 1972, as Carmen and José, Dance Theatre of Harlem with scenery and costumes by Andre Delfau, revised 1976 with music arranged by Coleridge Taylor Parkinson and electronic sequence by Tania Leon.
Choreography: Alberto Alonso
Music: Georges Bizet re-scored by Rodion Shchedrin
Scenery: Boris Messerer
Costumes: Salvador Fernandez
First Performance: Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow, April 20, 1967. The first ballet to be choreographed for Maya Plisetskaya (wife of Shchedrin) as Carmen.
Choreography: John Cranko
Music: Wolfgang Fortner in collaboration with Wilfried Steinbrenner
Scenery and Costumes: Jacques Dupont
First Performance: Stuttgart Ballet, Stuttgart. February 28, 1971 with Marcia Haydée, Egon Madsen and Richard Cragun. Ballet is in two acts and seven scenes.
Choreography: Valentin Elizarev
Music: Georges Bizet / Rodion Shchedrin
First Performance: Byelorussian Ballet, Minsk. 1974
Choreography: Antony Bassae
Music: Georges Bizet / Rodion Shchedrin
Scenery: Antony Bassae & Charles Hampton
Costumes: Antony Bassae
First Performance: Les Ballets Trokadero de Monte Carlo, June 5, 1975
Choreography: Alfonso Cata (Sweet Carmen)
Music: Georges Bizet / Rodion Shchedrin
Scenery: Hermann Haindl
First Performance: Frankfurt Ballet, August 27, 1975
Choreography: Miroslav Kura
Music: Georges Bizet / Rodion Shchedrin
Scenery: Josef Svoboda
First Performance: Prague, 1978
Choreography: Vassili Sulich
Music: Georges Bizet / Rodion Shchedrin
First Performance: Nevada Dance Theatre, Las Vegas. November 17, 1978
Choreography: Tina Ramirez (Portrait of Carmen)
Music: Georges Bizet / Rodion Shchedrin
Costumes: Julio Fernandez
First Performance: Ballet Hispanico, New York 1979
Choreography: Antonio Gades
Music: Georges Bizet and Paco de Lucia (Flamenco guitar)
First Performance: Ballet Antonio Gades, Theatre de Paris. May 17, 1983 with Antonio Gades and Christina Hoyos.
Choreography: Peter Darrell
Music: Dominic Muldowney based on various Georges Bizet works.
Scenery and Costumes: Terry Bartlett
First Performance: Scottish Ballet, Edinburgh. August 1985
Choreography: Horst Muller (Carmen oder das Rondo des Todes)
Music: Georges Bizet, Manuel de Falla & Flamenco
Costumes: Paul Klein & Horst Muller
First Performance: Nuremberg Stadtische Buhnen, June 30, 1988
Choreography: Jorge Lefebre
Music: Georges Bizet
Scenery: Joelle Roustan & Roger Bernard
First Performance: Ballet Royal de Wallonie, Charleroi, March 18, 1989
Choreography: Jose de Udaeta
Music: Georges Bizet
Scenery and Costumes: Ramon Ivars
First Performance: Ballet Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Dusseldorf. March 26, 1989
Choreography: Mats Ek
Music: Georges Bizet / Rodion Shchedrin
Scenery; Marie-Louise Ekman
First Performance: Cullberg Ballet, Norsberg. May 13, 1992. A reworking of the story focusing on José and the choice he must make between his mother and the world.
Choreography: Rafael Aguilar
Music: Georges Bizet
First Performance: Ballet Teatro Espanol de Rafael Aguilar, Paris, 1992
Choreography: Harald Wandtke
Music: Georges Bizet / Rodion Shchedrin
Scenery and Costumes: Hartmut Henning
First Performance: Dresden Staatsoper Ballet

Return to top of page


Georges Bizet and Carmen

The man we know as Georges Bizet was actually born Alexandre Césare Léopold Bizet in 1838 in Paris. A child prodigy, he became a student at the Paris Conservatoire when he was just ten, as a pupil of Zimmerman and then Jaques Halévy (whose daughter Géneviève, he later married in 1869). He was also an adoring disciple of Charles Gounod.


As a youth he took every prize in sight - piano, organ, composition - and in 1857, before he was twenty, he won the Grand Prix de Rome. Bizet's Symphony No. 1 in C was written at only age 17. However this exceptional work was not performed until 80 years later.

The Franco-Prussian War found Bizet in the National Guard as a soldier (as was Saint-Saëns), and it was during this time that he composed his piano duet Jeux d'Enfants.

Although best known today as the composer of Carmen, success for that opera did not come until after Bizet's death. He was in fact better known in his day for his non-operatic compositions such as Jeux d'enfants, Petite Suite and incidental music to L'Arlésienne (from 1872, the year he began contemplating Carmen). He was also an accomplished pianist who astonished even Franz Liszt, but he rarely appeared in public and composed only a few pieces for the piano.

With Carmen, Bizet not only sought success but wanted to reform opéra-comique to a more contemporary, less idealistic feel. He worked within the framework of opéra-comique but added new vitality, with stronger, more realistic emotions and passionate feelings.

Although Carmen is Spanish in sound, it does so not by using Spanish rhythms or themes. The score is alive with small points of imitative writing - often no more than a few bars- which stir memories and hint at associations in the mind of the listener. Each scene has a flavor of its own, (soldiers, ragamuffins, smugglers, or the crowd at the bullring), a Spanish "chiaroscuro" against which the principals stand out.

Bizet died of cardiac complications at Bougival in 1875, aged 36. Many believe his health condition was exacerbated by the failure of Carmen, which was receiving its 31st performance that night.

Other Bizet Compositions used for Ballets

Symphony No. 1 in C
Symphony in C (Le Palais de Cristal)/Balanchine (1957). Assembly Ball/ Andrée Howard (1946).

Jeux d'Enfants (Petite Suite)
Steadfast Tin Soldier/Balanchine (1975). Jeux d'Enfants/Massine (1932). Beauty and the Beast/Nixon (1997).

Return to top of page


Jules Massenet and Le Cid

By contrast to Bizet, Massenet was extremely successful and popular during his lifetime. He knew what the public wanted and decided to give it to them. "...the public likes it, and we must always agree with the public", he said.


Jules Emile Frédéric Massenet was born May 12, 1842 in Montaud, near St. Étienne. The son of an iron founder, he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at age 11 where he became a pupil of Ambroise Thomas. Following his winning the Prix de Rome in 1863 he spent three years in that city before returning to Paris. He could have pursued a career as a solo pianist, but instead supported himself by teaching and playing percussion in various orchestras.

His first opera, the one act La Grande-tante, was presented at the Opéra-Comique in 1867, but it was his oratorios, particularly Marie Magdaleine, that established his name as a composer. In 1881 his operatic version of Salome, Hérodiade, put him on the operatic map. His best remembered work today is Manon, from 1884.

In 1887 Massenet was appointed as a professor at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Alfred Bruneau, Gustave Charpentier, Georges Enesco and Florent Schmitt.

Massenet would wake at 4 in the morning and work sometimes 16 hours a day. He was meticulous in annotating his work so we know that he averaged eight pages of music per day for Le Cid. He never wrote page "13" but instead "12 bis" and he did not allow his Christian name to be printed as he hated it. Massenet also never attended the dress rehearsal or premiere of his works as he said he did not want to hear bad news.

Le Cid dates from 1885 and is an opera based on Pierre Corneille's telling of the adventures of the 11th century Spanish knight Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, known as El Cid (Arabic: El Seid - The conqueror). The opera is set in Seville; the ballet appears in Act II and was set at a spring festival in the square in Burgos. Massenet wrote seven separate dance numbers based on various provinces of Spain. It gave him the opportunity to write some very seductive and exotic music, for which he was well known.

Massenet died August 13, 1912 in Paris, although his tomb states the date to be the 14th.

Return to top of page


Rodion Shchedrin and Carmen Suite

Carmen Suite was composed for Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso's Carmen and is probably the work most closely associated with Rodion Shchedrin.


Shchedrin was born December 16, 1932 in Moscow. His father was a composer and professional violinist who taught at the Moscow Conservatory. After attending the Moscow Choral School from 1944 -50 he enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory from which he graduated in 1955. The next four years were spent as a research assistant until he began to teach composition at the Conservatory from 1965-69.

Shchedrin developed a reputation as a politically independent and cosmopolitan artist. He was chairman of the liberal Russian Union of Composers (taking over from its founder Shostakovich) and in 1976 was appointed to the Bavarian Academy of Arts. He now divides his time between Moscow and Munich.

Shchedrin's wife is Maya Plisetskaya, the legendary prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet. During their long marriage Shchedrin has written many works for her such as The Humpbacked Horse (1960), Carmen Suite (1967), Anna Karenina (1972) and The Seagull (1980).

For his Carmen Suite, Shchedrin re-scored Bizet's music for strings and percussion and inserted the farandole from L'Arlésienne and the Danse Bohemieme from La Jolie Fille de Perth. Shchedrin writes, " Bizet's score is one of the most perfect in the whole history of music, and so I felt that it was very important, while working on the piece, to bring out the differences between my transcription and the original by means of tone colors. This aim also affected my choice of instruments and persuaded me to concentrate on strings and percussion."

When Carmen Suite received its first performance in Russia at the Bolshoi in 1967, the Soviet authorities' responses were extremely negative. At its second scheduled performance Carmen Suite was replaced by The Nutcracker. It was the intervention of Shostakovich that finally allowed the work to be accepted.


Return to top of page


Ballets with a Spanish Theme

Ballets with a Spanish theme have long been popular as the rhythms of Spanish music are very danceable and the country was long considered an exotic and exciting setting. Ballets that fall into this category are Don Quixote, Paquita, Le Tricorne, and Bolero.


Paquita was first produced in Paris in 1846 with choreography by Mazilier and featuring dancer Carlotta Grisi. Russia first saw the ballet in 1847, with the version by Petipa being unveiled in 1881. Paquita has a fairly complicated story of a Spanish Gypsy in love with and a French nobleman; the pair are prevented from marriage because of their different social classes. In the midst of a conspiracy by the local governor and the Gypsies, aimed at ridding themselves of French rule, it is discovered that Paquita is of noble blood. All ends happily. Paquita is known mostly now by the divertissements from Act 3.

Le Tricorne was choreographed by Leonide Massine to Manuel de Falla's music. Based on a traditional Spanish tale, costume and set designs were by Spaniard Pablo Picasso. Massine had studied Spanish dancing in Spain, and the choreography employs not only stylized movements but actual Spanish dance technique. Massine also choreographed Capriccio Espagnol to Rimsky-Korsakoff's music. It was a plotless ballet using Spanish steps and gestures as well as classical dance moves in a Spanish style.

La Ventana was Bournonville's foray into Spanish styled dance in 1854. It was probably more strongly flavored by the Bournonville bounce and technique. This ballet is known today as a set of divertissements.

Grand pas espagnol by Benjamin Harkarvy is a showpiece for three men and three women of high technical accomplishment. They display virtuosity with an homage to the Russian / Spanish choreography of Petipa.

Laurencia, choreographed by Vakhtang Chabukiani to music by Alexander Krein, is based on the play Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega. It premiered in Leningrad in 1939. Laurencia tells of a Spanish girl who leads her entire village on the attack of the local tyrant's castle where her betrothed kills the villain. Nureyev staged an excerpt of this ballet for The Royal Ballet in 1965.

Don Quixote, based on the famous tale of Cervantes, was originally choreographed by Petipa with music by Minkus in 1846. Don Quixote and his faithful Sancho Panza are almost incidental in this story that centers around the love of the high spirited Kitri and Basilio, a barber. In his version, Balanchine removes Kitri and Basilio and focuses on the Don and his fantasies as personified by Dulcinea.

Ravel's famous homage to Spain, Bolero, was originally choreographed by Nijinska in 1928 as a ballet set in a Spanish tavern where a gypsy dancing on a table gradually induces a state of ecstasy in the onlookers. Other choreographers have used the music but probably the best known interpretation today is that of Maurice Béjart whose version was filmed under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He too features a soloist dancing on a massive table surrounded by a group of dancers who become gradually more involved with the dance.

Return to top of page


Spanish Dance

Dance is a vital part of the Spanish culture, particularly in Southern Spain. The traditions are well preserved through annual dance festivals. It is not unusual to see people of all generations spontaneously burst into dance on the street when passing a group of musicians or even on hearing a recorded piece of music.


Spanish dance is a complex art that can be subdivided into four styles: folklórico (folk or regional), escuela bolera (eighteenth-century classic), Andalusian, and Flamenco. The characteristic movements which identify each of these styles have evolved because of their environment, clothing, and social customs. Spanish dance finds its roots in a variety of foreign influences - particularly Greek, Phoenician, Celtic, and Moorish - due to the country being occupied so many times. The castanets which we so heavily identify with Spanish dance were actually of Greek origin.

Folklórico dances encompass the complete Iberian panorama of fifty-three provinces with an endless array of colorful regional costumes and hundreds of folk dances, many of which are seldom seen outside their homeland. Many of these dances employ strange steps, patterns and props such as wooden shoes, water pitchers, flower arches, maypoles, stilts, swords, and kerchiefs.

The escuela bolera (bolero school) possesses today the refinement of eighteenth-century academic dancing. Elegance was and still remains the hallmark of this distinguished balletic form of dance performed in soft slippers (zapatillas) and fashioned by Italian and French dancing masters of the time. Based on the principals of classical ballet, including a modified turn out of the legs, it is technically brilliant with jumped, beaten, and flying steps, coupled with delightful adornments in the use of the arms and castanets. An arduous and systematic training is required for the sheer strength and coordination demanded.

Generally speaking, the style of Andalusia (Baile andaluz) is the style most people associate with Spanish dancing. Andalusians refer to their dances as airoso y alegre (gracious and happy). These dances are characterized by the proud uplifted chest of the male and the arched back and fluid sensuous arm movements of the female performed to the sound of castanets. It is the Andalusian style of dances such as malagueñas, seguidillas, fandangos, el vito, panaderos, and farruca that were taught by the revered maestros, often in re-choreographed forms that were later seen on concert stages and nightclubs around the world.

In contrast to the above dance styles, Flamenco - with its ambiance of merriment, singing, and rhythmic hand clapping which often involve the audience - has a highly charged level of dynamics. Because it is essentially a solo dance with strong eastern and Moorish influences and can be performed in four different manners - melancholy, tragic, somewhat reserved, and happy, carefree - and because of its overtness, pacing and dramatic airs, Flamenco is accessible to the response of most viewers. These qualities make for exciting theater and entertainment. This form has undergone the most dramatic change, now finding itself the vehicle for production numbers and complete ballets using an entire company of dancers, thus creating still another theater style, baile teatral.

From north to south the four principal styles of dance can also be identified by the indigenous music which accompanies each. The sounds range from skirling bagpipes, metallic triangles, jingling tambourines, flutes, and castanets to the familiar rhythmic hand clapping and Flamenco guitar.

Return to top of page

Return to BalletNotes Home Page