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France's Ballet du Nord visiting American `sources'

On the stage of a former cinema in a northern French town the atmosphere was decidedly international. To choreography by a Cuban-American and the music of a Soviet composer, an American ballerina danced the role of Carmen with an Escamillo from Switzerland and a Don Jos'e from Poland. Bright lights beamed down to show scenes of sunny Spain and Hollywood.

The ballet, ``Douce Carmen,'' choreographed by Alfonso Cata to Rodion Schedrin's exciting score, was being performed at the Colis'ee Theatre by the Ballet du Nord, the newest provincial dance company in France. Recognized in Europe and Scandinavia for its varied and interesting repertoire, this versatile ballet troupe, composed of dancers from many countries, has American roots. Its technical style is grounded in the balletic schooling of the late George Balanchine, founder of the New York City Ballet.

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Now, four years after its founding, the company is making its first trip to its ``source'' - the United States - bringing with it a Franco-American program.

The Ballet du Nord was created in the town of Roubaix, near Lille, to fill a regional gap in French culture. While ballet companies already existed in other areas - Roland Petit's company in Marseille, the Ballet de Nancy and the Ballet du Rhin in Strasbourg - the north had been lacking.

In 1982, Alfonso Cata, an experienced director and former dancer with many of the Western world's most famous companies, including Balanchine's New York City Ballet, was asked by the French government to form a dance company here.

Mr. Cata, born in Cuba, now holder of an American passport, radiates enthusiasm and energy. He has attracted a group of 28 young dancers and generated top-quality programs. He has succeeded in putting dance on the map in this region.

Roubaix is an industrial town dating back to the Middle Ages and is situated well away from the usual tourist highways. It is making something of a comeback, helped considerably by the new ballet company and its growing reputation.

Cata regularly invites dance teachers in the Balanchine mold from Europe and the United States. Helping prepare the company for the US tour has been petite Suki Schorer from the School of American Ballet in New York. Her clear, concise classes were run with a mixture of constructive criticism and humor.

I saw two performances of ``Douce Carmen'' in Roubaix recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although the ballet is not coming to the US this time, it enabled me to assess the company as a whole and the talents of individual dancers.

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The ballet, which takes place in the 1920s, shows scenes on and off a movie set during the filming of ``Carmen.'' The choreography slickly switches from the film studio to the leading lady's dressing room, spotlighting the personal lives of the stars whose emotions parallel those of the love-torn trio they are portraying on the silver screen.

Susan Rowe crisply danced the dual role of Carmen/Rosita del Monte, the femme fatale who plays with the affections of Don Jos'e/Joe, danced sympathetically by Waldemar Bartowski. She also flirts with the suave Rudolph Valentino-styled Toreador, performed with great gusto and conviction by Pascal Minam Borier. Excellent support from the company and good lighting techniques created the sultry mood.

Cata's new ballet ``La Mer,'' to music by Debussy, will cross the Atlantic, along with works by French choreographers Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Jean-Paul Comelin, and (naturally) by Balanchine.

The tour began last weekend at Brooklyn College in New York. Then the company travels to Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan until Nov. 9.

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