Leusson Muniz and Sanmarie Kreuzhuber in Carmen. Picture: Supplied

This weekend sees the opening of Joburg Ballet’s much anticipated production of Carmen, choreographed by celebrated South African choreographer Veronica Paeper.

Dance lovers can look forward to a story filled with suspense and drama, set to the well-known tunes by George Bizet, in an exhilarating choreographic fusion of classical ballet, Spanish dance and freshly-invented dramatic dance action.

Carmen, George Bizet’s infamous femme fatale of Prosper Mérimée’s romantic novel of 1845, is an untameable gypsy who relishes her freedom above all else. Don José, on the other hand, is a conscientious young man of pronounced integrity who, as a soldier in the military, aspires to be promoted to the venerated rank of an officer. 

When their paths cross, a heartrending and ill-fated story unfolds, filled with infatuation, seduction, rebellion, treachery, manipulation and revenge.

As a hot-blooded young corporal in the Spanish cavalry stationed near Seville, José is ordered to arrest Carmen, a young, flirtatious gypsy woman, for assaulting a co-worker. Greatly charmed by her, José allows her to escape. 

He deserts the army, kills two men on Carmen’s account, and becomes a robber and smuggler. He is witlessly jealous of Carmen, who is unfaithful to him, and who is in love with the suave and debonair matador, Escamillo.

José pronounces his love to Carmen, but is callously rejected. As Escamillo is slaying the beast in the bullring, José kills the love of his life, for whom he had sacrificed his career and life.

When Bizet’s opera Carmen premiered in 1875, its sense of realism was viewed as most unorthodox and downright disconcerting. It was condemned by the earliest critics, who were unaccustomed to seeing the lives of the commoners - much less the world of gypsies, smugglers, renegades, labourers and various layabouts - given centre stage. Yet, regardless of the morals of the opera community, which deemed the production as depraved and vulgar, it became the world’s most famous opera.

Paeper first choreographed her ballet version of Carmen in 1987 for Capab Ballet. Paeper says that, in creating the ballet, it was of critical importance to capture the essence of the original Mérimée story and turn it into an excellent theatrical concept conveyed through dance.

The notion of realism is of particular importance to Paeper, both in her choreography and in the characterisation and storytelling.

Soloist Sanmarie Kreuzhuber, dancing the role of Carmen, says that Paeper consistently reminds the dancers that they are human, with raw and real emotions which should be felt and not acted. The success of their storytelling depends on their truthful portrayals. This makes the human drama, the suspense and the passion so much more tangible and effective.

Principle dancer, Shannon Glover, also dancing the role of Carmen, says Paeper is particular about her choreography portraying the exact nuances of the story, bringing across the messages in a real and expressive fashion. She says Paeper’s exceptional musicality allows for this process to flow naturally.

She adds that, in order for her to bring the feisty, even vulgar character of Carmen across, it is vital to be uninhibited in her portrayal. Paeper allows for dancers to experience the essence of their characters, and her choreography brings out the honesty in their portrayals.

Soloist Revil Yon, dancing the role of José, says that Paeper’s belief in her dancers is a great encouragement. She always expects more, which allows for exploring deeper levels.

Carmen is not a typical ballet. Do not miss what promises to be a riveting theatre experience.

Carmen opens on April 6 at the Joburg Theatre. Bookings can be made at the Joburg Theatre box office; or at www.joburgtheatre.com or www.webtickets.co.za