Playhouse, QPAC (Queensland Ballet)


A dark power haunts this ballet. It is the power of beauty to overwhelm the limits of life and love. Rachael Walsh dances the role of Carmen with a smoldering, guileful sensuality. Soldier and Toreador alike have no chance within the gravitational pull of her presence.

The story is set on the banks of the Guadalquivir River in Adalucia, Spain in the late 19th century. As the Angelus bells ring out at dusk women come down to the river to bathe, eagerly watched by young soldiers. The irony of using the Angelus (“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary”) as backdrop to the lusty scene is a subtle touch.

Carmen, a fiery and attractive gypsy, flirts with the soldiers and teases one in particular, Don Jose, danced ably by Nathan Scicluna.

The next day in the midst of sweltering heat in the cigarette factory where the gypsies and village women work, a fight breaks out between Carmen and another worker, Mercedes (Iona Marques). Carmen slashes Mercedes’ face with a knife. The soldiers come to arrest her. Don Jose is ordered to take Carmen to prison but he is mere putty in her hands. Soon she has escaped. Don Jose is himself demoted and imprisoned.

The tragic relationship of the young soldier, Don Jose (Nathan Scicluna), and Carmen (Rachael Walsh) leaves the audience wondering whether real love can survive in the face of such an unequal contest between the stunning beauty of Carmen and the lovestruck soldier.

The other love interest in Don Jose’s life is his childhood friend, Micaela danced elegantly by Clare Morehen. As his tragic tale unfolds, Micaela tries to offer him comfort in his anguish but the spell of Carmen is too great. Don Jose’s slow descent into hell includes his killing of his army lieutenant and his killing in the gypsy camp of Carmen’s husband, Garcia (Keian Langdon) newly released from prison. When Don Jose learns of Carmen’s fascination with the toreador Escamillo (Christian Tatchev) he slaughters her.

There is something aesthetically disturbing about this ballet. It is so moving that one is left to question whether innocence and love can prevail against the power of beauty and guile.

The ballet reveals an astonishing versatility in the performance of Rachael Walsh as Carmen. This goes beyond the dazzling technical virtuosity which Brisbane audiences have come to know and appreciate from this great artist. She brings to this role a sensuality which is, by turns, engaging and menacing.

The figure of Carmen is not, or should not be, a caricature of the gypsy woman, or a mere theatrical device to insert flair and colour into the drama. Walsh’s exquisite command of dance makes us gasp but her acting makes us think and wonder. For those who have been estranged and scapegoated by the broader community and forced to work in sweatshop conditions should we be surprised that they seek power in diverse ways?

Again the Queensland ballet is obliged for financial reasons to perform without a live orchestra and to rely upon recorded music, and in this case, singing. This is unfortunate.

This is not a ballet for the faint-hearted. It is a reminder that love may often be but one pirouette away from death.

Choreography and direction by Francois Klaus

Music by Bizet

Set design by Graham Maclean

Costume design by Noelene Hill

Lighting design by David Walters

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes with a 20 minute interval

Performances: 28 May to 7 June 2011

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Fri 27th May 2011)