Review: Carmen

In a festival season crowded with Carmens, Dresden’s Semperoper Ballett offer a striking, modern take on Bizet’s classic.

9 concrete blocks are lined up across a dimly-lit stage and a young boy, dressed in white, is bouncing a ball against these grey and imposing forms. We could be in the midst of high-rise buildings or in a locker-room somewhere, the scenography reveals a mood rather than a physical space—and that mood is sombre, almost menacing, as this classic tale of love, jealousy, and violence unfolds.

The young boy is an insertion into the story by choreographer Johan Inger. Inger was searching for an alternative viewpoint, a character that could serve as a ‘pure and unaffected’ observer. The boy adds an interesting layer to the performance: as he watches the tragedy, we’re privy to the destruction of his innocence and, by extension, the impact violence has on society as a whole.

Ayaha Tsunak and Jón Vallejoin Carmen (Photo: Jan Whalen)
Ayaha Tsunak and Jón Vallejo in Carmen (Photo: Jan Whalen)

As femme fatale, Carmen is sensual (there is a wide-open legs motif borrowed from Mats Ek), spirited (dressed in bold red, she flirts with both of her suitors in a playful pas de trois), and tender (there is an idyllic scene with her, the boy, and Don José). Don José’s role is enlarged, with the turmoil of his inner-world expressed through faceless, black shadows that haunt the stage. In one scene, Don José is running while the black shadows and Carmen roll past him.

For the composition, Inger uses Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite (1967), which features strings and percussion, sharp rhythms and sudden turns in the mood. Additionally, composer Marc Alvarez has added new acoustics to “describe the spirit of the characters.” The score, with its electronic notes and meter shifts, is fresh and contemporary. The costumes are stripped-down and sober, with controlled bursts of colour. The mobile blocks—which turn from concrete into mirrors or corrugated prisms—morph into sites of safety or fear, pleasure or industry. These different elements all result in a dynamic and vigorous performance.

With modern dance injected into the classical ballet, Inger has translated a familiar story in an exciting and contemporary language. Combined with striking aesthetics, a wonderful display of sensuality and brutality converges on stage.

Carmen was performed at the Festival Theatreon Sunday, March 10

Carmen
Friday, March 8 – Sunday, March 10
Festival Theatre
adelaidefestival.com.au 

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