(photo credit: PAULA LOBO)
Georges Bizet’s Carmen is one of the most well-known pieces of music ever composed. In fact, most people can hum along to Carmen without even knowing the name of the piece or the composer. The music – the last composition by a French man about a drama lived out in Spain – evokes images of ruffled skirts and castanets for many. However, that representation of Spain is far from what many Spaniards identify with.
Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s Carmen.maquia will be performed by New York City’s Ballet Hispanico next week at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center and in Haifa and Jerusalem. In the piece, clean black lines against a stark, white background replace the frills and Flamenco references. “We are taking back the appropriation of a Spanish Gypsy,” explained Ballet Hispanico director Eduardo Vilaro regarding this interpretation of Carmen.
The name Carmen.maquia harks back to one of the Spain’s cultural icons: the bullfight. Pablo Picasso, who was enamored with the character of Carmen, used to say she was “like a bull,” impossible to contend with. In Spanish, bullfighting is called “tauromaquia.” The title of the work was a nod both to the lead character’s heart-strong attitude and Picasso’s admiration of her.
“This ballet is created by a Spaniard in a very contemporary way,” explained Vilaro. “He strips away all the ruffles and castanets and presents that human element of the story. It is very minimalist. The walls are made of paper, like a canvas, and the work is mostly black and white. What’s left is a love triangle, a woman in love with two men.”
Vilaro, who will turn 55 while in Israel, is the second artistic director of Ballet Hispanico. He noted that having a birthday while in Tel Aviv is an added bonus to the tour. “If there’s one thing people in Tel Aviv know how to do, it’s celebrate,” he said. Apparently, Ballet Hispanico’s tour two years ago left a strong impression on Vilaro.
Vilaro’s relationship with the soon-to-be 50-year-old Ballet Hispanico goes way back. He joined the company as a young man, singled out by Ballet Hispanico founder Tina Ramirez. He spent over a decade as a company member, performing in dozens of works by a long list of choreographers. Vilaro stopped performing at the age of 42. “I miss it. It’s not a death, it’s a transition,” he said. After leaving the company and completing his graduate studies, Vilaro headed west for Chicago, where he founded Luna Negra Dance Company. In 2009, he returned to New York City to succeed Ramirez. As director of Ballet Hispanico, Vilaro choreographs original dances and commissions works by other choreographers.
“I’m an immigrant. I was born in Cuba and I grew up here. All I wanted growing up was to connect. This organization allows me to connect. It makes me belong,” he shared.
In his eyes, Carmen.maquia is exactly the type of work that nestles seamlessly into a rich repertoire. There is content, form, beauty and social agenda in the work, however, dance is the heartbeat that makes it all tick. “Our dancers work to reach out and grab the entire audience. Our work speaks to everyone, without pandering to the audience,” he added.
Works like Carmen.maquia ensure that Ballet Hispanico has a place not only in the annals of American dance history but also in the present and future. “Like some other companies that were developed in the 1970s, our company was based on the cultural clashes of that time. In America, there are very few cultural minority organizations that have been around as long as we have.”
And while Ballet Hispanico has been around for longer than many members of its audience have been alive, the company constantly grapples with misconceptions about its identity. “The challenge is to continue to demonstrate that we are not a folklore or a ballet company. We speak of the Latin story but we speak to everyone. America loves to pigeonhole. With this work that we’re doing now, things are being clarified.”
Ballet Hispanico will perform Carmen.maquia on July 20-22 at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (Israel-opera.co.il
), July 23 at the Jerusalem Theater (bimot.co.il
), and July 24 at the Haifa Auditorium (ethos.co.il
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