Cincinnati Ballet Production Makes High Art More Human

At heart, Carmen is a sensual story of passion. Putting a daring new spin on one of the best-known and beloved stories of opera repertoire sounds like a tall order. But internationally renowned choreographer Amedeo Amodio is perfectly suited to cr

At heart, Carmen is a sensual story of passion. Putting a daring new spin on one of the best-known and beloved stories of opera repertoire sounds like a tall order. 

But internationally renowned choreographer Amedeo Amodio is perfectly suited to create a contemporary-infused dance version. Expect fiery dancing filled with feeling and meaning.

Cincinnati Ballet presents this production of Carmen in partnership with BalletMet Columbus, where the work was previously performed. Its Tulsa Ballet world premier garnered high praise, and it opens this Friday at the Aronoff Center — just in time for Valentine’s Day weekend dates.

Audiences will also be treated to a rousing rendition of the legendary, hum-along score, played live by the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Carmon DeLeone. Another bonus? The show runs two weekends.

As befits such a powerful and sexy story, this Carmen is all about how people connect — a certain physical energy that really connects people to one another on a more visceral level, onstage and off. It’s evident both in Amodio’s personality and in his process. At the Ballet, the word for him on everyone’s lips is “sweet.”

Amodio, a native of Italy, exudes emotion and vibrant energy. In our interview about this production, his enthusiasm boils over as he speaks to me in rapid-fire Italian, clasping my arm here, leaning in close there. It’s a wonder his interpreter manages to keep up.

Amodio says Carmen was a natural fit for him because he’s lived it, having trained at the School of Ballet of La Scala and danced in many productions at the world-famous La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy, before launching his expansive choreographic career. He’s a voracious connoisseur of arts and music across diverse forms and genres, classical and contemporary. 

His interpretation of Carmen delivers an exciting blend of classical ballet’s technical prowess spiced up with the warmth of sexier modern moves, particularly in the partnering. He also highlights the tale’s spiritual and symbolic elements.

“It feels really sensual and strong,” says the Ballet’s Artistic Director/CEO Victoria Morgan. “And I feel like Amedeo coming to town was really able to give it some breadth and details. Our dancers are mature and experienced enough to really bring some serious artistry and passion to it.”

The casting choices might come as a surprise, with soloists and corps dancers in the lead roles in the first cast. Morgan says she’s pleased with this. 

“I think it really wakes everybody up to see different casting,” she says. 

There’s a curious story-within-a-story aspect here, too. The ballet begins where the opera ends: Backstage people behind the scenes of a fictional Carmen opera production randomly cross paths and meet; they then go on to embody the familiar characters for this dance version.

Soloist Rodrigo Amarales, who plays Don José in the first cast, says he’s really gotten into his role. He finds Amodio to be exceedingly passionate about his work.

“Usually choreographers just sit and see the whole thing from far away,” he says. “But he’s like, right here [he leans in close to me] when you’re dancing. He doesn’t want to look at you; he wants to feel you when you dance. That’s exciting, actually. It makes me want to give more, and I guess that will translate later onstage.”

Velázquez, who plays the title role in the first cast, also says it’s challenging staying in character the whole time. Carmen’s every step and every gesture, however small, conveys messages.

“She’s not an easy woman to portray,” she says. “She’s a big character. She knows what she wants, and she’s crazy, too. It’s a lot about the acting for (Amodio) and the emotions that you’re portraying.”

She says he would ask them to imagine there’s a movie camera that’s rolling right in front of your face. 

“He’d say (via his interpreter), ‘If the camera’s right in front of you, you don’t have to show so much emotion, because it’s right there; you can see it.’ ” 

And surely you can feel it, too.

Cincinnati Ballet presents

CARMEN at the Aronoff Center Friday and Saturday and Feb. 17-18. If you’re seeking a more family-friendly option, the Ballet is presenting a family-friendly “Ballet Toybox” performance comprised of excerpts from popular story ballet classics. This special show will take place at the Aronoff Center on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets: 513-621-5282 or

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