Alberto Alonso’s “Carmen Suite” at Santa Fe College Nov. 8 – 9, 2019

UPDATE – As of 8:10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8, there are a very limited number of tickets remaining for Saturday’s performance.

October 21, 2019 – November 2019 will be the first time since 1974 that the ballet “Carmen Suite” will be performed with live music in the United States—and the event is at Santa Fe College. Created by Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso for the famous Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, “Carmen Suite” will feature guest dancers from the American Ballet Theatre and the New York Dance Project with accompaniment by the Gainesville Orchestra.

There will be two performances of “Carmen Suite” in the SF Fine Arts Hall, one performance with special VIP tickets available for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, and another performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

On Friday night, Nov. 8, VIP ticket holders will enjoy a pre-show cocktail hour 6-7 p.m. and a post-show Meet the Artists reception with background décor created by Keith Watson Events. A limited amount of VIP tickets ($250) are available by calling the Fine Arts Hall Box Office at 352-395-4181. Other ticket prices for Nov. 8 are $50 for adults; $40 for seniors, SF staff and faculty and SF students in the orchestra section; and $15 for SF students in the mezzanine or balcony.

On Saturday night, Nov. 9, tickets are $50 for adults; $40 for seniors, SF staff and faculty and SF students in the orchestra section; and $15 for SF students in the mezzanine or balcony.

For tickets, ticket information, or VIP tickets, call the Fine Arts Hall Box Office at 352-395-4181. All tickets except VIP tickets are also available online at sfcollege.edu/finearts/

“Carmen Suite” is part of the Fine Arts Department’s Master Artist series that brings professionals to campus to mentor students in the performing arts. The ballet tells the story of Don José, a soldier seduced by the gypsy Carmen but abandoned by her when she falls in love with a torero (bullfighter).

The ballet is being staged by the choreographer’s wife, Sonia Calero-Alonso, and will feature some of the top names in American dance. Sarah Lane and Cory Stearns, principal dancers with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York City, will perform the leading roles of Carmen and Don José. Luis Ribagorda, also of ABT, will dance the part of the Torero. Davis Robertson, co-founder and artistic director of the New York Dance Project (NYDP), will perform the role of Zuniga, a soldier. Members of the NYDP will perform as the corps de ballet (group dancers, as opposed to soloists). Under the direction of Evans Haile, The Gainesville Orchestra will perform Rodion Shchedrin’s score for “Carmen Suite.”

When Alberto Alonso created “Carmen Suite” in 1967, he was the first non-Russian ever to choreograph for the renowned Bolshoi Ballet. Alonso was on tour with Cuban dancers in France when Plisetskaya came to see Sonia perform one of Alberto’s ballets. Plisetskaya, who had wanted to dance the role of Carmen for some time, then approached Alberto about creating “Carmen Suite.”

“‘Carmen Suite’ was a scandal—politically, socially, and movement-wise—when it was first performed in Russia,” explained Fine Arts Department Director Alora Haynes, who was instrumental in bringing Alonso and his wife to teach at Santa Fe College in the early 1990s. “Having ballet dancers perform with legs turned in, pelvises moving, and partnering from the legs were obvious references to sexuality, which is of course a central theme of Carmen’s and Don José’s story. The Russian Ministry of Culture told Maya Plisetskaya that she had made a prostitute of a Spanish heroine!”

The deeper themes of “Carmen Suite,” however, deal with oppression over freedom, how freedom of expression can be killed by the establishment and how people need to have “two faces” in order to survive in that situation. “These themes aren’t surprising when you consider that Alberto was a creative artist living under Communist rule in Cuba when he choreographed the ballet,” Haynes continued. “The corps de ballet even has hand-held masks that they regularly use as a metaphor for the ‘two faces.’ I think the message of ‘Carmen Suite’ is that freedom is everywhere but it is not always fully expressed, and that women especially have to fight for their freedom. It’s a powerful message that resonates today.”

Despite its first negative reception, the reputation of “Carmen Suite” has grown. The ballet is now regarded as a national treasure in Russia and is beloved throughout the world in places as far apart as Tokyo, Argentina, Barcelona, Bulgaria, Italy and the United States.

Haynes helped to bring both Alberto and Sonia to Santa Fe College after Alberto’s son defected from Cuba to Florida in 1992. The elder Alonsos were in Mexico at the time and decided to defect as well. Haynes arranged for the couple to stay with her family and convinced college administrators to hire Alberto and Sonia to teach in the Dance Department. “Alberto worked here for 15 incredible years and did most of the choreography for the Dance Theatre of Santa Fe while he was here,” Haynes said. “He died in 2007 and even though Sonia now lives in Miami, we bring her back often as a guest artist.” Alberto is the subject of the video, “Dance of My Heart,” that was produced by Santa Fe College.

Since 1993, Haynes has wanted to stage “Carmen Suite.” This year, she explained, all the stars aligned. “We now have the perfect venue in the Fine Arts Hall. We needed professional dancers and Sarah Lane of ABT sought me out after her positive experience here when we opened the Hall. We also now have a working relationship with Davis Robertson and the New York Dance Project. The best performance requires a live orchestra and Evans Haile agreed to participate and is excited to have The Gainesville Orchestra play for this event.” Haynes added that the performances at SF are getting national attention in the dance community in publications such as “Pointe” and “Dance Magazine.”

Because “Carmen Suite” is a Master Artist event, students will take classes with the guest dancers during the week of the performances. Students will also be able to watch rehearsals of the ballet. Students and faculty members from SF, the University of Florida and Florida State University will attend a free panel with ballet historians who will discuss “Carmen Suite” at 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, in the lobby of the Fine Arts Hall.

“Being mentored in this way by professionals is an unforgettable experience for our students,” Haynes said. “We know that the performing arts instill people with confidence, creativity, teamwork and discipline—all qualities that are valued by employers and by society. The arts are that “A” in STEAM (science/technology/engineering/arts/mathematics) that add depth to people’s lives and enrich our culture.”

“Carmen Suite” is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and by the Santa Fe College Fine Arts Department. The performances are included in the Gainesville 150! sesquicentennial anniversary project being organized by the City of Gainesville’s Cultural Affairs Department.