Newspaper article International New York Times

'Carmen' for Dance, Reimagined without Drama ; Royal Ballet Deconstructs Tragic Heroine, but Focus and Passion Are Elusive

Newspaper article International New York Times

'Carmen' for Dance, Reimagined without Drama ; Royal Ballet Deconstructs Tragic Heroine, but Focus and Passion Are Elusive

Article excerpt

The Royal Ballet's new 'Carmen' suffers from multiple personality disorder. Is it a contemporary ballet, pared down to its essence? Or is it an opera-ballet amalgam?

What exactly did Carlos Acosta want to do in his new "Carmen"? Created for his home company, the Royal Ballet, and given its first performance at the Royal Opera House on Monday night on a mixed bill that included works by Liam Scarlett, Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. The new ballet presents a cautionary tale. Not the usual one of desperate love and passion, amoral sex and murder, and lives thrown away. The one about how difficult it is to choreograph a narrative ballet.

You can see the appeal of Bizet's "Carmen" for choreographers. It has a good girl and a bad girl, two equally contrasting male leads, a dramatically concise story -- innocent boy meets bad girl who leaves him for bad boy -- and wonderfully dancey (and, to most, very familiar) music. Many notable choreographers have tried their hand at it; perhaps most famously Roland Petit and Antonio Gades, but also Alberto Alonso, John Cranko, Mats Ek and Richard Alston.

The problem is -- and there is no nice way to say this -- Mr. Acosta is not a choreographer. Lots of people are able to create combinations of steps (ballet teachers do this in class every day), and Mr. Acosta, a principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet and a superstar dancer, can certainly do that.

In his 2013 reworking of "Don Quixote" for the Royal Ballet, that was almost enough, since he more or less stuck to the traditional structure of the ballet, which imposed its own dramatic shape. But in "Carmen," his second major work, he has tried something more ambitious. The result exposes his inability to create narrative tension, evoke character through movement or impose an overall unifying vision on the work.

This "Carmen" suffers from multiple personality disorder. Is it a contemporary ballet, pared down to its essence? Tim Hatley's costumes (black jeans and tops, no flamenco skirt flounces) and sets (a few chairs, and a huge red-outlined circle at the back of the stage representing sun, moon, bullring, cosmos) are minimal, and the story is pared down. There is no Micaela, no subplot with Zuniga, not much smuggling action. The focus is on the love triangle. (Mr. Acosta is performing both male roles during the ballet's run.)

Or is it an opera-ballet amalgam like Pina Bausch, Trisha Brown and others have done in "Orpheus and Eurydice," with singers onstage, moving amid the dancers? This happens for a few minutes in an early scene with Escamillo, and later when a fortune-teller breaks into an aria as she deals the cards, revealing to Carmen that she is fated to die. At other points, the chorus is heard from the pit. But these sudden vocal entries are inconsistent, without any particular reason for occurring at one point rather than another. …

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