National Ballet’s Carmen – A Tragic Tale of Lust and Betrayal

Many dream of a life spent with a partner. With a partner who can fulfill all needs and wants, giving a sense of freedom that the best choice was made. But this life is not for the wild Carmen, a cigarette girl belonging to a troupe of bandits. Carmen only seeks what is exciting to her, and turns away from anything that might seal her freedom. And so this classic tale of lust and betrayal is brought to the dance stage in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Carmen.

Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté in Carmen. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Based on Bizet’s Carmen opera, award-winning Italian choreographer Davide Bombana creates a full-length version ballet filled with sensuality and tragedy. Carmen is a well known tale, about a woman named Carmen, living life on the edge driven by her lust for the exciting and her freedom and about a man, Don José, who seeks the sensual gypsy girl, even though he has a sweetheart in Michaela back at home. Act I starts with a scene, where José is sitting in a prison with Michaela on the other side, trying to reach out to him. The ballet then delves into José’s memories of Carmen. He remembers a lusty sensual dance between Carmen, so confident in her sexuality, and himself, an officer just trying to do his duty. José, an officer of the law is required to arrest Carmen, but his infatuation with this fiery passionate woman wins over and he lets her go. But Carmen, done with José, runs away to return home to the troupe of bandits. José despairs, but seeks out Carmen and rejects Michaela who loves him dearly. Carmen, fearful of a cage that would take away her freedom runs further from José. But she gets a glimpse into her future. Her vision shows her an aged old lady, who is destined to die alone because she seeks to be alone. But she also gets a glimpse of what her life could be were she to runaway with José; A life of love and a life of freedom from her fears. But in the end, Carmen chooses instead to end her life short and dies alone.

Heather Ogden and Robert Stephen with Brendan Saye in Carmen. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Act II opens with Michaela visiting José still in prison waiting for execution. From her point of view, Michaela tries to find her own feminine sexuality and tries to attract José, but he turns her down once again. José then delves back into the memories of when he lost Carmen. Carmen, already bored of José, returns to her lover Garcia who is part of the bandit troupe. José so infatuated with Carmen, refuses to let her go. Carmen gives him an ultimatum: kill Garcia to prove he is worthy to her, or leave her and never be seen again. José kills Garcia, but mournfully regrets his action and Carmen discards him in a heartbeat because he is not man enough for her. She then finds her next lover in the bull-fighter Escamillo. José learns of this yet still will not let Carmen go. In a final pas de deux, José leads Carmen in a dance to her death. She would rather find freedom in her death than in the arms of José.

Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté in Carmen. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

This interpretation of Carmen is beyond the sensual and passionate. It is a reflection of something darker, something more emotional and something, to some extent, that we can relate to—fear of trust, fear of a cage. Carmen did not have to follow destiny, she had a glimpse into a happy future, yet she let her own fears hold her back ultimately leading to her death. In the choreography, Bombana shows the edgy, tragic mental struggle of Carmen and José. Carmen who was constantly running away to ensure her freedom and José, struggling between lust and duty. In the end, they both failed in their struggles and are left with nothing.

Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté in Carmen. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Lead principal dancer Heather Ogden was the star of the performance. The ballet was all her and her flawless performance brought to life a different facet of Carmen – one full of anguish and tragedy. Alongside her, Don José, was performed by principal dancer Guillaume Coté. Together the pair set the stage on fire with their powerful performance. The partnership between the dancers made the tension of the ballet fill the entire hall leaving the audience feeling emotional over the story.

The choreography showed the story and the company delivered an immaculate performance.

Carmen plays at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until June 16th, 2013. For information on the show and to purchase tickets, please click here.