Matthew Bourne demonstrates the powerful force of visual imagery in this dramatic re-imagining of Bizet’s Carmen.
The worlds of opera and ballet have much in common, not least in their tradition of telling stories about the rich and powerful. From the more earthly royal types through to fantastical fairytale creatures, the only type traditionally to be omitted as the focus within both genres was your man in the street. Everyman, traditionally, was also absent on the other side of the proscenium arch. Happily, such traditions are breaking down.
Bizet broke the mould with his opera, Carmen, in making it a story about ordinary people. Matthew Bourne also has a reputation for breaking moulds - and he has an uncanny knack for creating high art that is accessible to all. The Car Man is Bourne’s tale of ordinary folk, set in the early sixties in an Italian-American community in small-town, mid-west America. Like Carmen, it is a story full of passion, lust, murder and betrayal. Unlike Carmen, it expresses every twist and turn and nuance of feeling without uttering a word.
The first half takes place in the open forecourt of Dino’s diner and garage that together keep this small community in employment. The guys are all wearing jeans, sneakers and oily vests, the girls in peddle-pushers or flimsy dresses. The heat and sexual tension is palpable and builds to an explosive - and tragic - frenzy. The second half switches from a late-night club to the county jailhouse, then back to Dino’s diner for its dramatic conclusion.
Presenting the story in these different environments presents an opportunity for some diverse styles of dance that Bourne exploits to the hilt. Who knew that Bizet’s music could serve as the perfect backdrop to the tango, tarantella, lindy-hop and a square-dance hoedown, as well as contemporary ballet? The wit and humour of this classic Bourne eclecticism always contains an element of surprise that is totally bewitching.
Together with his creative team, he displays an uncommon understanding of how visual cues work to trigger emotional responses, and just how to craft an image. He is also not afraid to reference iconic images that haul you back to that first time and place when you saw and felt them and the impact hits you again – square on the jaw. The moment in West Side Story, in which Tony and Maria meet at the dance and are held transfixed in a spotlight while the dancers around them fade into slow motion, was one such image. The Greased Lightning boys dancing on the Ford De Luxe, was another. There were many more.
Bourne somehow manages to subvert the first rule of ballet which is to make the extremely difficult look effortlessly easy. His work translates the smooth, polished and refined into the gritty, raw and sensual and perhaps this is how he manages to please all of the people all of the time.
9th – 13th June