Charlotte Kasner with Irina Kolesnikova on the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s latest production
The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s latest production, Her Name Was Carmen, premieres at the London Coliseum on August 23rd. Founded by Konstantin Tachkin in 1994, Unusually, the company is completely independent and does not receive funding from government or private sponsors. It gives 200-250 performances annually including such classics as Giselle, Don Quixote, La Bayadère, Paquita, Chopiniana (Les Sylphides), Romeo and Juliet and the Tchaikovsky ballets at home and internationally. Its sixty dancers are graduates of the Vaganova Russian Ballet Academy and other major schools.
Her Name Was Carmen is a departure from the company’s usually fare of the big classics, transforming Mérimée’s story by setting it in a refugee camp on the fringes of Europe. Internationally renowned dancer Irina Kolesnikova, who devised the ballet and who dances the eponymous role, explains, “Her Name Was Carmen is, above all, a wonderful story of love, and Carmen as a character is the daughter of a rich European businessman, brought by fate to a refugee camp. The audience can see how she develops from a spoilt and selfish person and becomes someone who is able to sacrifice her life for other people.”
Kolesnikova continues, “The decision to set our story in a refugee camp was, on the one hand surprising but at the same time absolutely natural and fitting. All the world’s media paid particular attention to the refugee crisis in Europe, so we considered organising a gala concert in London hoping to draw attention to the issues and to raise funds for the refugees. The pieces of the puzzle then came together when we were discussing the scenario for our production of Carmen and we decided to set the story in modern times in a refugee camp.”
When planning Her Name Was Carmen, Kolesnikova and Andrei Kuznetzov-Vecheslov visited two refugee camps in the Balkans. “We started rehearsals at the beginning of June but soon we found that we had different opinions of what the scenario should be. In fact, our approaches were diametrically opposed.” In the end, almost the entire team was changed, including Kuznetzov-Vecheslov who is no longer involved. “The new team really understand my vision of the work,” Kolesnikova says.
Direct experiences of those refugee camp visits have been translated into the final work. “While I was talking to the refugees and volunteers, I realised that there were two main problems: orphans and separated families,” says Kolesnikova. “Both are shown in the production. I was also really touched by one girl, who put a plastic flower-shaped ring on my finger. I kept it on for a long time and I promised that I would wear it during my performances in London. This story is also featured in our ballet with the girl as a complete character who gives a ring to Carmen. This episode is very important for the story, but I do not want to reveal all our secrets now! The story is incredible. Unfortunately, a few days after my visit, the actual girl disappeared. No one knows where she is now. Sadly, it is something that often happens to children in the refugee camps.”
St Petersburg Ballet Theatre perform Her Name Was Carmen at the London Coliseum from August 23-28.
For details and tickets visit www.eno.org or call the box office on 020 7845 9300.