When Richard Eyre’s production of Bizet’s Carmen premiered at the Met in 2009, one of his novel ideas was the introduction of a pair of passionate dance duets, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The dance soloists for the first run, Maria Kowroski and Martin Harvey, are back for this month’s revival—only this time they’re married and parents to one-year old son Dylan. The duo spoke to the Met’s Matt Dobkin about their return to Carmen—and Wheeldon’s role as matchmaker—while Dylan played on the floor with an empty shoebox.
The pas de deux in Carmen are quite impassioned. Were you already a couple when you first performed it here?
MARTIN: We were, but just. I was in London doing a West End show, and Maria was here dancing with New York City Ballet.
MARIA: We were doing long distance, and it was a fresh relationship, but we were definitely a couple.
MARTIN: It’s funny because we do two pas de deux in the opera. And the first one is very fiery, all death and destruction, and the other one is all lovey-dovey. When we first learned this opera, we were very much like the fiery part of the relationship. And now we’re the lovey-dovey pas de deux. So we’ve moved from Act 1 to Act 3 in real life.
Had you worked with Christopher Wheeldon before Carmen?
MARIA: Yes, when Chris moved to New York City, the first ballet he made was at the School of American Ballet. I happened to be in the school at the time, and he chose me for the lead, and we continued working together after that. And then he started his company Morphoses, which was a wonderful adventure. And that’s actually where Martin and I met.
MARTIN: Maria started working with Chris at age 16 or 17 in America, and I started working with him in the U.K. at the Royal Ballet, also at around age 16 or 17. So our trajectories were almost the same, just on opposite sides of the Atlantic. And I think he felt, “It would be quite nice to see these guys come together onstage.” He’s admitted to being a bit of a yenta!
The dance moments in Richard Eyre’s staging are uncommon for a Carmen production.
MARTIN: Right, the entr’acte music is usually used to set a scene, or for a set change. Chris said very early that our role was to establish the mood. And of course, Carmen just reeks of dance. So we definitely had this feeling that we wanted to do something really special. For parts of it, we’re head to head, facing off like a couple of bulls, and no one’s backing down. That’s the whole idea of Carmen—neither Carmen nor Don José backs down.
MARIA: It’s a different experience for me, because New York City Ballet often doesn’t have stories for their dances. Most Balanchine ballets, for example, are neoclassical, and you have to come up with a story yourself. Obviously, in opera, you’ve got these huge stories, so for me it was important to know where we slotted into the larger story. Whatever Chris and Richard wanted to convey, I wanted to make sure we were able to tell it.
It sounds like Richard was almost asinvolved in the dances as Christopher.
MARTIN: That was definitely something new for dancers, to have both a choreographer and a director working with you. I remember Richard saying he wanted us to reappear at the very end of the opera. He said, “I want all the storylines to be resolving simultaneously.
Even though you’re kind of like specters and not quite real, we want to see the death of your relationship too. Now go dance that!”
Maria, how has it been returning to the stage after having a baby?
MARIA: [Laughing] I basically didn’t have any injuries until I had him, but since I’ve come back I’ve been kind of a mess! I think I got injured because I was still nursing him and new mothers have a lot of the hormone Relaxin, which can make all your ligaments really stretched out. I’m very loose and stretchy to begin with, so I think I might not have had the strength to keep everything together. It’s not unlike how opera singers’ voices change after they have children. But I’ll be doing Prodigal Son, Sleeping Beauty, and the Stravinsky Violin Concerto at New York City Ballet, as well as a few other things, in addition to Carmen, so it’s kind of a return to form.
Martin, in addition to ballet, you’ve acted in films and in theater—I understand you even starred in the Patrick Swayze role of the Dirty Dancing musical in London. So, how does opera stack up?
MARTIN: I must say, I can’t get enough of it—it’s like nothing else. You could argue that ballet is also a kind of a special universe, but opera, and the Met in particular, is really a world unto its own. It’s enormous—these voices that fill a room. The sheer scale of it. All I can say is I’ve really come to appreciate it a lot. I’m by no means a connoisseur, but I hope to catch up for lost time, because it’s truly a magical experience.