Our all-time favourite Carmens

Ruthless, seductive and free-spirited – the character of Carmen continues to enthral audiences worldwide. As we prepare to bring a new interpretation of the famous femme fatale to Sadler’s Wells, we take a look at some of the most memorable Carmens on the stage and screen.

Georges Bizet’s Carmen

The character of Carmen was originally created by French writer Prosper Mérimée in his 1845 novella. Ruled by nature, demanding, attractive, licentious, full of abandon, this ‘strange and wild beauty’ is determined not to show any vulnerability. But it was Georges Bizet’s operatic adaptation thirty years later that became the most famous representation. Breaking both musical and moral traditions, Carmen flopped at its Paris premiere. Today, it’s one of the most widely performed operas in the world.

Even within Bizet’s opera, countless directors and singers have interpreted Carmen in wildly different and interesting ways. Compare these two productions from the Royal Opera House – the first sees Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci as the archetypal charismatic seductress, while in the second, directed by Barrie Kosky in 2018, Russian mezzo-soprano Anna Goryachova highlights Carmen’s enigmatic and ever-changing nature, marked by her series of contrasting costumes.

Carmen Jones

In 1943, American songwriter and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II brought his jazz-inspired musical adaption Carmen Jones to Broadway, where it would become one of the most successful musicals of the 1940s. His version of the story was set in an African-American community in North Carolina: Carmen is a seamstress in a parachute factory. When she attacks one of her fellow workers, the young GI Joe is sent to escort her to prison. In 1954, Hollywood director Otto Preminger picked up the story of Carmen Jones again, turning it into a multi-award winning feature film starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, which became a huge global hit.

Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man

Matthew Bourne’s bold reimagining is a masterstroke in choreographic storytelling. Bourne swaps the Spanish cigarette factory for a greasy garage-diner in 1960’s America where the dreams and passions of a small town are shattered by the arrival of a handsome stranger. Loosely based on Bizet’s opera and taking inspiration from film noir, it has one of the most instantly recognisable scores in New Adventures’ repertory, arranged by Terry Davies. The multi award-wining production premiered in 2000 and has been shown in over 150 cinemas worldwide.

Carmen La Cubana

Carmen experiences another exciting transformation in this breath-taking new musical set against the simmering turmoil of the Cuban revolution – from a cigar factory in the rural south-east of the island to the teeming bars and clubs of Havana. A new orchestration of Bizet’s score by Tony Award winner Alex Lacamoire (Hamilton) mixes opera with salsa, mambo, rumba and cha-cha-cha while Roclan González Chávez’s sizzling choreography incorporates traditional Cuban styles, filling the auditorium with the intoxicating spirit of Cuba.

Played by Luna Manzanares, Carmen becomes a proud Cuban woman whose personal quest for freedom unfolds during a time of political turmoil. Sensual and beguiling, strong-willed and confident, she embodies her own rebellion. “I will laugh and drink, I will sing and dance and live life to the fullest to the last day. As long as I can fly, I will look at the sky. I will always be Carmen.”

Carmen La Cubana runs at Sadler’s Wells from 1 – 18 August. Tickets are available now priced from £15 by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

The Ageless Quality of Dance

Sadler’s Wells’ pioneering Company of Elders – whose dancers range from 60 to 89 years old – has been pushing the boundaries of dance for over 20 years. The dancers’ powerful performances in the UK and internationally have inspired similar companies to be created around the country, offering more and more people in later life a chance to dance. In this interview with The Elder, Sadler’s Wells’ Director of Learning and Engagement Joce Giles talks about the ageless quality of dance, the power of performance and the importance of challenging perceptions of what people can achieve and do in later life.

When and why was the Company of Elders set up?

The Company of Elders dates back to 1989. Back then, Sadler’s Wells started an arts club for older adults, and through that programme, workshops were held with visiting companies. Out of that, some ad hoc performances were organised for anyone in that group who was interested. That just snowballed, and by 1992 the Company of Elders was formed as a proper group.

The Company of Elders actually predates the current building at Sadler’s Wells, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and really it’s at the heart of how the organisation has grown over the last three decades.

I’ve been in my role at Sadler’s Wells for just over a year and a half, but I had been aware of Company of Elders for many years before that. I have always worked in dance, and the company really captured people’s imagination in the dance sector. When its dancers first performed they were pioneers – nothing else existed like that. Now groups inspired by the company have sprung up around the UK and internationally.

Is the Company of Elders made up of former professional dancers?

There are no professional dancers in the group. They come from a range of different backgrounds; some may have danced when they were younger, and this is a chance to reconnect with that. For others, dance is something they have taken up since retiring. The age range is people over 60 – but within that, there are dancers in their late 80s.

At Sadler’s Wells, we want to present dance in all its different styles, and for that to be reflected in the work that we do with programmes such as Company of Elders. So along with contemporary choreographers, the dancers have worked with hip-hop choreographers and people who work in South Asian dance styles, for example – they are very versatile.

Is there anything different about dance in later life?

Obviously there are some physical considerations, but actually, we ask the choreographers to come in and give a true sense of their work – and not to hold back. Company members are always clear to say if anything needs to be adapted for them – they want to be challenged.

I think one of the main considerations though is communication; speaking up if people have difficulty hearing, repeating information and maybe taking a bit more time to go through the movements.

In dance, we are used to seeing young performers at the height of their physical capability – and that’s fantastic to witness. But I think there’s something that an older performer, non-professional or professional, brings to the stage, that only they can – and that has a different quality. The presence that they bring to the stage is something that audiences find very powerful.

Read the full interview on The Elder website.

Company of Elders perform in the Lilian Baylis Studio on Friday 6 July (sold out).

Photos: Company of Elders in rehearsal (c) Johan Persson

What do you think of the arts today? Please help us with some research

Do you sometimes see a dance show and wonder ‘what did that mean?’. Or maybe you’ve visited a modern art gallery and thought ‘I could have done that!’?

Sadler’s Wells is a partner in a research project aiming to better understand audiences for the contemporary arts – and we are looking for audience members to take part in an interview with the project’s researcher, Dr Sarah Price.

The interview will last around 45 minutes at a time to suit you, between Wednesday 18th to Sunday 22nd July, and Sarah will ask questions such as: what kind of arts events do you go to? How did you become interested in the arts? What do the arts mean to you?

There are no right or wrong answers and there is no need to prepare anything. We just want to hear your thoughts and experiences. As a thank you, anyone taking part in an interview will receive a £10 voucher.

For more information, and to apply, visit the research website page and just scroll down to fill in the form, which should only take a few minutes to complete.

‘Understanding Audiences for the Contemporary Arts’ is a 2.5 year research project undertaken by researchers at the University of Sheffield and Newcastle University, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to explore how people engage with contemporary dance, theatre, music, visual art and everything in between. This project is being run in partnership with arts organisations in Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Bristol and Sheffield.

The final research will help all the partners understand our current and potential audiences better, and we’ll be able to use the findings to test our audience development initiatives, so that we can recruit new audiences and enhance the experiences of attenders.