Football fever transforms classic opera Carmen in SA

A red rose in her hair, the furious Carmen storms on to a sports pitch to interrupt her two paramours who erupt in bursts of pirouettes and graceful leaps around several footballs.

It’s Bizet’s classic opera but the beautiful, fiery gypsy Carmen is torn between team captain Escamillo and star player Jose as the ballet is given a football twist ahead of the Soccer World Cup in July next year.

“It’s basically Carmen. We built the ballet around the love triangle,” said director, Dirk Badenhorst.

“In the original story, it was a matador and a [soldier]. In our story, it’s the captain of the team and one of the star players of the team.
So it’s unique, that’s why we call the production a world premiere”.

Out of Seville and into a downtown Johannesburg neighbourhood, Badenhorst’s African Carmen keeps the Spanish flair in a flourish of black hand-held fans and red matador capes.

The deafening sound of vuvuzelas intersperse with the stomping sound of a pantsula dance.

The original version, one of the world’s most performed operas, is adapted from the short story by French author Prosper Merimee about a femme fatale who becomes the undoing of the men she pursues in a tale both tragic and comic.

The ballet opens with the vibrant Tu me acostumbraste by Chavela Vargas, with gypsy songs and Spanish guitar punctuating Bizet’s 90 minute score.

“The music is definitely the same, it’s so well-known. It’s like the name. The name and the music go hand in hand. People know the music, the typical man has heard the music on TV or at movies. That makes it accessible to many South Africans,” Badenhorst said.

With this rich cultural background Badenhorst and choreographer Tim le Roux mixed classic ballet and contemporary dance, bringing in a touch of football in four of the 22 scenes.

“It’s a theatrical suggestion of soccer, not a literal soccer match, just a suggestion,” said Le Roux, who decided to replace the initial scene with the matador to one on a football pitch.

The decor is sparse and sober, with six soccer balls present throughout the show for dancers, representing the Rainbow Nation, to spin and throw in the air.

Far from the master passes and headers executed by real football stars, the dancers strike the ball in time with the heel strikes of flamenco dancers and the sound of the castanets.

“It’s an explosion and a celebration of dancing movements on stage telling the story of Carmen,” said Badenhorst.

The flirtatious Carmen pursues Escamillo with her own interests in mind, and sets her heart on Jose, until death divides them in a surprising and often disconcerting mixing of themes.

Badenhorst hopes a sponsor could see the ballet tour the country, perhaps during the event itself which kicks off in June. - AFP

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