Yo, Carmen

ACM Yo Carmen - photo by David RuanoFlamenco offering Yo, Carmen (in English: I, Carmen) purports to draw on the story of the opera Carmen by Bizet, and some of the popular music which developed into its score.

Accompanied by musicians and singers, dancers of the María Pagés Compañía intend to demonstrate “the theatre of Flamenco.” Intending to be “a vibrant ode to womanhood” – only females dance upon the stage. Music and dance are just two elements of this amalgam. Some of the features didn’t adhere as well as we might have liked.

At least in part this is due to the setup. High above centre stage, a screen churned through text (snippets of poems maybe?) from an international selection of writers. To a native English speaker, the inelegance of the words – which seemed to have come from Google Translate – could seem inappropriately humorous.

Most phrases related only vaguely to the on-stage action. A statement like “Now I feel sad everytime I see a ship” – lacking context, becomes a distracting puzzle if it isn’t illuminated by the dancing or music.

Some surtitles suited the performance better, such as those relating to the Spanish spoken by Pagés. Yet, for those closer to the front at least, having to look skywards for the words cost us a view of the stage, which quickly became tiresome. Surely projection behind the action would have yielded a better result for more of the house?

At times Yo, Carmen was let down by technical matters. An opening where the dancers flicked fans would have impressed more if the actions were better synchronised. We expect to be fired up by the percussive dance at a Flamenco performance, yet this could be drowned out when the music was too loud.

The ensemble were clearly talented in their art form. Yet, to the Flamenco novice at least, there was not so much variety between routines. The company were given little opportunity to display their individuality as most scenes (literally at times) revolved around Pagés.

It is tempting to compare this performance with an outstanding recent Flamenco offering: Voces featuring Sara Baras. That work allowed dances by men, or women, or both together, and (consequently or not) had more textures and variety. Perhaps Yo, Carmen suffers by comparison as it did not allow characters and relationships to develop. This may be a contributor to why the applause offered was so often polite and short-lived.

There is at least one scene where this work strongly related to the life of the fearless Spanish gypsy Carmen. Pagés rallied the sisterhood to decry the expectations made of female appearance, and the effort and expense of a beauty regime to support this. She asserted her right to be a little overweight, drink beer as she wanted, and have the life she chose. The rebelliousness of this scene, where the text supported the movement, made it a highlight.

The quality of the dance in Yo, Carmen is apparent. All dancers exuded strength and vigour. Often at the centre was Pagés. Her movements were precise, as she used her heels like daggers and her arms slashed the air with the intent you would expect of a martial artist. In these moments the work firmly asserts the tenacity of womanhood.

Yo, Carmen
Hamer Hall – Arts Centre Melbourne, St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Monday 11 March 2019 – 8.00pm
Information: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

Image: Yo, Carmen – photo by David Ruano

Review: Jason Whyte