The Story Behind Cuban Ballet "Carmen Suite" Being Banned for Years

Cuban ballet dancer in motion ©  Chrys Omori / Flickr
Cuban ballet dancer in motion © Chrys Omori / Flickr
Photo of Jack Guy
10 November 2017

Cuban ballet is an important part of the global dance world, and “Carmen Suite” is the most intriguing ballet of them all. Read on to find out more.

Cuban girls practice ballet | © vcheregati / flickr

A long and controversial history

The 1967 ballet was based on an opera by Georges Bizet, written in 1875. The opera was inspired by a novella written by Prosper Mérimée in 1845, and attracted strong criticism for its sexual nature. Initially derided as an improper vehicle for promoting perverted sexuality, the opera slowly gained acceptance in polite society. These days it’s one of the most popular operas in history.

A similar trajectory would be followed by the ballet “Carmen Suite.” Created in 1967 by Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso, it provoked significant controversy from the outset. Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin took the music from the Bizet opera and reconfigured it with new rhythms and instruments, as well as rephrasing it in an irreverent style.

Soviet censors take issue with Carmen Suite

Following its 1967 debut at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, this reworking of the original opera attracted the attention of Soviet censors. The authorities deemed the ballet “disrespectful” to Bizet’s work, and banned it as a result.

It was performed only once before being replaced at the Bolshoi by “The Nutcracker.” As the years passed the Shchedrin score became more widely accepted, thanks in part to an endorsement from the renowned composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Gran Teatro de La Habana, where Carmen Suite was performed in 2017 |

Popular with contemporary audiences

These days “Carmen Suite” is still performed at the Bolshoi and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and it has become incredibly popular. It might have upset traditionalists on several occasions throughout history, but it remains an incredibly entertaining ballet that fizzes with sensuality and excitement.

Getting tickets to the Ballet Nacional de Cuba is fairly easy, and there are regular performances. It should cost you 30CUC for one person. Remember to dress smartly and be aware that shorts aren’t permitted inside the theatre.

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