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Flash Review from the Front, 9-14: A Gift from Spain
Tavora's "Carmen" and the Power of Art

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

Under the most difficult of circumstances Wednesday night, La Cuadra de Sevilla performed Salvador Tavora's version of "Carmen," at City Center to an appreciative audience. It was a day after unfathomable terrorist attacks obliterated the World Trade Center and an acrid burning odor hung in the theater as a constant reminder. In a large-hearted gesture, La Cuadra charged nothing for tickets as a gift to the city, giving us a brief respite from the horrible reality that had engulfed us. And although I had been lethargic about attending an event that at the time seemed laughably frivolous, the strength and purity of the performance managed to transcend the day as a keen reassurance of the power of art.

This Andalusian "Carmen," a combination of the well-told classic and Tavora's reminiscences of his great-great-grandmother, comprised several different art forms as an opera or ballet while resisting a clean definition as such. Represented were flamenco, singing, a bugle corps, and equestrian arts. The form was almost pageant-like, the stringent sounds of the Santisimo Cristo de las Tres Caidas drum and bugle corps evoking a New Orleans funeral procession, its inexorable spatial passage a reminder of lapsing time. The buglers seemed to play the same note 26 different ways, at times deafeningly so (especially in combination with over a dozen pealing church bells), yet it contributed to the sense of individuality within a rigid structure.

The band was joined by three soul-wrenching female singers (Ana Pena, Anabel Rosado, and Kina Mendez), whose wailing vocalise reached into freshly opened dark spiritual wounds. Each possessed a distinct mode of expression, in turn imploring the protagonists like good and bad consciences. Entering the stage one by one, each sang a style-defining solo, and then sat to the side, rolling cigars on her thighs. They were joined by Carmen Vega, a flamenco dancer.

As Carmen, Lalo Tejada performed with tempered aggression balanced with a vulnerable femininity while Marco Vargas, as Don Jose, had a toreador's flair and an appealling gentleness. Flamenco was used as a malleable language of expression, sometimes in courtship, other times in abject anger or desperation. Tavora was once a toreador, and he brought an authentic feel to the movement, in particular a trio of men clad simply in black pants (Francisco Carrasco, David Perez, and Jose Galan). A highly-controlled fusillade of heel and toe action was punctuated by flinging open palms flat, as if to say, |"What do you say to that!"Again, nuanced personal expression was meted out of a rigid framework.

The inclusion of a white stallion (ridden by Jaime de la Puerta) seemed inconsistently gratuitous, but it underlined the contained aggression of the music and dance, executing small, rhythmic prances in a very tight circle. Carmen enacted a simple duet with the horse and rider, who dwarfed her but never seemed to summon up as much of a physical threat as might have been desired for dramatic effect.

Tavora paired Carmen's feminist actions with a fight for freedom; her shattered idealism suddenly comprehensible. In a week in which the fundamental liberties of our free society were shaken to the core, it was a lucid reminder of the price of freedom as challenged by radical dogma. It was also a timely validation of the redemptive and transformative potential of art.

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