Lilian Baylis Studio,
Sadler’s Wells Theatre,
**** (out of five)
THERE’S an immediate feeling of despair when the percussive sounds of the live flamenco guitar soften on stage, and the spotlight shines on the imprisoned and ill-fated Don José.
The tale of his doomed love affair with fiery gypsy, Carmen, is unveiled through his encaged eyes, a perspective used to tell the story in the French writer Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella.
It was from this tale of José’s destructive demise from upstanding army officer to murdering the woman he loves that the operatic version of Carmen was composed by Georges Bizet 30 years later.
Now it’s the turn of Ballet Ireland to perform London-based choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple’s rendition of this Spanish folklore romance, as they bring the production to the capital for their first visit to the iconic Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
The ballet centres on José’s hapless battle against his own choices, journeying down a destructive path to purse the flirtatious and dangerous character of Carmen, which Dublin-born Zoë Ashe-Browne embodies with strength and poise.
Bizet’s addition of Micaëla to the original story was to contrast Carmen’s character with the innocence and purity that José had once been associated with but had left behind during his downfall.
The fateful pair enjoy a period of uninterrupted harmony as they ignore the commands of José’s superior officer for him to fall back into line, but the happiness is short-lived after the arrival of famous Toreador, Escamillio, catches Carmen’s eye.
In the moments that follow, she rejects her lover’s attempts to regain her affection and the pair tussle, after which José draws a knife to her neck.
Carmen is captivating from the moment the production begins, tracing the demise of a lovelorn José over the 80 minutes.
Whilst the contemporary style of the ballet, both in the staging and choreography, is welcomed, the story lacked an element of clarity in the first act when the character of Micaëla is first introduced.
The simultaneous performances of Micaëla and Carmen could have been contrasted to an even greater extent by reducing the pace slightly and allowing the audience to connect with the character’s movements.
The story regained clarity in Act II, however, and the use of acoustic guitar in turn with the dramatic scores of Bizet led to the climax of Carmen’s murder and José’s return to the cell in which he first appeared on stage.
Carmen is certainly a piece that takes both the characters and audience on a journey, and it’s certainly one to revisit.