The novella “Carmen” (1845) by Prosper Mérimée, is the story of a wild, seductive gypsy girl who works in a tobacco factory, and her lover Don Jose, a folktale of jealousy and revenge. In her fresh reinterpretation of the character, choreographer Maria Pages discards the masculine image of this femme fatale, to paint a realistic portrait of Carmen for the 21st century.
The stage begins in darkness with a single fan brightly spotlit being wafted and waved, joined by a “chorus line” of floating fans, before the dancers appear out of the shadows. Performed live by five musicians, relish the exhilarating score of modern Spanish flamenco and tango music, book-ended by selected suites from Bizet’s opera.
In soft candlelight and to the slow melody of the Habanero, Bizet’s Cuban dance, eight women, wearing skin tight, flesh coloured, flowing, flouncy dresses, swirl and twirl like serene swans: as a neat reflection on the lyrics of the aria, "Love is a rebellious bird that nobody can tame", they project their slender arms like giant wings, cowering and covering their faces like a mask.
Through a seamless series of dramatised, symbolic scenes, we see girls intently reading books to illustrate the importance of education and equal opportunities, often hindered through the role of motherhood, as they mime the cradling of babies in their arms. Donning aprons, they glide gleefully around while cleaning windows and sweeping the floor, Cinderella- mode.
A recorded soundtrack of literary extracts by international novelists and poets - Russia’s Marina Tsvetaeva, Japan’s feminist pioneer Akiko Yosano and Canada’s Margaret Atwood - celebrate the female spirit of daughters, wives, mothers, grandmothers. An English translation on supertitles is useful but also distracting, taking your eyes away from the dancers. The topics range from travel to beauty and fashion, the dreams, desires and aspirations through the distinctive language and culture of women worldwide.
The weaving, waving pace of the choreography is in constant ebb and flow: quiet meditative moments when the powerful singer, Ana Ramon, gathers the girls around her, like a teacher, as if calling them to prayer, with such an eloquent operatic voice.
Then the tempo cranks up with a fast and furious flurry of strident steps, with their blue dance shoes and walking sticks, like a Fred Astraire tap dance, given the mash up treatment with an Irish-flavoured River Dance. The fiery, fierce beat of stomping, stamping feet is electrifying in its repetitive rhythm and vivacious energy.
Centre stage in key scenes is Maria Pages, the solo, soulful figure, “I, Carmen,” the iconic, universal everywoman. Her masterly moves, curving, caressing her body with a sensual sexuality, subtle gestures and facial expressions from sadness to joy: an exemplary physical and emotional performance.
With superb lighting, fabulous costumes, and the marvellous band, this intoxicating blend of dance, drama, music, song and poetry, creates a richly imaginative, lyrical modern opera. Pages leads her company of dancers but they all individually depict different facets of Carmen, the face of modern femininity with grace, passion, ambition and playful humour - women of an independent mind.
12 – 13 August, 2017 @ 20.00
Ticket prices: £11 - £35