Antoni Clavé’s minimal designs are perfectly pitched. The washing lines in the grimy opening alley way, the gaudy lights in the taverna, the fans on the bedroom wall and the wheels in the encampment all capture the flavour and become part of the action. Don Jose’s powerful thrust to set a hanging wheel in motion before he commits murder, embodies the forces he has unleashed, and the triumphant flurry of hats thrown in the air cruelly contrast the death of Carmen. Sadly, his brilliant front cloth that masks the scene changes and packages the work was inexplicably missing.
The setting may be Seville, but the protagonists are inimitably French. Sex appeal is easily transferred, Carmen effortlessly shifts from street siren to Parisian chic: long-legged, short haired, gamine. Petit’s Don Jose is a limited edition, forget the naïve soldier, this Don is suave and elegant with superb machismo.
Luiza Lopes as Carmen made a fiery entrance, immediately taking control and leaving Don Jose quite out of his depth. She displayed seductive charm but stopped short of the full power thrust of an undisputed queen of the low life. However, her eloquent shoulders and precision technique were used to great effect in this marathon of a role that moves at speed from enticement, to consummation, to rejection. Gianmarco Romano as Don Jose gave a riveting performance, developing the character through each scene. In the Habanera, he takes centre stage to perform with studied ease, a pseudo mating ritual. In an extraordinary range of deviant dance moves he never loses his masculine cool igniting the flame that passes to Carmen and is fanned by the superb bandit trio as the scene climaxes with a zapateado on pointes.
The bedroom pas de deux is the steamy heart of the ballet where with unfailing flair, Petit finds the movement and shape to capture the emotion. Again, the bandits, Coralie Aulas, Julien Keulen and Jérémie Neveu, are on hand, this time with a dose of coarse comedy which effortlessly morphs into tragedy. Now a murderer, Romano realises he has crossed the red line. The choreography is minimal, the emotion is complex, and Romano got it perfectly. Petit again relieves the tension with high comedy before the finale. Daniel Nordgren Jensen, as the Toreador, finds the irony in a raised eyebrow although he was too powdered and painted to be fully convincing.
The final confrontation of the lovers to a solitary drumbeat is another master stroke. Like bulls locking horns, they go head-to-head, the steps are minimal, but the intentions are real. It remains one of the most exciting ballets in the repertoire and the company demonstrated their enthusiasm in vivid characterisations.