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Flash Review 1, 10-5: Soap Ballet
Bourne Again "Carmen"
By Kelly Hargraves
Copyright 2001 Kelly Hargraves
LOS ANGELES -- Matthew Bourne, whose
"The Car Man" opened last month at the Ahmanson Theater here, has been lauded
for adaptations. His all-male production of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" and his
"Cinderella" took the theater world by storm. He is to be commended for bringing
contemporary dance to the general theatergoing public. With "The Car Man," set
to Bizet's "Carmen," Bourne translates the traditional story of Carmen so that
it now takes place in a small midwestern town called Harmony in 1960. The chorus
is now a group of young mechanics, waitresses and teens. The seductive gypsy character
is now the strapping young stranger Luca, who takes a job as a mechanic in the
town. His introduction soon leads to a a tangled web of sex, deceit and betrayal
between Luca, his paramour Lana, (the boss's wife) and Angelo, the younger, confused
boy Luca also seduces. These aren't your standard story-lines for contemporary
dance -- more akin to the soaps.
Maybe it's a question of semantics,
but I've always made a distinction between dance theater and theater-dance. Dance
theater implies the abstract, imagistic, physical theater style favored by Europeans
like Ultima Vez and DV8 or Canada's Carbone 14. Theater-dance is more akin to
musicals and Broadway dance. Well, "The Car Man" blurs these distinctions for
me. True, it is full of original choreography and no speaking parts, but because
it's set in a clearly defined form, it is something other than abstract, physical
The performers are actors with clearly
defined roles -- even the program notes that all the characters have proper names.
There is no dialogue, but the choreography clearly tells the tale. The dance is
structured as a classic drama, to introduce characters, the story and the conflict.
Vignettes are acted out and group movement sequences are smoothly interspersed
to comment on the story.
Bourne has a wit and sense of humor
that pervades the work and a sensibility that allows him to shock with images
of sex, violence and drama and still make for an enjoyable evening of entertainment.
What it doesn't make for, though, and maybe this is what distinguishes it from
"dance-theater" for me, is a sense of visceral display of art through movement.
Although, there are striking images, they don't transcend to touch a deeper, more
profound level. Many times it feels like the choreography is hanging around waiting
for the musical piece to end. Interesting how such heady subjects seem to be the
stuff of shallow imagery while something more subtle, less-direct, more abstract,
can become the stuff of lasting impact. It's like stuffing a DD bra with Kleenex
"The Car Man" travels to Toronto,
Boston and other cities before it plays in New York in 2002. Bourne is using the
tour as part of the choreographic process, still developing the piece and setting
the cast. In each performance, roles are played by a revolving cast -- each role
having four different cast members. So each night is different from the one before.
This may be some of what I sensed as the lack of "depth" to each character and
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