Dance review: Carmen: ‘I was perplexed’

Did this ballet really need a modern tweak?


Minju Kang as Carmen and Sangeun Lee as Manuela in Johan Inger's Carmen (Photo: Laurent Liotardo)

Sadler’s Wells


Georges Bizet’s wonderful music for his opera Carmen means that most of us are familiar with the stirring melodies which tell the story of wild girl Carmen and her doomed relationship with Don Jose. The tale has found its way into film (the superb Carmen Jones springs to mind), ballet (Roland Petit’s fine version) and now Johan Inger has created his own dance interpretation, which the English National Ballet is performing at Sadler’s Wells.

Along with the Bizet score, there is additional music by Marc Alvarez, giving the ballet a modern tweak – though not necessary, as why mess with something so perfect? Inger’s choreography is energetic and powerful, particularly when he fills the stage with dancers. It is sometimes jagged and staccato in style, echoing the disintegration of Don Jose’s mind as he comes under Carmen’s spell.

This piece is more about Don Jose than Carmen. We see the story through his eyes as his fall from grace unfolds. On opening night Rentaro Nakaaki gave an emotional performance as Don Jose, with Minju Kang a flirty Carmen who picks up and discards men with ease – with fatal results. Inger interprets her actions as being feminist, but she just comes across as an unfeeling young woman who uses people.

James Streeter – always a delight to watch – was a strong Zuniga but the addition of a young boy who watches the story unfold did little to add to the work. Neither did the occasional shouting out in Spanish – were they insults? Jokes? I was left perplexed, as I was by the dancers clad head to foot in black, rolling from one side of the stage to the other in the second act.

Costumes, by David Delfin, are kept simple and contemporary: short, Spanish-style dresses for the women, plain trousers for the men, except for the Toreador, who has a black sequined outfit. Set design, by Curt Allen Wilmer and Leticia Ganan is equally plain but effective: a series of screens and mirrors which are moved around as the story progresses.

Inger’s Carmen is an interesting concept, and the dancers certainly perform with commitment, but ultimately it left me unmoved.

The English National Ballet in Carmen is at Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 6 April

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