Lust, seduction, violence and death. For over a century these have been depicted via the story of Carmen across a variety of mediums. From Prosper Mérimée’s original novella (1845) through to Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy’s Opera (1875) and a myriad of others since then, Carmen has both amazed and enchanted audiences across the world.

Choreographed by Johan Inger, the Semperoper Ballett production of Carmen which premiered in Dresden on 25 January 2019, is the latest incarnation of the celebrated story of the cigarette factory worker and her complicated relationship with solider, Don José. Hosted by the Festival Theatre over the Adelaide Cup long weekend as part of the 2019 Adelaide Festival, the production generated a near-capacity crowd on Saturday 9 March 2019 who were captivated from the moment the curtain rose.

Inger’s manifestation of Carmen catapults the story into the twenty-first century as told through the unadulterated eyes of a child (Anna Merkulova). The little boy’s innocence and vulnerability encourage the audience to view the unfolding events with similar naiveté and emotional complexity. This inclusion to the original story elevates the overall sentiment of the production.

Carmen is a contemporary ballet in two Acts.  Act one introduces us to a tale of lust, jealousy and betrayal between Carmen (Ayaha Tsunaki), Don José (Jón Vallejo), Officer Zúñiga (Gareth Haw) and Toreador (Christian Bauch). Act two follows Don José’s continual descent into abysmal darkness after a heinous act of violence. Mérimée’s plot is intriguing on its own, but Ingmer’s choreography and Gamal Gouda’s direction makes this production jaw-droppingly mesmerising.

Carmen traverses from literal light and contentment to that of darkness and despair via precision dancing and storytelling. The ensemble’s synchronicity serves as the cog to push the wheel forward, but it is the principal dancers who shine brightly. Tsunaki perfectly captures Carmen’s sensual and erotic confidence while Vallejo projects Don José’s tortured jealously and rage with an eerie believability. However, all performers are to be commended for their exceptional portrayals which together create a truly memorable production where even scenes of violence and death can be viewed as aesthetically striking.

With simple set design by Curt Allen Wilmer consisting of nine moving prisms, each with three different sides, the stage is transformed from a factory to party to the outdoors to the darkened abyssal mind of Don José. Tom Visser’s lighting design similarly errs on the side of simplicity. This simplicity, when interlaced with the set design and timed with the classic score by Georges Bizet and Rodion Shchedrin and additional music by Marc Álvarez, breathtakingly intensifies the entire experience.

Carmen is a passionate journey created by an amalgamation of elements executed with pinpoint accuracy. Whether you are a first-time ballet goer or a veteran you are sure to experience a purging of emotion and be rendered speechless by its sheer vulnerability and candid beauty. Carmen is a spectacular highlight not only of the Adelaide Festival but of Adelaide’s ballet program of 2019. 

Adelaide Festival Review By Anita Kertes