Carmen, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Aída Gómez's Carmen goes through the motions. Her production, appearing as part of the Sadler's Wells Flamenco Festival, is an oddly slack experience. When two quarrelling women spin towards each other, a lack of attack makes their confrontation look sluggish. The whole company run on for a confrontation, but the movement is lightweight: it's never a headlong rush.

The festival, now in its eighth year, showcases a range of high-profile flamenco. Having started with a superbly individual performance by Israel Galván, this year's festival settled down with Gómez's conventional drama.

Gómez has danced with and directed the Spanish National Ballet before setting up her own company. Carmen tells the familiar story, using recorded music from the Bizet opera plus a new flamenco soundtrack by José Antonio Rodríguez. Crowd scenes add clapping and castanets, women swishing brightly-coloured skirts.

There's a big scene for the quarrelling women of the cigarette factory, all flirting and eyeing up the hero, Christian Lozano's Don José. Gómez's Carmen pulls them all off him, but it's an opening that undermines her heroine. The opera makes her an unstoppable force; here, her jealousy looks insecure. This Carmen stands out from the crowd for her distinctive dress and lower-cut bodice, not for her personality. Gómez keeps tugging at her own cleavage, seeking rather than demanding our attention.

The most forceful dancing comes from Eduardo Carranza as the tavern keeper. He first appears in a flamenco skirt, without self-consciousness or camp. Though he's overweight, there's a sinuous precision to his shoulders and arms. When he orders people out of his bar, you can see why they do what he tells them.

There are some inventive moments. Carmen gets up from Don José's bed to tell her own fortune, seeing her death in the cards. As she moves away from the bed, we can see figures lurking under her cloak. It's a clumsy device that suddenly works as she lays the cards out: muffled faces press through the cloth, fate catching up with her. Carmen's own death is surprisingly downbeat, Gómez expiring to a muffled, fading heartbeat.

Sadler's Wells Flamenco Festival runs until 19 February (0844 412 4300)

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