Monday, June 10, 2013


Pictured: Greta Hodgkinson

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
09 JUNE 2013
R: 3/5

Perhaps no literary heroine has benefited more from the unfolding feminist movement than the one who gave her name to Prosper Mérimée's novella, CARMEN. Born as the quintessential temptress whose beauty drives poor innocent men to their doom, the sexually voracious cigar girl has been transformed, as much by changing mores as by the opera of the same name composed by Georges Bizet or the countless ballets she has spawned, into the prototype of the liberated woman.

The latest retelling of her story opened at the Four Seasons Centre this week, with the National Ballet of Canada revisiting choreographer Davide Bombana's modernist take on the tale, following up their presentation in 2009, of his 2006 one-act adaptation, with his two act take, set to an exhilarating score that blends Bizet's iconic compositions with a slew of contemporary references.

As story ballets go, the end product here, frankly owes far more to Bombana's interpretation of Mérimée's tale than it does to Mérimée, as the choreographer strips away everything from the original, and from Bizet's opera, that doesn't serve his vision of a freedom-loving young beauty (superbly danced at Thursday evening's performance by the seemingly perennial Greta Hodgkinson), and her ill-fated mutual attraction to the policeman Don José. In the latter role, Piotr Stanczyk underscores yet again just how thrilling it can be when ballet breaks with its long tradition of sending a boy to do a man's job and sends a man instead.

In 11 scenes, showcasing choreography so demanding one suspects Bombana has aspirations to choreograph for Cirque du Soleil, a new — if not terribly satisfying — version of the tale of Don José and Carmen comes to life, transforming the character of Michaela (a flawless Stephanie Hutchison) from Mérimée's personification of feminine innocence to something far more pedestrian in the process. It also draws thrilling performances from Keiichi Hirano (as the bandit leader Garcia) and Rebekah Rimsay (as an aged version of the temptress of title) along the way.

And while it's hard to warm up to Dorin Gal's scenic design, intended, one suspects, to evoke a bullring in a country that doesn't know from hockey rinks, it still makes for often compelling viewing, carried along more on the combined strength of the demanding choreography and its exuberant execution, than by Bombana's rather pedestrian hormone-drenched adaptation. But not even the skills of Jiří Jelinek prove sufficient to carry the penultimate scene that sees Jelinek as the matador Escamillo transformed into a bull who ruts with Carmen while four 'toreadors' in comedic butch drag sing and do a mash-up version of the fandango in the background.

So, in the end, if its fine dancing and exacting choreography that sets your heart to soaring in the waning days of spring, this CARMEN may be just the ticket. But if you're looking for a CARMEN for the ages — or even just a memorable facsimile of same —  then you might want to take a pass and wait, with fingers crossed, 'til the opera comes around again.

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