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Review: Carmen with L’Arlésienne

The Royal New Zealand Ballet launched their 2017 season into the stratosphere last night with a tour-de-force double act at the Isaac Theatre Royal that pairs the New Zealand premiers of two of French master choreographer Roland Petit’s landmark works, Carmen and L’Arlésienne.

With the production promising “explosive drama” combined with “high-voltage technique”, the multi-cultural cast of elite dancers certainly delivered on that promise. The quintessentially French works from the late Petit were realised by esteemed Italian dancer Luigi Bonino, who enjoyed a twenty-year artistic teacher/student relationship with the great choreographer and brilliantly channelled his vision.

Carmen, first performed in 1949, has lost none of its sass with the passing of time. While the wild gypsy troupe triumphantly supports the principal dancers with their high-powered intensity, it is the intimate boudoir pas de deux between seductress Carmen and the besotted, and rather handsome, Don José (played respectively by guest artist Natalia Kusch and RNZB’s Joseph Skeltono) that steals the spotlight.

The evening’s opening work, L’Arlésienne, weaves the same thread of tragic lovelorn obsession as the programme’s partner does. Desperate to maintain her fiancé’s affections leading up to their wedding day, Vivette is sensitively portrayed by Australian ballet belle, Madeleine Graham. However, it is Scottish dancer Shaun James Kelly who shone as the male protagonist driven mad with desire for the ‘unseen’ woman, hitting his stride in his final solo that builds feverishly to the shocking dénouement.

With only two nights remaining in Christchurch, this is one stellar opportunity no performing arts lover should miss.

Carmen with L’Arlésienne
To 18 February
Isaac Theatre Royal

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