Noism, the only dance company resident in a public theatre in Japan, première Carmen, choreographed by their artistic director Jo Kanamori. This is a work commemorating their 10th anniversary, so dancers from the junior Noism 2 join the main company Noism 1 on stage, adding a squalid atmosphere, each of them standing out clear with their characterisation.

Jo Kanamori's Carmen © Kishin Shinoyama
Jo Kanamori's Carmen
© Kishin Shinoyama

Kanamori's Carmen is based on both the novel by Prosper Mérimée and Bizet's opera, but has some twists in the plot. For the first time, in this choreography an actor (Akihito Okuno) plays the role of Mérimée himself as a travelling scholar and adds narration. A screen placed on stage shows the silhouettes of the dancers moving like shadow play and functions to explain the story to the audience. These factors make the story more understandable and the structure of the performance – a story told by the author – is clever, but it means less dancing in the first act, as it has a more theatrical approach. This is a little frustrating as the dancers of this company are great in telling the story with their bodies.

Kanamori shows Carmen and Don Jose as completely opposite characters, Carmen as the wild creature and Don Jose as a man of reason. Sawako Iseki's Carmen is a woman with no conscience or reason, so free and vulgar, like a beast. She crawls on the floor and acts like a panther, follows her desires and instinct. No one can take hold of her, not even Don Jose. She falls for this man only at the end of the ballet, when Don Jose loses his friend, becomes a criminal and gets completely lost. Iseki’s interpretation of the role was mesmerizing, she lived this role with boldness and strength. Her only enemy is fate. But when Don Jose kills her husband Garcia, Carmen has a premonition that she will be killed by the man she loves, and Iseki expressed her emotions very delicately about that feeling with the help of eloquent choreography and her own fluid movements. Contrary to Carmen, Don Jose (Satoshi Nakagawa), is an ordinary sensitive man, crushed by jealously and his inner demons, and eventually staining his hand with evil deeds that lead to self-destruction.

Jo Kanamori's Carmen © Kishin Shinoyama
Jo Kanamori's Carmen
© Kishin Shinoyama

Although the plot is based on the novel, Micaela – Don Jose’s fiancée who only appears in the opera – is an effective addition. Her existence makes the relationship of Carmen and Don Jose more intense and the audience can see the couple from a different eye. Megumi Mashimo’s expression and her agonies are touching in her solo, and the pas des deux between her and Don Jose is heart-wrenching.

Fate in this ballet is symbolized by a strange little old woman in a robe who moves timidly on stage. Even the wild spirited Carmen could not win her fate, which is written on tarot cards, and getting drawn to the old woman shows that Carmen had to obey fate no matter how free her spirit.

Kanamori’s dance vocabulary reminds me of Mats Ek's work, with a low center of gravity in body positions and earthy movements. But his Carmen is quite different from Ek’s version. Although his Carmen is an almost animalistic wild woman, she has some weakness and it is explained well why she could accept her fate of being killed by the man who is so much in love with her. The last pas de deux with Don Jose is profoundly beautiful, with yellow mimosa flowers pouring onto the stage. I could imagine this part being danced as a gala piece given the drama implemented in the choreography with classical ballet elements (unusual for Kanamori’s works). At the very end, all the characters, even the deceased and the author Mérimée, gather on stage. A very effective way of closing the story as a meta-story.

Jo Kanamori's Carmen © Kishin Shinoyama
Jo Kanamori's Carmen
© Kishin Shinoyama

The stage design by Masaki Kondo was mostly wooden and visually imaginative. Although very simple and stylish, it was great in creating the nomadic atmosphere with its mobility and sensual curves. Noism is always fabulous in making the production stunning as a composite art. There are some flaws in this Carmen – such as not enough dancing in the first act – but Kanaomori always adds revisions to his works so we can see how it will evolve. With this amazing ensemble of dancers and Kanamori’s creativity, we can always expect new surprises from this company.

****1