Carmen is still hot to trot

 Dominic Harrison and Zoe Ashe-Browne rehearsing for Ballet Ireland's Carmen. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

BALLET Ireland’s new production of Carmen, now touring Ireland, is a timeless, provocative tale of lust, beauty and destruction, played out against composer Georges Bizet’s passionate score.

It’s the fourth ballet created for Ballet Ireland by Morgann Runacre-Temple, an innovative young choreographer. She won the Central School of Ballet choreography award in 2002 and 2003. “I’ve always wanted to direct, to arrange the action onstage. I was forcing my parents to sit through home productions from the age of three,” she says.

She has worked for The Curve Foundation Dance Company, Ballet Central, The London Children’s Ballet, The Print Room, and Images of Dance, as well as in her own partnership, Out of Hand Dance, with Jessica Wright. She and Wright created the dance short, ‘Mishandled,’ which was shown at Sadler’s Wells, and international film festivals. Runacre-Temple has also been invited to work with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Watching her work, as she elicits movement and feeling from the dancers, as she stops the action to convey with her body the emotion she wants to evoke, and explain the reasoning behind those emotions, one is left in no doubt of her confidence or her vision. Fifteen minutes are spent on one movement — when Jose (Dominic Harrison) throws Carmen (Zoë Ashe-Browne) to the ground in a passionate embrace. “No, like this. Slide your arm round her there — then slowly down. And when you hear the trumpet call, jerk up your head and listen. Let your eyes speak. Then, turn back to her. Yes, that’s better.”

Renowned flamenco guitarist, John Walsh, plays live onstage. “We had this idea of genuine flamenco music to accompany the dancers and started making tentative enquiries,” says Morgann. “Then, John rang us and said he simply had to do this — he thought it would be incredible.” From the first notes he plucked on the guitar, they had something special. “I mentioned the hand-clapping I’d observed in Spanish dancing and wondered if we could incorporate some of that,” says Morgann. “I explained my ideas to John and he said, ‘oh, you mean the ‘palmas.’ I hadn’t realised it was so important to the dance.”

Palmas punctuate and accentuate movement, often substituting for music. There are hard-claps and soft, even contra-claps, while the foot also beats time. The dancers had a steep learning curve to conquer.

“John got them all trying it out, and then he unerringly pointed out those who instinctively had the skill. Not everyone has that,” Morgann says.

Most eyes are following one, quiet girl, who is clapping with concentration and passion, while she watches the soloists like a hawk.

Clearly, this is going to be no ordinary ballet. The combination of masterful guitar, rhythmic clapping, and sensuous movement is irresistibly atavistic, driving forward, drawing out the deepest instincts. And that’s just in rehearsal, the dancers clad in tights, woolly jumpers, leg warmers. On stage, in full costume, with lights and all the drama, it will be devastating.

Carmen has divided audiences for 150 years, and, in this production, Morgann challenges the accepted views of her character. “She’s not bad. She’s not a tramp. She’s intelligent, independent, chooses her own life and her own lovers. But men, of course, can’t accept that. Once they have been with her, they regard her as their possession. She can’t be allowed to go off with someone else. And, so, she has to die.”

No temptation to change the ending, then? “Well, we did think of it, but it would rather distort the entire opera, so reluctantly decided not.”

“Carmen is so sexy, dramatic and powerful,” says Ballet Ireland director, Anne Maher, also watching from the wings. “I just wish I were 20 years younger and dancing in it myself. Yes, we always pay tribute to the traditional classics, but it’s just as important that ballet is vibrant and contemporary. Here, we ensure that it is kept firmly at the forefront of 21st century dance.”

And they’re touring with a vengeance. Carmen will visit 19 venues throughout Ireland, up to Dec 19.

The traditional gets its turn later next month, when Ballet Ireland will bring a full-scale festive production of The Nutcracker to audiences at the Gaiety and the Helix. “The Nutcracker is, perhaps, the most well-known of all ballets, and every reputable company is expected to have Nutcracker in its repertoire,” says Maher. “It’s also a big challenge for us, because we are working with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra for our run at the Gaiety.”

Costs soar, of course, when you incorporate a full orchestra, but there is nothing like the real thing, says Maher. “A great conductor, like David Brophy, will watch the dancers, adjust the timing fractionally to allow for that extra leap, that additional pirouette, hold the moment — you can’t do that with tapes. And is there anything as exciting as sitting at a Christmas show and hearing the orchestra tuning up?”

nBallet Ireland, Carmen: Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, Nov 5/6; Backstage Theatre, Longford, Nov 8; GB Shaw Theatre, Carlow , Nov 9; Dunamaise, Portlaoise, Nov 26; Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny Nov 27; Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen, Nov 29; Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo, Dec 1; Arts Centre, Bray, Dec 4; Civic Theatre, Tallaght, Dec 5-7; Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, Dec 12; Siamsa Tire Theatre, Tralee, Dec 13; Glor, Ennis, Dec 14; Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, Dec 18; The Source Arts Centre, Thurles, Dec 19.

* Ballet Ireland, The Nutcracker: Gaiety Theatre Dublin, Nov 20-23; The Helix, Dublin, Dec 21.


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