San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Smith's Carmen // © San Francisco Ballet, photo by Lindsey Rallo

Inside Carmen with Choreographer Arielle Smith

Inside Carmen with Choreographer Arielle Smith

Arielle Smith in Studio Crafting World Premiere

In our 2023–24 Season announcement, Artistic Director Tamara Rojo shared, “It’s about time a woman tackled the story of Carmen.” And she knew just the woman for the job when she commissioned Cuban-born choreographer Arielle Smith to tell this eponymous story with a fresh focus and a distinctly current take on the classic.

Arielle Smith’s work crosses performing arts barriers and has created critically acclaimed works in dance, theatre, and film. The London-based choreographer won the Lawrence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for her work, Jolly Folly, created for English National Ballet and has been named One to Watch in 2022 by The Guardian.

Smith was drawn to the iconic story of Carmen but wanted to reframe the context from its historical trappings. “I was always drawn to it as a woman and a story that's about a woman. But a lot of the time she doesn't feel like the protagonist of her own story. I've always felt a bit of a desire to look into that deeper and to explore how we can make Carmen a piece that's truly about Carmen.” The result is what Smith refers to as a “new classic.” A contemporary take that digs into the complicated humanity of the characters, exploring their strengths, vulnerabilities, and flaws. This retelling has shifted focus from the familiar context of the Bizet opera, making this a truly modern take on the classic.

The creative team is comprised of a deep bench of heavy hitting tastemakers including an original score from Grammy Award-winning composer Arturo O’Farrill, set designs by Tony Award-winning Ricardo Fernandez, costumes by sustainable luxury fashion designer Gabriela Hearst, and expert Dramaturg Lucinda Coxon.

“I'm amazed by the San Francisco Ballet dancers...whenever they're in our room, in our space, they're so generous with their energy... I've tried to open a space where they feel agency...that I’m giving them the agency to take on the responsibility of creating a piece together.” –Arielle Smith

Arielle Smith and San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Smith's Carmen

San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Smith's Carmen

Davide Occhipinti rehearsing Smith's Carmen

Arielle Smith, Myles Thatcher and Esteban Hernández during rehearsal for Smith's Carmen

San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Smith's Carmen

Sasha De Sola and Wei Wang rehearsing Smith's Carmen

Arielle Smith guides us into the story of Carmen, a strong and feisty woman who craves love and independence without the traps of obsession or jealously. Smith, is carving out her space as a forward-thinking creator known for pushing the boundaries of dance, theater, and film. Carmen will have its world premiere onstage April 4–14.

The World Premiere of Carmen is onstage April 4–14.

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All photos © San Francisco Ballet, photo by Lindsey Rallo