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Northern Ballet Theatre's "Carmen"
London, March 24, 2000

by Stuart Sweeney

As chance would have it I was in Central London today and decided to drop in to see the Friday night performance of NBTs 'Carmen'. It's an entertaining evening, with NBT off-point for the first time, but choreographer Didy Veldman really plays things for laughs a lot of the time, which means that the tragic side of the story does not really flow through until the very end. In some ways it is like an AMP production, but without the emotional punch that AMP often delivers. We will see their 'Carmen' later this year so it will be fascinating to make comparisons.

The NBT 'Carmen' has a present day setting in an industrial part of Rio and this transposition works well, helped by some great sets by Lez Brotherston, who is one of the best around at this job. The Toreador is replaced by a pop-star and Micaela, Jose's fiancee is portrayed as a mousey nonentity, which I found less effective than the characterisation in Rosi's filmed version of the opera, where she is a nice, beautiful girl, but, as is well known, men prefer the wild ones.

This was an evening with a young cast with no Principals in the four leading roles. I had been hoping to see Charlotte Broom, the original lead, as Carmen, but instead there was an excellent performance by a young soloist, Fiona Wallis, who brought a lot of sizzle, passion and good acting to the role. Luc Jacobs has the unenviable job of playing Jose, one of life's natural misery-guts. I don't know if he could have done more with the role, but he comes into his own in the final scene where he gets the best solo of the evening and really makes the most of it. A lot of the work for the corps is derived from everyday movement and it is usually effective, without ever attaining the precision or fluid character of the dancers of DV8.

Three or four years ago we saw the Antonio Gades Company perform a Flamenco version which took London by storm. Gades, at that time in his late 50s played Jose and brilliantly captured the tragedy of this moth caught in the candle flame that is Carmen. The NBT production is too light to have the resonance of the Gades version or, I suspect the Roland Petit production, which I only saw once a long time ago on TV. I will go again next week and hope to see Didy Veldman herself in the lead. It will be interesting to see what more experienced dancers do with it.


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