The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) has started the year by bringing two of choreographer Roland Petit's best-known story ballets to audiences across the country.

Carmen and L'Arlésienne offer a sumptuous night with extraordinary choreography, exquisite lighting and the familiar, if somewhat cliched, trend of obsessive love.

In Carmen, post-war Paris spins into focus with a compressed version of Georges Bizet's original opera. Capitalising on all the drama, eroticism and unrestrained exuberance between the fiery Carmen and her paramour Don Jose, this production throbs with palpable sensuality and a rollicking sense of fun, too.

Natalya Kusch comes into her own with the titular role and she and Joseph Skelton (as Don Jose) create some highly memorable moments together. Massimo Margaria and Kirby Selchow are particularly good in their roles as the Bandit Chief and Bandit Woman while Paul Mathews' role as the Toreador is small, he certainly doesn't have to compete for attention.


However, while Carmen has successfully retained its flair and relevance to modern audiences, L'Arlésienne comes across as antiquated and awkward. Petit's ballet is based on Alphonse Daudet's original short story where a young man becomes obsessed by "the girl from Arles" despite the fact his wedding is fast approaching.

Shaun James Kelly plays Frederi with an otherworldly personality that works well for the most part but it is perhaps Madeleine Graham who most impresses. She plays Vivette, the young bride-to-be, whose devastated calm is exasperating especially considering there are eight more equally capable strapping young men and she must remain fixated on this loner.

Nevertheless, Petit's choreography is wonderful. Distinctive for the unwavering emphasis on meta-theatricality, his sense of style generates a warmth and passion that lights up every corner of the stage.

Luigi Bonino's staging is near flawless and Spanish painter Antoni Clavé's set and costume design for Carmen will continue to be remembered as one of the most animated. Jean-Michel Desire is responsible for lighting both ballets and his time spent with Petit himself translates beautifully to a sublime design.

What: Carmen with L'Arlésienne
Where & when: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre until Saturday
Reviewer: Dione Joseph