The Australian Ballet

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Finding Carmen

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Principal Artist Jill Ogai during Carmen (Inger) rehearsals, 2024
Photo Brodie James

Principal Artist Jill Ogai on developing her version of the fierce and fiery character.

To prepare for Johan Inger’s Carmen, the cast, including Principal Artist Jill Ogai, flew to London to join the English National Ballet in their rehearsals for the upcoming production. Jill talks to behind ballet about the experience, from weekend trips to the idyllic town of Bath to the process of discovering her own version of Carmen.

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Artists of The Australian Ballet outside English National Ballet, London
Photo courtesy of Marcus Morelli

What were the rehearsal days like at the English National Ballet?

The days were very similar to The Australian Ballet rehearsal days (morning class, coffee break, rehearsal, lunch, rehearsal, finish!). However, unlike at The Australian Ballet, where we often rehearse multiple ballets at once, the English National Ballet were only working on Carmen, so it meant we were completely absorbed in everything Carmen.

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Principal Artists Callum Linnane and Jill Ogai during Carmen (Inger) rehearsals, 2024
Photo Brodie James

What were two of your favourite moments from the trip?

I really loved working with Cal (Principal Artist Callum Linnane). We haven’t danced together a lot, so it was really fun to develop our dancing relationship and build up the trust for such an intimate ballet like Carmen. The whole group also took a weekend trip to Bath. It was so refreshing after a gorgeous (but grey) London. Bath is such a beautiful spot, and we felt like we were in a Jane Austen novel the whole weekend.

What three words would you use to describe what it's like to dance the role of Carmen?

Free, instinctive, sensual.

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Principal Artists Jill Ogai, Marcus Morelli and Brett Chynoweth during rehearsals for Carmen (Inger) 2024
Photo Drew Hedditch

What has been the biggest learning curve of tackling the role?

Conversation is at the forefront of Johan’s choreography. Every ‘dance’ is really a conversation between characters, and so the challenge has been to put my own tone, character and story into each bit of choreography.

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Principal Artist Jill Ogai
Photo Simon Eeles

Johan Inger has created a modern take on the production, refreshing some outdated stereotypes. Have you found that the contemporary aspect of the choreography has made it easier to portray Carmen?

Yes, in London we were lucky enough to meet Gregor Acuña-Pohl, the dramaturg who worked with Johan on Carmen. He spoke about how they didn’t want to follow the opera version of Carmen, but the original text written in 1845 by Prosper Mérimée. The text offers more of a three-dimensional view of Carmen as a character, including her strength and unrelenting desire for freedom in her life. Gregor made it clear that there is a different type of Carmen in each dancer, and to be true to who that is for each of us.

“There is a different type of Carmen in each dancer.” — Prin­ci­pal Artist Jill Ogai
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Principal Artist Jill Ogai with artists of The Australian Ballet during Carmen (Inger) rehearsals, 2024
Photo Drew Hedditch

There is a physical and emotional intensity to the role of Carmen, how has this been for you throughout the rehearsal process?

I love the emotional and physical intensity of it! However, I think it’s important for people to know that behind the intensity, we spend a lot of time finessing specific grips and building understanding between dancers to make it read well. When we perform it, we find the rawness again, but that can only happen after a lot of rehearsal.

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Artists of The Australian Ballet at The English National Ballet, London 2024
Photo courtesy of Jill Ogai

What would you say to someone who is deciding whether to buy a ticket to Carmen?

Buy it! This is such a rare chance for audiences and the company alike. We have never danced anything like this before, and there is such a buzz in the studio that we can’t wait to share with audiences. And of course, the music is fantastic!

“Every ‘dance’ is really a conversation between characters.” — Prin­ci­pal Artist Jill Ogai

Carmen plays from 10 to 27 April 2024 at the Sydney Opera House

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