Posted on June 20, 2006
Prosper Mérimée’s legendary novel Carmen, aided and abetted by Georges Bizet’s famous opera, has spawned innumerable international dance productions, including the fondly remembered creation by Roland Petit, and the not so fondly remembered version by Mats Ek. The latest incarnation of the story, which arrived at Sadler’s Wells on June 20, following “widespread critical acclaim overseas”, is by the choreographer and director Ramón Oller for the Compañía Metros of Barcelona. The production promised to be the first ever to combine “contemporary dance mixed with flamenco”. That may be so, but I have never before seen a production of Carmen that offers the audience such a dearth of choreographic ideas and dramatic tedium. (Even the Ek production managed to get some kind of audience reaction when performed in London a few years ago.)
Oller sets his production on a rooftop terrace in modern-day Spain, peopled by what looks like an enclosed community of ten dancers (could they possibly be prisoners?). The central Carmen figure, shadowed by a mature female flamenco dancer (symbolising the soul of Carmen?), attracts the attention of the men and the jealousy of the women. Why she should do so, I could not fathom; she appeared the most demure, unprovocative Carmen I have ever seen.
The production loosely tells the familiar story of José’s infatuation with Carmen, and his murder of her after she has left him for the Torero – the only novelty being that he appears to murder Carmen by drowning her in the water of a gushing storage tank. Whilst Oller’s dances offer little more than ensembles and duets of repetitious stamping of feet, swirling turns, heavy-handed lifts, and half-hearted flamenco, he singularly fails to illuminate the motivation of the protagonist. We need to understand the heroine’s irresistible attraction. This Carmen seems no different from the other women of her community – there is no allure, no energy, no independence of spirit, and no cunning. Her motivation is difficult to discern, making it impossible to feel any involvement with her story, or, more crucially, to feel any sympathy for her murder at the climax of the work.
It was problematic, in such circumstances, to assess the quality of the company’s dancers. Suffice to say, what they were given to do they did very well. Sandrine Rouet, that evening’s Carmen, seemed listless and petulant. She was unable to make her character more than mildly seductive, which, to be fair, was probably not her fault. The most impressive personality on stage was the flamenco dancer Carmen García, whose forceful, pliant torso and back gave dignity, weight and grace to her dancing.