The tragic story of Carmen, the Gypsy seductress at the center of the eponymous novella by Prosper Mérimée, began life as a Frenchman’s idea of Spain. Though later immortalized by Bizet’s landmark opera, Mérimée’s story is still being adapted today, most recently in Ballet Hispanico’s CARMEN.maquia, a whirling blend of dramatic movement and modernist set design brought to the stage by artistic director Eduardo Vilaro and presented through the Society for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Oct. 24 at Jones Hall.
For 70 minutes, dancers jut and strike across a stark stage stripped of its Carmen trappings, with white platforms, spires that poke through the floor, and a mise-en-scene reminiscent of a Picasso dreamscape. Choreographed by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, the dancers twirl and jump around in modish black-and-white costumes from fashion designer David Delfin, slapping against surrealist images of bulls and women from Luis Crespo. “We wanted a blank slate so that his choreographic language would tell the story,” says Vilaro, “and not rely on the accessories of the past.”
This version takes the original text and then leaps off the page, dizzying up audiences from one embattled dance number to another. “The story itself lends to dramatic movement. It has intricate relationships that are an exciting challenge for any choreographer to translate into the language of dance,” Vilaro says. “There is imagery to explore and a cast of individuals that easily translate into choreograph inspiration.”
It marks the first full-length production in Ballet Hispanico’s 45-year history and the choice of the story was a reflection of a culture’s voice. “This story is a quintessential Spanish story that has defined and become an icon for the Latino world. It speaks to the culture's passion, even-though it was born of Frenchmen. The music captured the sounds and feel of the Spanish culture and the story spoke to the common man and woman,” says Vilaro. “I feel our art and dialogue must match that of our multi-layered communities.”
Carmen has been celebrated in a number of adaptations including a hip-hopera version on MTV in 2001 starring H-Town’s own Queen Beyoncé. Vilaro found it was the perfect time to bring this story to life in a whole new way. “New audiences are built on new relevance and refreshing the way we think as an organization…The widening will continue to happen as we widen our impact.”
Saturday, Oct 24. 8. $33-103. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St. 713-227-4772. spahouston.org