English National Ballet: Johan Inger’s Carmen – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Monica Cox

Choreographer: Johan Inger

The renowned opera Carmen undergoes a clever transformation into ballet, retaining its powerful emotional essence while offering audiences a fresh perspective on this beloved classic.

The ENB Philharmonic strikes up on the cue of a young girl bouncing a basketball. This curious metaphorical character serves as a motif that gains significance as the narrative unfolds. As the curtain rises, the stage reveals a stark environment dominated by brutalist and mechanical elements, setting the scene outside the tobacco factory.

Georges Bizet’s and Rodion Shchedrin’s timeless compositions blend seamlessly with Marc Alvarez’s innovative new pieces, creating a zingy and inspiring musical tapestry. Incorporating on-stage sounds, such as interactions with the set and occasional Spanish exclamations, enhances the immersive experience, while synth-like elements add depth to the classical repertoire.

Johan Inger’s choreography is like no other in its distinctive peculiar style. The wide leg ‘girthy’ stances bring out the story’s power contrasting with the high kick motif which is often employed, are just details of Inger’s rich ecosystem of movement. The often linear approach amplifies the narrative’s brutality, offering sharp visual imagery.

Inger’s interpretation delves into themes of violence and misogyny within a contemporary context, making the narrative both relevant and thought-provoking. Through the scene where Don Jose observes Carmen flirt with Zuniga and Torero, parallels can be drawn to modern-day issues like the rise of incel culture. The use of symbolic figures in black representing inner violence alongside the innocent childlike characters adds complexity while also contextualizing societal influences on individual behaviour. Minju Kang’s portrayal of Carmen as liberated and dignified underscores themes of autonomy and agency, particularly in the face of the male gaze.

This bold and modern adaptation by the English National Ballet honours the timeless essence of Carmen, through the exceptional collaboration of talented creatives and performers.

Runs until 6 April 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Bold and modern

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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