Home » London Theatre Reviews » Carlos Acosta’s Carmen – Sadler’s Wells | Review

Carlos Acosta’s Carmen – Sadler’s Wells | Review

It is simply thrilling to behold Carlos Acosta on stage – in any form.  This may sound like fangirl hyperbole – and perhaps to some extent I am swept up in the mythos of him; but surely sweeping up an audience in mythos is partially what ballet is about? I recall his performances in the years just preceding his retirement from the Royal Ballet and noting how he cleverly employed other movements (creating mesmerising and expanded shapes laterally, for example, as he brandished a cape, with the grace and spirit reminiscent of a toreador – but not remotely as cliché or literalistic play-acting – as part of his revolutions) when it is only natural that the knees of no human – not even a danseur of his acclaim – could continue to achieve the breath-taking elevations that marked his astoundingly athletic earlier years.  What I witnessed in those performances was a creativity that was entirely organic and enhancing to the dance and story rather than an empresario’s box office pragmatism.  It is this same cleverness, charisma and thoroughly generous showmanship that marks the arrival of his now full-length two-act version of Carmen. 

Acosta Danza presents Carlos Acosta's Carmen at Sadler's Wells. Photo credit: Cristina Lanandez.
Acosta Danza presents Carlos Acosta’s Carmen at Sadler’s Wells. Photo credit: Cristina Lanandez.

Acosta Danza’s Carlos Acosta’s Carmen is mesmerising and beautiful because it transmits – without self-consciousnesses – all the sexy, athletic, melodramatic allure of both Bizet’s Carmen and the persona of Carlos Acosta, the mighty danseur, himself; and it does so with first-class collaboration from the entire company and the creative team.  Laura Rodriguez in the titular role is technically astounding and theatrically engrossing.  Acosta’s choreography is somehow simultaneously sympathetic and economical to the story whilst also not afraid to lean into its entertainment value and eroticism. A scene in which we find the prima ballerina seemingly incarcerated and bound – with a spare and sculptural set by Tim Hatley – transforms into a pas de deux of types between dominance and submission, with all the attendant questions about who is really in control of whom.

Pedro Benitez’ lighting, along with Nina Dunn’s projections, comes alive as a force in its own right as the shadows and horizons created take us to both interior emotional worlds and to an other-worldly sort of mythological landscape – yet also to compelling and naturalistic settings such as, for example, a taverna that evokes Havana and which gives us thrilling dance sequences of the full company. Indeed, the presence of Acosta as part-bull/part-man occupies this same duality of the characters’ subconscious and the ritualistic embodiment of sacrifice, strength and danger — both from within and without. The Shango religious traditions of Cuba to which these images nod take us to a liminal space that is far more exciting dare I say, than a late 19th-century opera but are also entirely consistent with its story.  This is not a ‘re-imagining’ but a sort of new visitation into the universal primal aspects of any love-story-cum-tragedy – within a fiendishly transporting universe created by astounding artists.  Acosta Danza really does – through many bodies, images and much craft – come alive as a singularly united and exhilarating experience.

5 Star Rating

Review by Mary Beer

Don José falls in love with Carmen and sacrifices everything to be with her. When Carmen becomes infatuated with the toreador Escamillo she loses interest in Don José, whose love quickly turns to violent jealousy.

Carlos Acosta now presents and features in his own adaptation of Georges Bizet and Prosper Mérimée’s story. In his new version, the story’s universal and timeless themes are laid bare in a sparse and powerful setting.

Bizet’s Carmen is one of the most powerful operas ever written. Its gorgeous melodies have secured the opera’s hold on the popular imagination – Escamillo’s Toreador Song, Carmen’s Habanera, Don José’s Flower Song and many passages for orchestra and chorus are among the most widely known pieces of Western classical music. Figures as diverse as Marius Petipa, Roland Petit, Alberto Alonso, Mats Ek and Richard Alston have all been drawn to this tale of jealousy and desire.

Acosta Danza presents
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
2 to 6 July 2024


  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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