Show review: English National Ballet / Johan Inger’s Carmen at Sadler’s Wells

In the dynamic yet not traditional version of Johan Inger’s Carmen, English National Ballet breathes new life into the classic tale of seduction and obsession, offering audiences a fresh and innovative perspective on this timeless narrative. Presented at Sadler’s Wells, this modern take on Bizet’s beloved opera provokes lots of thoughts from start to finish, delivering fiery drama.

poster of English National Ballet : Johan Inger’s Carmen at Sadler’s Wells

At the heart of the production lies Inger’s ingenious choreography, which seamlessly blends contemporary and classical movement to powerful effect. From the wide leg stances to the high kicks, each step resonates with energy and intensity, drawing the audience deeper into the narrative with every movement. While the choreography lacks sensuality, there’s no denying its visual appeal and ability to convey the story’s emotional depth.

Inger’s interpretation showcases themes of violence and misogyny within a contemporary context, making the narrative both relevant and thought-provoking. Through the portrayal of Don José’s obsession and ruin, the production offers insight into passion, love, humiliation, and violence, sparking important conversations about these complex issues.

The immersive experience is further enhanced by the innovative set design and on-stage sounds, which transport the audience into the world of Carmen. From the stark environment dominated by brutalist elements to the haunting melodies that underscore the drama, every aspect of the production is meticulously crafted to captivate the audience.

Despite some shortcomings in characterisation and ensemble scenes, the talented performers deliver commendable performances that breathe life into the story. James Streeter’s portrayal of Zuniga and Erik Woolhouse’s interpretation of the Torero stand out amongst the cast, bringing depth and nuance to their respective roles.

However, while the choreography is visually interesting and thought-provoking, it lacks sensuality and fails to capture the passionate essence of the original story. Additionally, the small cast and generic choreography in ensemble scenes result in a disjointed and un-engaging narrative, detracting from the overall impact of the performance. Furthermore, despite the intention to explore themes of violence against women, particularly men who kill their ex-partners, the emotional depth of the characters, especially Carmen, feels lacking, leaving the audience wanting more depth and complexity. While English National Ballet’s Carmen offers an innovative interpretation of the classic tale, it falls short of fully realising its potential to add new resonance to the story.

Overall, Carmen is a triumph of creativity and talent, showcasing the English National Ballet at its best. Whether you’re a die-hard dance fan or just looking for a night of thrilling entertainment, this production is sure to delight you in some way.

Catch Carmen at Sadler’s Wells, London until 6 April 2024.

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