Carmen review – Osipova’s temptress stretches stage fiction and reality

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Natalia Osipova has danced many passionate encounters on stage, sometimes with her real-life partners, which tends to add an extra layer of intrigue. This new Carmen has a few things to say about the blurring of real and fictional attraction, as well as the performance of lust, the intensity of on-stage connections and off-stage jealousies.

Not content with being one of the world’s best ballerinas, Osipova continues to explore new avenues of expression. Here with Dutch contemporary choreographer Didy Veldman she reimagines fiery temptress Carmen, made famous in Bizet’s opera (whose music is subsumed into Dave Price’s score). The story is turned into a backstage drama, where a film of Carmen is being made, starring Osipova. Isaac Hernández is Escamillo (the matador character) but also the film’s director, smug with self-assurance; quietly powerful Jason Kittelberger (Osipova’s IRL partner) is Jose, off stage entangled with Hannah Ekholm’s Micaela but playing Osipova’s lover on film, where a bit of emotional osmosis goes on and the dancers’ real feelings start to mirror their characters’.

Osipova is able to use her complete command of her dancing body to free up choices – to play with the volume of her movement, to ooze into her steps, to amplify her thoughts on her face. But it’s not until emotions run deeper in the second act that we get really eloquent exchanges between the couples: Ekholm turning on a smile for the camera while seething over Kittelberger’s betrayal; a duet of subtle power dynamics between the two women; Kittelberger tortured by the growing heat between Osipova and Hernández. We see the shifting tides of an affair, the charge between Osipova and Kittelberger drained from the stage, the contrast from their early encounter, where she is inhaling him, following her nose along his body, to a state of numbness, trapped in his arms, a tight shake of her head trying to say no.

This Carmen has a fascinating concept and these individual couplings are strong, but for a story of unbridled passion it feels muted, and Carmen herself is a mystery. There’s potentially a more potent show here (tighten up the first half, run the whole thing straight through, for starters), but this version doesn’t display the immensity of Osipova’s capabilities.

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