Set in a refugee camp, Her name was Camen exploits the drama of Bizet's opera to bear witness to the contemporary horrors faced by over four million Syrian refugees. This 21st century re-imagining finds spoilt, rich Carmen escaping from Gracia, the man who has murdered her family. His deadly infatuation forces her to hide as a boy among a group of refugees, each fleeing their own demons in pursuit of sanctuary and a better life.

© Marilyn Kingwell
© Marilyn Kingwell
Showcasing the exceptional talents of Russian ballerina Irina Kolesnikova, Olga Kostel choreographs a raw, edgy interpretation of Carmen. In preparation, Kolesnikova visited refugee camps run by the charity Oxfam in Macedonia and Serbia, meeting families seeking safety from violence and persecution. Their experiences form the backbone of the narrative and £1 from every ticket sale goes to support Oxfam's Stand as One campaign.

Kolesnikova is dazzling as Carmen. Under the cover of darkness, she sheds her male disguise. Resplendent in a red dress, Kolesnikova dances a fierce solo. Her pointe shoes stab at the floor, arrogant and rebellious. Kostel weaves references to Paso Doble and Tango into the choreography. Kolesnikova flicks her long legs, like the pawing hooves of a charging bull. She eats up the space, short staccato gestures contrast with her high extensions and a silky torso.

Juxtaposing a traditional portrayal of Carmen, Kolesnikova's characterisation gets under the skin of the teasing siren. Her sensuality is commanding but we also see compassion and ultimately self-sacrifice - rescuing a child separated from her parents and putting herself in the way of Garcia's jealous dagger, saving the life of Jose.   

Kolesnikova is magnetic to watch. She is well-matched with both Yuri Kovalev as Garcia and Dmitry Akulinin as Jose. Kovalev is dark and brooding. He is the ring leader of a gang of smugglers exploiting the hopes and resources of the dispossessed. In a duet simmering with menace, he mauls Carmen's body with his hands and slides his arms down her legs. Like a matador and his prey, they encircle one another, prowling and alert. Carmen survives this encounter, but this only to be a brief reprieve. Jose – a police officer guarding the camp – spies Carmen dancing. He's enthralled by her. Running the box of her shoe up his body, Carmen toys with Jose. He lifts her and she walks on air accompanied by an ascending melody. Carmen and Jose share a mutual need – a tenderness even. In the penultimate scene Jose fights to protect Carmen from Garcia, but to no avail. In her dying moments, Jose throws open the fence of the camp, allowing the refugees to escape across the border.

© Marilyn Kingwell
© Marilyn Kingwell
Creating dance with a social conscience is a complex business. Ballet with its graceful arcs and shifting symmetry is hard pushed to convey the grittiness of the crisis amassing on the borders of Europe. Kostel's collaboration with designer Vladimir Firer and video artist ,Natalya Naumova helps bring to life the darker aspects of the story. Naumova's backdrop is a vast sky - with rolling clouds and a voluptuous moon. Exposed to the elements, the refugees huddle under thin blankets, evoking the force of events that have overwhelmed them. Firer's stroke of genius is the long bright tunics worn by the ensemble. They catch the momentum of the dancers' movements. Swathes of sunshine yellow, azure, fiery orange and emerald green ripple and swell, perhaps symbolising unerring hope and determination. In contrast to the drab blacks and greys of the police and smugglers, the refugee characters positively glow on stage.

Artistically, Kolesnikova is the lynchpin. Holding Bizet's sassy femme fatale up to the light, her nuanced interpretation of Carmen encapsulates a fuller spectrum of human emotion. It is a fitting contribution to the rainbow of responses from artists across the globe to a crisis unsurpassed in this generation.