In March of 1875, Georges Bizet presented the world with a novel concept of
woman in his opera Carmen. The leading lady of the story, Carmen was unlike any
other female character created before her. Based on Prosper Merimee’s novella,
she was strong, sultry and vengeful. Although Bizet’s daring debut was poorly
received, Carmen had made her mark. In the following years, this Gypsy siren was
taken around the world in dozens of productions, reimagined by as many
Almost every opera and ballet company around the world has
performed some version of Carmen.
The newest take on Bizet’s Carmen is by
South African rising star Dada Masilo. Wielding Carmen’s power and ferociousness
to make her own personal statement, Masilo has situated her tale in the slums of
Johannesburg. She has replaced Bizet’s score with one by Rodion Shchedrin.
However, the plot stays true to the original 19th-century vision. Masilo will
perform Carmen this week at the Suzanne Dellal Center and Herzliya Performing
Arts Center as part of Tel Aviv Dance 2010.
This production has fulfilled
a long-time dream of the choreographer. “Since the age of 16, I always wanted to
do Carmen,” says Masilo. “I saw Matts Ek’s Carmen and fell in love with how Anna
Laguna danced it,” she explained in a recent interview.
artistic director of the Cullberg Ballet in Sweden, is Masilo’s favorite
choreographer and a source of inspiration.
Masilo, 25, has a taste for
classics. Before tackling this age-old story of passion and violence, Masilo
made a name for herself with Swan Lake, Lady Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. In
each of these productions, Masilo injected the plot with issues she experiences
in her daily life. The same is true for Carmen.
“I am obviously
influenced by what is going on in South Africa. I address violence against
women, rape and insecurity. We are dealing with issues that are universal.
Issues like domestic violence. These things happen everywhere, not just here,”
On the day we spoke, Masilo had hurried back from a
performance of Swan Lake, which she continues to present in her
“We brought it back to the ghetto of South Africa.
wanted to make it for South Africans, using popular culture from here so that it
would be accessible to people from the country. Most black people don’t read or
listen to opera in my country. I wanted to find a way that opera could be
accessible. It’s not just for the elite,” she said.
ALTHOUGH MASILO aims
to convey the political and socioeconomic climate in her own country, her
opinions will remain on the stage alone. When asked about her views on the
parallels often drawn between South African and Israeli politics, Masilo was
evasive. “I am there for the work; my visit is for work. I don’t take a stance
on things. I’m there for what I do, and that’s dance.”
During a period
when many artists canceled or withdrew from tours to Israel, Masilo visited the
country for an extended period of time. In 2009, she spent the month of December
teaching children in Even Yehuda. The experience was well worth it in her
Seeing Masilo take on the character of Carmen, it is difficult to
imagine her in any other role. The fit is quite perfect. Her portrayal is
intelligent and compelling. “I wanted to portray Carmen as the passionate woman
that she is,” she said.
Orchestrating a cast of 12, along with the stress
of performing herself, has its own difficulties. “It can get very frustrating
wearing both hats. The line blurs when you can’t separate the two – dancing and
directing. That means taking care of 11 others.
It’s quite hectic. But
once it comes together, it’s a lot of fun,” she said.
Last year, Masilo
was awarded the prestigious Standard Bank Award, an annual prize given to an
artist for outstanding contribution to the South African dance community. The
boost this gave her, both psychologically and financially, has propelled Masilo
into a new echelon.
“Since I won Standard Bank, things have been great.
The attention has brought me into the forefront in terms of publicity and such.
Suddenly I wasn’t hiding in the back anymore. I feel that many eyes are on my
dancers and me. It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s great for my confidence. If I
want to do something, I do it. I feel that each year, working with mostly the
same cast of dancers, I gain their trust more and more. I am also more willing
to take chances in the studio, which means that sometimes things work and
sometimes they don’t.
Now I go into the studio and I play,” she
Since the premiere of Carmen earlier this year, the response has
“What I want to do is tour the world with the work.
Everyone isn’t always going to like what I do. But I like to see what
risks I can take,” she said.
This is Masilo’s first tour abroad with
After an engagement in Cape Town, Masilo will return to one of
her favorite cities, Tel Aviv.Carmen will run October 14, 15 and 16 at
the Suzanne Dellal Center and October 17 at Herzliya Performing Arts Center.