Dance review: Natalia Osipova: Carmen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Natalia Osipova is the undeniable star of this bold new version of Carmen, but there are no weak links, writes Kelly Apter

Natalia Osipova, Isaac Hernández and Jason Kittelberger in Carmen PIC: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Natalia Osipova: Carmen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

It’s almost 180 years since Prosper Mérimée and Georges Bizet made Carmen a household name, via the former’s novella and the latter’s opera based on it, so any new version has to offer more than a straightforward re-telling.

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Here, choreographer Didy Veldman takes us far from the 19th century tobacco factory and moves the action into a modern-day film studio, and the cast of five dancers each take on a dual role.

Usually found gracing the Royal Opera House stage in pointe shoes, Natalia Osipova is one of the finest ballet dancers of her generation. In recent years, she has dipped her toes into contemporary dance, and in this production it makes for compelling viewing.

The nimble pirouettes, high legs and leaps are all still there, but so too is a grounded quality. Match that with the capacity for emotional intensity Osipova is famous for, and each move speaks directly to the audience.

As both the eponymous heroine and a film star wrestling with the disparity between her public persona and her real self, she ripples with believability.

English National Ballet principal Isaac Hernández also embraces his double-casting with finesse, playing the film’s director and arrogant toreador Escamillo. Again, his technical facility is captivating – but then there are no weak links here.

Jason Kittelberger as Don José is full of romance, then angst, as Carmen’s lover on-screen and off (and indeed in real life). Hannah Ekholm and Eryck Brahmania round off the cast with the same strong commitment.

Composer Dave Price does an excellent job blending his own modern sound with Bizet’s iconic score.

Given that Veldman tore up the Carmen rulebook for this production, however, it would have been nice if, for once, we weren’t presented with yet another dead woman on our stages and screens.

If ever a re-working of Carmen was crying out for an alternative, empowered ending, it’s this one.

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