A love triangle, passion, jealousy, the colour of red roses and bull-fighter capes: just what you would expect in this stunning contemporary dance version of Bizet’s Carmen, re-imagined and choreographed by Didy Veldman and produced by Bird&Carrot and Pleasance Theatre Trust, to the music of Bizet threaded through a new composition by Dave Price.
It could be made for Natalia Osipova: actually, of course, it was.
A story within a story, this is set in modern times as the filming of a movie of Carmen and the life between takes which show different sides of the five characters. It does not retell the whole plot of the opera but is a series of concentrated vignettes of emotion. It could be made for Natalia Osipova: actually, of course it was.
To the producer, Alexandrina Markvo, Osipova is Carmen and in fact, Osipova herself admits she identifies with much of Carmen’s character: passionate, mercurial but vulnerable, a rebel desiring freedom, though off-stage she says she is less dramatic. These qualities are brought out in Veldman’s choreography (developed alongside Osipova’s suggestions) with its emphasis on embodied emotion. As Osipova says, she needs to feel the emotion to create the moves and she does this so superbly we live it too.
Osipova’s journey to challenge herself as a prima ballerina by performing contemporary dance, a difficult task for straight-backed classically-trained dancers, has taken years but here in Carmen she excels with hunched torso, transference of weight, awareness of pelvis, always grounded in connection to the floor, but equally sensual and flexible, with hints of flaring flamenco gestures, or classical lines which always fold back.
This is not to forget the brilliancy of the two male dancers of the love triangle. Isaac Hernández as Escamillo/film director who enters with a showy, spiky jumps, demonstrating who is boss but otherwise cool, and then the earthiness of Jason Kittelberger as José. The intensity of the Carmen film scenes is relieved by humour in the real life interludes. Malarkey on the sofa, at times hilariously synchronized, by the film crew as their modern day selves josh about like characters out of Friends while Osipova naughtily sits in the director’s chair.
Emerging artistes, Hannah Ekholm as Michaela, José ’s modern day girlfriend, and Eryk Brahmania as cameraman are both excellent. Michaela and José’s love duet on the sofa has an easy playfulness which contrasts with the love, or should I say lustful, duet with Carmen (the stand-out highlight of the show) which gets under your skin as Osipova leaps onto Kittelberger in a crouch, legs curled round him, or as the couple roll on the ground or over each other. The heart-stopping depiction of Carmen’s murder is a stroke of genius. No histrionics as you might expect but a stillness which is all the more terrifying. (No spoilers.)
Everything about the production contributes to the whole: the set and costumes designed by Nina Kobiashvili, with glimpses of backrooms suggesting hidden lives. Carmen’s toreador-like three-quarter length black leggings with a red sash for she is the one who taunts her lovers; superb lighting effects by Ben Ormerod, particularly giant rose petals floating down the walls; the video clips by Oleg Mikhailov adding visual drama but above all, Dave Price’s sensuous, staccato melding of Spanish flavour and jazzy rhythms, with trumpets and percussion, at times solo violin, reflecting the bitter-sweet mood of this tragedy.