Review – Antonio Gades’ Company’s Carmen – Sadler’s Wells

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On Friday night I went with Miko and J to Sadler’s Wells to see the Antonio Gades’ Company’s production of what I call “the Flamenco Carmen.” What I did not realize is that, substantially, this Carmen is not based on Bizet’s Carmen, but rather the Carlos Saura film of 1983. This was set in a flamenco school … or so I was told. At any rate, a lot of the strangeness of this show for me was based on the fact that I was expecting an interpretation of Bizet … though I can certainly enjoy a production no matter where it takes the source material. It’s all about the quality of the show as its own artistic creation, not its faithfulness to the source material – otherwise we get crap like four hour movies that capture every detail of a book but are boring to watch.

So how was this show? Well … mixed. First, I was unhappy that it was done to recorded opera music. This was substantially offset by the fact that it was done to live Flamenco music, but, still, it was cheesy, and I’ve become used to having only live music with my dance performances, so I didn’t like it, and it made the crowd scenes extra weird because the crowds … well, weren’t singing. The music we did have done live, however, was quite good; five singers (including a rather elderly looking lady that I believe goes by the name “La Bronce”) and three guitarists, plus all of the percussion a group of thirty dancers could provide.

The story itself was … well, sort of Carmen, but not really. The show started in a flamenco school, where people did row after row of similar movements, which went on forever, well past the time when I thought we were going to be heading into the cigarette factory district of Seville and meeting our heroine. At the center of the first row of dancers was a rather crazy looking woman with her hair pulled tightly back and an expression as grim as if she were facing death … and, yes, this was Stella Arauzo, our Carmen. There was never any moment when the crowd presented her to the audience with the wonderful Habanera “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.” (This song, my favorite, showed up in the middle of the show, during some sort of seduction scene.) Instead … well, after a while, there was some sort of fight with some of the girls and Carmen, and Carmen knifes one of them.

Er … well, there are SOME elements of Carmen, as Don Jose (Adrian Galia) appears to be a police officer or something who loses his rank for setting Carmen free … but when Carmen runs off to be with a lover, it turns out to be … her husband … whom Don Jose kills in order to win Carmen back. There are no gypsies, no fortunetelling, no smuggling, but a bull fighter does finally show up, and Don Jose kills Carmen.

My favorite bit of all during this show was during what I think of the Lillas Pastia’s inn scene, where all the dancers gathered in the center of the stage and sang and clapped, while various people got in the middle and showed their stuff, including an elderly man that reminded me of Fezziwig, and the older female singer who looked like she was going to go offstage and bake us all some cookies. The bit was seemed full of joy and spontenaeity and I enjoyed it tremendously.

However, none of this could make up for the fact that I was unable to be convinced by our Carmen. Ms. Arauzo spend the whole night looking like she was expecting to be killed, possibly a minute or two after the curtain raised (by a falling sandbag, I suppose). She didn’t display the love of life and joy (and brashness) I expect of a Carmen; she glowered and had a temper, but didn’t … live. Her dancing seemed competent and was probably technically fine, but … maybe she was having a bad night. I don’t know. I just know that she was not pleasant to watch because of the glowering expression on her face and even her dancing did not capture me. It was a shame, really. I so much preferred the Mujeres show on Monday. Still, my friend M enjoyed it (though she also found great fault with the lack of “heart” and “hardness” of Arauzo), so it wasn’t a bad evening – just not one I’d particularly recommend.

(This review is for a performance that took place Friday, March 20, 2009. The production’s final show was tonight, March 22nd, but it will likely continue touring elsewhere.)

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One Response to “Review – Antonio Gades’ Company’s Carmen – Sadler’s Wells”

  1. Yafit Moyal Says:

    Dear ,
    I would like to get information about flamenco .
    And also to know if there is school of Antonio Gades Company.
    Please send me information about good flamenco clases in SPAIN . (On April I will come for 3 monthes to study there flamnco. )

    Many thanks ,

    Yafit

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