The 2024 production of Carmen by The Australian Ballet, choreographed by Johan Inger, diverges from the conventional ballet style. While it’s still a captivating and dynamic rendition of Georges Bizet’s classic opera, it’s a darker yet innovative approach to the timeless Spanish tale, transporting audiences into a modern world filled with passion, athleticism, and raw emotion.

Set to Bizet’s iconic score, Inger’s contemporary retelling of Prosper Mérimée’s novella delves deep into the complex character of Carmen, portraying her as a dangerously seductive figure whose tumultuous love affair with Don José ultimately leads to tragic consequences. 

Read more: Mother’s Day Gift Guide 2024

What sets this production apart is its exploration of themes such as masculinity and the impact of Carmen’s allure on those around her, seen through the eyes of a new character – a young boy – adding layers of depth and complexity to the narrative. Inger introduces the new character as an impartial observer, removing the ‘he said, she said’ dynamic from the narrative and leaving the truth for the audience to discern.

Inger’s choreography is a masterful blend of classical technique and contemporary style, eschewing traditional ballet aesthetics in favour of a more grounded approach. The result is a visually stunning and emotionally resonant performance that pushes the boundaries of ballet while remaining true to its classical roots.

The Australian Ballet Carmen
Principal Artist Jill Ogai’s powerful performance as Carmen. Credit: Daniel Boud

On opening night, Principal Artist Jill Ogai, (Odette/Odile in Anne Woolliams’ Swan Lake in 2023), takes the lead role as Carmen, bringing with her a raw and emotionally charged performance of the titular character. From the moment she steps into the spotlight, there’s an undeniable sense of fearlessness in her portrayal as if she’s unafraid to delve into the depths of Carmen’s complex psyche. With a subtle yet undeniable allure, Ogai embodies the character’s sensuality with a magnetic charm that is impossible to ignore. Every glance and every movement is infused with a palpable sense of desire, drawing the audience into Carmen’s seductive world.

Opposite her is fellow Principal Artist Callum Linnane (Siegfried in Swan Lake, 2023, George Balanchine’s Jewels, 2023, Basilio in Don Quixote, 2023, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, 2022) as Don José, delivering a powerful performance that perfectly complements Ogai’s portrayal. His presence on stage mirrors the emotional depth conveyed by Ogai’s portrayal of Carmen, creating a compelling synergy between the two principal artists. With every gesture and expression, Linnane masterfully navigates Don José’s complex inner turmoil, from initial infatuation to obsessive desperation. 

The Australian Ballet Carmen
Zuniga (Brett Chynoweth) is carried away by the Smelling Dogs after being shot by Don José. Credit: Daniel Boud

As the story progresses, you can’t help but feel Don José’s pain and struggle, as he slips further into the world of toxic masculinity, heightened by the increased appearances of the masked Smelling Dogs – ominous beings that lurk in the shadows. It may be discomforting to watch, yet this is what distinguishes a remarkable production – its ability to evoke such raw and profound emotions.

The collaboration between The Australian Ballet and Johan Inger is a testament to the company’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of dance and embracing new artistic visions. Inger’s unique choreographic style offers a fresh perspective on classical repertoire, ushering in a new era of innovation and creativity in the world of ballet – a clever way to allure new and younger audiences to enjoy this beautiful form of storytelling. 

  • What: Carmen by The Australian Ballet
  • Where: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House / Tubowgule
  • When: 10 – 27 April 2024
  • Purchase tickets here