Carlos Acosta’s Carmen

Georges Bizet and Prosper Mérimée, adapted by Carlos Acosta
Acosta Danza
Sadler's Wells

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Carlos Acosta's Carmen Credit: Cristina Lanandez
Carlos Acosta's Carmen Credit: Buby
Acosta Danza in Carlos Acosta's Carmen Credit: Johan Persson
Carlos Acosta's Carmen Credit: Cristina Lanandez
Carlos Acosta's Carmen Credit: Cristina Lanandez
Acosta Danza in Carlos Acosta's Carmen Credit: Johan Persson
Laura Rodriguez and Acosta Danza Credit: Buby
Acosta Danza in Carlos Acosta's Carmen Credit: Cristina Lanandez
Alejandro Silva and Laura Rodriguez Credit: Cristina Lanandez
Acosta Danza in Carlos Acosta's Carmen Credit: Johan Persson

Carlos Acosta has tamed Carmen in his fresh adaptation of Georges Bizet (1875) and Prosper Mérimée’s (1845) tales of jealousy and a free spirit who doesn't want to be tamed… with himself as the Bull of destiny and fate. A neat fit for his young Acosta Danza Cuban dancers, you’d think.

And they give it their agile, supple all, but it fails to have lift off for me. The familiar music is hummable (the nostalgic "doux souvenirs du pays" does it for me every time), but Sadler’s Wells' sound system does need adjusting. A musical producer / sound designer tells me it could be easily done.

Using Rodion Shchedrin’s musical arrangement (Carmen Suite for his wife Maya Plisetskaya in Alberto Alonso’s 1967 version) with distinctly flamenco-inflected additions from Martin Yates, Yhovani Duarte and Denis Paralta, Acosta’s concept of starting at the end (though we must all know the story well enough) steals the sad tale’s thunder.

His Bull (Minotaur or a god of mischief and mayhem?) is the manipulating force in this crime passionnel. Powerful physique, strong stance, fingers spread wide, he lifts the dead Carmen, lifts the crouched Don José back on his feet, manipulates their bodies into life. And off we go from the start till we come back to this very end. He is the puppet master, who appears from time to time, stepping out of a ring of fire, to make sure it’s all on track.

And he makes a fine occasional partner for Laura Rodriguez’s excellent Carmen (the only one on pointes). Is he dragging her on towards her inevitable fall? Is he the force of evil? I just wish his fierce horns did not wobble—hard to take it seriously.

Black and red set and costumes by Tim Hatley give power to Acosta’s concept—an auspicious moon circled in fiery red, a red bullring arena. Nina Dunn’s videos of stormy skies auguring ill—hiding wine barrels in the bar room scenes—and Peter Mumford’s lighting are the icing on the pudding.

The bedroom scene (in a swish hotel room?) in which fickle Carmen rejects José’s proposal then accepts his ring, could stand alone as a gala piece. Indeed, many set pieces could. I love the prison cell scene in which Don José has her on a rope like a heifer. She manages to somehow tie him up and escape, a succinct metaphor.

Alejandro Silva is a fine, honest Don José, but I feel no chemistry between him and Carmen. Enrique Corrales’s Escamillo brings a gorgeous line to his toreador, and there are more sparks from him, as there should be, but not enough choreography in any of the lengthy duets.

There’s the rub: the choreography is generic and repetitive. Acosta Danza dancers, as we’ve seen before, can deliver the goods, and their ensemble scenes—with their Cuban flavour—are dynamic. I’m reminded of the Batsheva Dance Company. Clothes come off, sex is in the air, but it’s not enough. Something is lacking.

Later in the run, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Lachlan Monaghan and Yaoqian Shang will guest respectively as Escamillo and Carmen and former Acosta Danza member, Javier Rojas, now with BRB, will take on Don José, an interesting classical and contemporary dance blending and cross-fertilisation of Acosta’s two companies.

Carmen meets her expected end; the Bull lifts her like a sack on his shoulder and takes her off. An ignominious end... However many times Carmen has been done, it still has an irresistible pull (like Carmen herself), but how many have been successes?

There’s a timeline in the programme: opera, ballet, film, musical, even graphic novel and recipes inspired by it, with varying promise. I loved Carlos Saura’s 1983 film and Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man isn’t bad. I’d love to see Arielle Smith’s version made this year for San Francisco Ballet. There will be more to come, no doubt—Carmen is irrepressible.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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