Stage & Dance

Dancer hones her Spanish steps for lead in Kentucky Ballet Theatre's 'Carmen'

Rafaela Cento Muñoz danced the lead role in Kentucky Ballet Theatre’s 2008 ­production of Carmen but is passing the torch this year to Kelsey Van Tine.
Rafaela Cento Muñoz danced the lead role in Kentucky Ballet Theatre’s 2008 ­production of Carmen but is passing the torch this year to Kelsey Van Tine.

Lovers of opera and ballet will have something to celebrate this weekend with Kentucky Ballet Theatre's revival of its dance version of Carmen, George Bizet's famous 19th-century opera about a passionate love triangle that ends in tragedy.

KBT artistic director Norbe Risco and his wife, Rafaela Cento Muñoz, adapted the opera for ballet in 2008, creating original choreography to accompany Bizet's music while maintaining the flavor and narrative of one of the most widely recognized works in the world.

"I wanted to bring back to life the story of Carmen because it is very passionate and it's from my roots because it is in a Spanish style," says Cuba native Risco, who adds that he likes to revive original productions every few years that are part of the company's larger repertoire.

Cento Muñoz originated the role of Carmen, but this year she has passed the torch to Kelsey Van Tine, a company dancer who has been at KBT for five years.

"I actually joined the company just after the 2008 production of Carmen," says Van Tine, who credits Cento Muñoz's leadership with shaping her portrayal of the title character.

"Those are big shoes to fill," Van Tine says of Cento Muñoz, also a native of Cuba. "She's a big role model to us all and is stunning to watch."

Cento Muñoz's expertise with the ballet's Spanish elements are particularly helpful for Van Tine and other company members.

"She comes into rehearsal and she'll pull me aside, and anybody else in the ballet, and give them some direction," Van Tine says. "She knows that style in and out and can help anybody.

"We've gone over some of the turning of the wrists that you see in the Spanish style, and she has helped me quite a bit and gave me exercises I can do at home. With regular, classical ballet, it's very square, but with this style you have to turn your body and twist and learn new positions."

Risco explains that the entire company will be flexing its muscles as they tackle elements of classical, neoclassical and Spanish- influenced dances.

"It is totally different and challenging to the dancers," Risco says, adding that some of the dancers perform for almost a solid hour.

Van Tine says one part of the first act, the "tavern scene," as particularly challenging because it features a Sevillana, a quick-tempoed Spanish folk dance.

"The music is almost too hard to count because there are so many counts, you could hear a slow tempo or a much faster temp," she explains. "There's so much going on that each individual can find a different tempo to follow, and so for all of us to stay on the same tempo and style, to be uniform, is a challenge."

In addition to the Spanish influences of Carmen, the ballet features three University of Kentucky Opera Theatre singers. Tenor Matt Brown, mezzo-soprano Holly Dodson and baritone Thomas Gunther, fresh from UK's production of Les Misérables, will perform music such as the Toreador Song, one of the most recognizable arias of all time.

"When you hear their singing, it changes it 100 percent," Risco says. "It's really special for me to have live singing and all that because that combines two performing arts in one experience."

Van Tine agrees that the presence of singers enhances the ballet for the audience and dancers.

"It's very rare that this happens," she says. "I thought it would be a challenge, but it feels natural when it all comes together."



What: Kentucky Ballet Theatre's ballet of the Georges Bizet opera

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 25, 26

Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.

Tickets: $16-$32 adults, $16 ages 12 and younger, free for ages younger than 2. Available at (859) 252-5245 or (859) 277-2227.

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