Carmen @ Sadler’s Wells, London



directed and choreographed by
Ramón Oller


Apparently there’s a major sporting tournament on at the moment. But you wouldn’t know it from the numbers of people swamping the lobby at Sadler’s Wells to see the classic tale of passion and betrayal danced by the Catalan Compana Metros.

Ramón Oller’s production, which premiered at the Peralada International Festival in Spain in 2003, is a winning mix of old and new. There have been numerous dance productions of Carmen before, both ballets and flamenco-based shows, but this is the first to blend traditional Spanish dance with the often angular and jerky movements of modern dance.

In a creative parallel, the piece is set to extracts of Bizet’s opera blended with new music from Spanish composer Martirio. One of the most successful aspects of the production is the way in which old and new fit so seamlessly together, gradually building a picture of heat and high emotions in a contemporary Spanish setting.

Whether fluid and feline or overflowing into the stamping feet and snaking arms of flamenco, the dancing is always striking, always a pleasure to watch. But it’s less efficient at conveying an emotional narrative for its characters and it was easy to get caught up in the individual set-pieces without fully engaging in the pain and passion of this oft-told story.

Some of these set-pieces are quite wonderful though, especially when the music fades and the dancing is set to a flurry of handclaps and finger-clicks. At the centre of this, Sandrine Rouet makes a dignified, powerful heroine, seductive yet vulnerable as she flits between two suitors. Even when left naked and exposed she retains a measure of power and poise.

Oller’s Carmen takes place on designer Joan Jorba’s factory roof – cloaked in permanent twilight, buildings silhouetted against the sky – which gives a plausible grounding to the production’s steamy, urban atmosphere without anchoring it to a specific time and place. Merc Paloma’s costumes also echo the old/new theme, dividing between the muted modern garb of the factory workers and beautiful, richly coloured traditional Spanish dresses.

Currently touring internationally, this is short work, barely 80 minutes in length, and it crams a lot in, making up for in surface sexiness and passionate set-pieces what it sometimes lacks in narrative intricacy.

The closing scenes also serve as a neat highlighter of the cultural divide between the sizable Spanish contingent of the audience and those who were unmistakably Brits. As water cascaded over the stage for the curiously underwhelming finale, at least two audience members in my immediate vicinity made only partially sarcastic comments about the hosepipe ban.

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