Love, passion, murder: Natalia Osipova in Carmen

Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London
May 27, 2022

There is a fashion for ‘fusion’ in food. In dance too, with various techniques clashing or blending. This re-telling of the familiar tale follows that pattern. It’s Brecht meets Carlos Saura; and a very successful meeting it is too.

Unlike Saura’s telling of the story, this Carmen does not tell the entire tale in detail but is episodic, although it also fuses real life with the Prosper Mérimée version. The classic Brechtian device of having a rail of costumes onstage is doubled with the action shifting between the depiction of performance and rehearsal and the moments in between. Oleg Mikhailov and Eric Islamov’s video design truly makes the multi-media work by bringing the outside in, the fragmented images echoing the fragmented telling of the story.

We see a birthday celebration rehearsal and a celebration dance, just like the impromptu peña in the Saura’s Carmen which reminds us that flamenco is, at its heart, a private form. The hotbed of creation in rehearsal raises tensions in real-life relationships within the incestuous world the production, with Carmen at the heart.

Jason Kittelberger and Natalia Osipova
in Didy Veldman’s Carmen
Photo Annabel Moeller

We see her preening in fluffy red cape in a photo shoot to promote the performance, Jason Kittelberger’s Don José looking over her, banderillas in hand and matador cape almost suffocating her. But she longs to be free. In Osipova’s final solo she is like a bird in an aviary, so near and yet so far from freedom. The ending surprises.

The whole is neatly zipped together by Dave Price’s terrific, and witty, re-working of the familiar Bizet, Like Shchedrin’s version, it centres on rhythm which choreographer Didy Velman uses to full advantage.

Poor Hannah Elkholm as Mikhaila doesn’t stand a chance. Osipova dances her off the stage, with fluid lines alternating with spiky arms and an extension so high that it caused a wardrobe malfunction in the trouser department and a brief hiatus as needle and thread were wielded in the wings. Eryck Brahmania held the stage splendidly in the interim as he wielded the ever-seeing camera and gained some sporadic applause to boot.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall proves an excellent venue, its open stage providing just the right intimacy for the cast.

The Kittelberger/Osipova partnership has created on-stage dynamism before and does so again. A must-see.