Acosta Danza: Carlos Acosta’s Carmen review – never quite reaches boiling point

Since the start of the year I’ve seen three versions of Carmen (two balletic and one operatic) and am starting to have serious doubts about her as role model for women. Brave, sparky, and full of self-belief yes, but a tragic heroine? I’d like her to concentrate on her career rather than unreliable men.

At least Carlos Acosta’s version takes her fate out of her hands. His production, first danced by the Royal Ballet in 2015 and now expanded and performed by the Cuban company Acosta formed in the same year, is dominated by the horned figure of the Bull, who represents the repressive hand of destiny.

In the opening scene this figure (performed on opening night by Acosta himself) steps out of the vertical red circle that dominates Tim Hatley’s stunning set, and arranges the dead body of the heroine in the crimson playing circle beneath. Then the story begins.

Carlos Acosta, centre, as the Bull in Carmen. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The dancers are superb, with a fervour and finesse that animates every scene, but the narrative proceeds in fits and starts without ever achieving full momentum. The score is a recorded version of Rodión Shchedrin’s arrangement of Bizet, orchestrated and supplemented by Martin Yates and with additional music by the Cuban composers Yhovani Duarte and Denis Paralta.

The mix results in abrupt changes of tone, which sometimes stop proceedings just as they are reaching boiling point. With the help of Peter Mumford’s dramatic lighting and Nina Dunn’s cloudy videos, Acosta conjures striking moments – a vigorous tavern scene, duets for Carmen and Don José that chart their relationship from romantic infatuation to despair, a chilling encounter between Carmen and the Bull when she suddenly recognises her lack of choice. But the piece lacks emotional punch.

Yet as Carmen, Laura Rodríguez is sensational. She’s a sumptuous dancer, who wears her classical technique like a second skin, skimming the stage with fast feet, light in the air and beautiful on the ground. She gives this Carmen heart and soul.

The Guardian