CARMEN choreographed by Davide Bombana (National Ballet of Canada). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To Sunday (June 16). $25-$239. 416-345-9595. Rating: NN
Carmen is one of the few missteps by the National Ballet of Canada since Karen Kain took over the artistic directorship.
Italian choreographer Davide Bombana's so-called "reconceptualization" of the Bizet opera is a tonal and structural mess, with a central figure who's not nearly as compelling as she is in the opera house.
His full-length piece (an equally disappointing one-act version played here in 2009) is so unbalanced, it ought to be called Don José. He's the naive soldier who finds himself lusting after the eponymous cigarette factory worker even though he's got another woman, the faithful Michaela, at home.
In Bombana's version, Don José is the most conflicted character. Carmen flits in and out, fighting with her factory colleagues, flirting with her bandit pals (whose appearance makes little sense, by the way), and finally copulating with an Escamillo who's not a bullfighter but an actual bull.
Well, I'm calling bullshit. Bombana's idea of innovation is sampling Bizet's music and then, when things get hot and heavy between his characters, adding music with literal heavy breathing to illustrate the primal nature of their connection. Ho-hum.
He's also got a wooden ear, using tunes from the opera without understanding what that music says about a particular character or situation. Michaela's aria for a Carmen-Don José duet? Tone-deaf sacrilege.
As far as his movement's concerned, there's nothing new either. Carmen should sizzle with sex and sensuality. Opening night's Heather Ogden, not the most sensuous dancer to begin with, arches her back, kicks and tries to smoulder, but it all feels perfunctory and mechanical.
At one point, Bombana actually gives us the cliché of the woman literally pulled in two directions by competing men. What can you do with that?
Guillaume Côté and Xiao Nan Yu fare better as Don José and Michaela, and their duet, with one struggling to hold on and the other determined to leave, is the emotional high point of the evening. And Robert Stephen is impressive as Garcia, a figure who's more prominent in the Prosper Mérimée novella than the opera.
Dorin Gal's sets and costumes are overworked and underwhelming. Some scenes evoke an L.A. fetish club, while an act two number featuring men in Spanish-dress drag with oversized black fans is meant to make a point - or at least get a laugh - but fails to do either.