Carmen get it: Adelaide’s festival season dance program

Bizet’s famous tale Carmen leads a full dance card for Adelaide in the upcoming festival season.

Take your pick, Carmen-lovers. Georges Bizet’s steamy tale of love and murder flopped on opening in 1875, but today is second only to Verdi’s La Traviata as the most performed opera worldwide. It has often become a ballet, famously Roland Petit’s in 1949, musicals – Oscar Hammerstein’s 1943 Carmen Jones was a huge 1954 Cinemascope hit – and there have been several other films, including Peter Brook’s in 1983.

In March you can see State Opera’s Carmen in the Square – Victoria Square, María Pages’s Flamenco Yo Carmen at WOMADelaide and Johan Inger’s Carmen for Dresden Semperoper Ballett in the Adelaide Festival. It wasn’t planned that way: just an extraordinary coincidence.

Stuart Maunder’s arena production has a modern setting and is being filmed for projection on three big screens around the Square. In another move, State Opera is reaching out with simulcasts, showing the production live in cinemas in Port Pirie and Renmark, and possibly other towns.

Inger’s contemporary take on the story won the truly prestigious Prix Benois de la Danse in 2015. Co-Festival director Rachel Healy says it’s closer to Mérimée’s book than the opera “in really focusing on Don José’s personality and the pathological fear that underpins his violence and fear of Carmen’s sexual independence”. Concerned about attitudes to masculinity, Inger approaches the violence from a young boy’s perspective. Healy remarks, “today there is a crisis about how boys are educated and socialized”.

Carmen, photo: Jesus Fallinas

In an exciting coup, Royal Ballet principal Natalia Osipova, who some consider today’s greatest ballerina, is giving four performances of Meryl Tankard’s 1988 Two Feet. For this demanding solo Tankard drew on her own experiences and the life of Olga Spessivtzeva, a star Russian ballerina who suffered depression, had a breakdown when touring in Sydney in 1934 and died in 1991 in America. A fanatical perfectionist, her signature role was Giselle, which became her obsession. Today, Osipova is herself a highly praised Giselle, but, says Healy, “she’s beginning to work a lot more with contemporary choreographers, and what attracted her to [Two Feet] was that there were acting and speaking parts”.

Tankard has another piece in the Festival, Zizanie – French for many things, from “weeds” to “dissension” – for Restless Dance Theatre. Régis Lansac’s video projections will feature. Michelle Ryan, former dancer now artistic director of Restless, and subject of Tankard’s film Michelle’s Story, had been trying since 2013 to get Tankard to create a work with her dancers. Company managing director Nick Hughes says that Tankard was “struck by the truth and originality of their work”. Co-Festival director Neil Armfield comments, “The thing you get with Meryl, and with Régis as well, is such a sense of what the theatrical texture of the work is – it’s so beyond a bit of dance theatre. It’s a total aesthetic environment”. After the company’s sold-out, award-winning Intimate Space in 2017, we can expect something very special.

Israeli born Hofesh Schechter is bringing his nine-dancer company with three musicians in Grand Finale, which the Guardian’s Judith Mackrell declared is “fraught with violence, dread and a manic kind of defiance. This is Shechter’s dance around the abyss, his waltz for the end of time. Yet … lit with a curious optimism”.

Grand Finale (Photo: Rahi Rezvani)
Adelaide Festival will present Grand Finale (Photo: Rahi Rezvani)

Healy sees it taking “so many of the political issues that face the first world, like the death of truth, the rise of right-wing conservatism and leaders like Trump, the kind of echo chamber that is created by the excessive use of social media (‘group think’ puts in Armfield) and people fleeing war.” Schecter recently stated, “I was traumatized experiencing life in Jerusalem where I grew up, where questions of territories and power were very extreme. If you grew up in Paris or in a little village say in Sweden it is less visible. However, and regardless of that, the very subtle games of power in our lives are still very powerful. I try to scratch the surface to bring things up that maybe we do not speak up about enough. It’s obviously something which I am obsessed with.” But Grand Finale is not without humour, albeit rather dark.

By way of difference, Un Poyo Rojo (”A Red Rooster”) has two Argentinian blokes in a locker room battling it out in a game of one-upmanship. That rare thing, a comic dance work, it starts with both of them “attempting to maintain dignity and power,” says Armfield, “and what the interplay ends up doing is forcing that competition into the most ridiculous posturing, so it is actually a movement towards the comic out of a highly elegant machismo”.

And so to WOMADelaide and Carmen again – Spanish Flamenco doyenne Mária Pagés’s transformation of the tale into a paean to femininity. Her Carmen is far from being a victim. Seeing it in Edinburgh, WOMADelaide director Ian Scobie says he “was struck by its incredible forcefulness; and the sense of sweeping chorus work was breathtaking. I knew it would look terrific on the open-air stage. And it’s very timely”.

Artonik’s The Colour of Time (Photo: Grant Hancock)

It also contrasts vibrantly with the two other WOMADelaide dance events. French company Artonik’s The Colour of Time is a roving production of performers and musicians recreating the annual Indian Holi festival: be prepared to be more than merely sprinkled with coloured powder thrown in the air as the procession weaves through the crowd. You may even be given some yourself as you think about how we behave in public places.

From Broome comes Marrugeku, last here in 2015 with Cut the Sky, a raw, thought-provoking meditation on land rights, climatic change and the future. This time WOMADelaide will see Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry, an intercultural production with “dancers of First Nations, immigrant and settler descent from Australia and New Caledonia”. Though not specifically aligned with the recent New Caledonian independence referendum, the work “explores recuperation in the aftermaths of colonisation, seeking what to embrace of the new and what to let fall”.

Carmen
March 8 – 10
Festival Theatre
Tickets 

Grand Finale
March 15 – 17
Festival Theatre
Tickets 

Zizanie
March 14 – 17
Space Theatre
Tickets 

Un Poyo Rojo
February 28 – March 2, March 4 – 5
AC Arts – Main Theatre

Tickets 

WOMADelaide
March 8 – 11
Botanic Park

Tickets 

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