Subscriber OnlyStageReview

Carmen review: Ballet Ireland’s dancers show their intuition as artists in a formidable production

Celia Sandoya owns title role in Morgann Runacre-Temple’s staging, which demonstrates Ballet Ireland’s evolution


Gaiety Theatre

Ten years ago Ballet Ireland commissioned the choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple to create Carmen. Its reprise this month showcases the company’s evolution: members of the cast have returned often enough for Irish audiences to recognise them, and the dancers’ familiarity with the work brings a unified style. Their cohesion, despite performing only two productions a year, speaks to their intuition as artists and willingness to work hard. For the most part, this leads to a welcome onstage gravitas that has developed over time.

Carmen is an ideal showcase for this ensemble of 12, accompanied by the Irish flamenco guitarist John Walsh. Live music ignites any dance performance, and Carmen offers glimpses of what might be possible were live musicians to join Ballet Ireland more regularly. The interplay between an enticing Walsh and the cast hits the right tone as he offers steadiness for their storytelling and they envelop him with their spiritedness.

Celia Sandoya owns the title role, evolving from a slightly flippant factory girl into a seductress. Despite the story’s implications of a woman standing up for her own power, Carmen still disappointingly loses out in the end. Tempting as it might have been for Runacre-Temple to rewrite the story, she sticks mostly to the original Carmen suite, a shortened version of Bizet’s original opera. The narrative shows Carmen using her magnetism to lure the men around her to their detriment, only to have one of them stab her in a jealous rage.

This ballet differs from the opera in its score. Runacre-Temple starts with Rodion Shchedrin’s composition from 1967 for his wife, the famed Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya. Then she invites Walsh to infuse it with flamenco guitar. The result is a nearly seamless pastiche of imaginative fandangos, bulerias and tarantos, performed by Walsh onstage, alongside Bizet’s more familiar rhythms. It works. Shchedrin’s instrumental version premiered with the Bolshoi Ballet and has since been used by many other choreographers, including for well-known interpretations of Carmen by Matthew Bourne and Mats Ek.


While the drama unfolds in this version, Lorna Ritchie’s simple, appealing set showcases Runacre-Temple’s talent for presenting scenes like intriguing snapshots. When Runacre-Temple first created this ballet she was forging a name for herself as a choreographer and film-maker ahead of the curve in fusing the two media. A decade later she has earned numerous awards and commissions for her innovations with dance and film.

Aside from the compelling music and main character, this production offers less obvious delights, such as Enzo Convert’s ability to move as if his limbs are liquid, and Dominic Harrison’s evolution as José.

Some of the other characters appear more like dancers doing steps than performers invested in telling a story. If the company can continue to develop artists with increasing depth and give them more opportunities to examine the motivation for their roles, maybe an even more formidable Carmen will return in another 10 years.

Carmen continues at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, until Saturday, November 18th. It is then at the Civic Theatre, Tallaght, on Tuesday, November 21st; Glór, Ennis, Co Clare, on Thursday, November 23rd; National Opera House, Wexford, on Saturday, November 25th; Town Hall Theatre, Galway, on Thursday November 30th, and Friday, December 1st; Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, on Saturday, December 2nd; Siamsa Tíre, Tralee, Co Kerry, on Tuesday, December 5th, and Wednesday, December 6th; and Draíocht, Blanchardstown, on Friday, December 8th