Theater: 'Carmen' seduces and delights

The quintessential femme fatal will work her magic this month as the Antonio Gades Company takes the stage.

Carmen 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Carmen 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Carmen, the quintessential femme fatal, will work her magic this month as the Antonio Gades Company with a cast of 26 singers, musicians and dancers takes the stage. Legendary Flamenco dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades, who died of cancer in 2004, has left a living legacy in the foundation and company that bears his name and faithfully performs his choreography. Based on the popular 1983 film, a collaboration between Gades and Spanish director Carlos Saura, it garnered many awards including an Oscar nomination in 1983 and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1985. The storyline of both the film and stage version, co-written by Gades and Saura, is based on Prosper Merimée's novella depicting a beautiful Spanish gypsy who is the temptation and downfall of Officer Don José. The archetype of Spanish passion, Carmen was created by the imaginations of two Frenchmen: Merimée and Bizet, whose 1875 version is one of the operas performed most often throughout the world. Gades brings Carmen home with his focus on the essential element of Spanish tradition: the music and dance of flamenco. Interweaving the familiar music of Bizet's opera with live performance of guitars and singers with traditional Spanish tunes - cante flamenco - this adaptation depicts a dance company preparing for a production of Carmen. The company's artistic director, who also plays the role of Don José, falls under the spell of the young, ambitious dancer who plays Carmen. Hollywood indeed, but with a minimalist twist that centers the attention on the true heroine of this drama: dance itself. Gades revived the art of flamenco by eschewing the associated external ornamentation that had almost come to replace the dance itself, focusing instead on an intensity of emotional expression in which even the smallest hand gesture is utterly compelling. His obituary in the Times quotes him as saying, "I'm not a folklorist but I studied folklore as a poet studies grammar. A poet searches for the word and if it doesn't exist he creates it. My idea was to do something more with that folklore, not steal it from the village and prostitute it, but to gather up its essence and do something else, tell a story through movement." The transition of the work from film to stage is virtually seamless, as the bare room of the dance studio is where the action takes place, with only the omnipresent mirror as scenery, witness and symbol. The blurring of distinctions between the frame story of a dance company and the roles the dancers play is heightened by the doubling of images in the mirror and the imaginative shape-shifting of simple props: a few chairs become a bed; a walking stick is at once a percussion instrument and a weapon. Stella Arauzo, who has been the company's artistic director since 2004 performs the role of Carmen. Adrian Galia, who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Gades himself with his tall, spare frame and rakish dark locks, takes on the role of Don José. Gades said that "the story of Carmen is one of obsession" and perhaps it is this dedication - which verges on obsession - that enables the company to keep the passion of his choreography alive. Carmen is performed at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center, (1-700) 702-929, on March 25 at 9 p.m. At the Tel Aviv Cultural Center (Heichal Hatarbut), (03) 524-7373, (03) 527-0545, on the 26 at 9 p.m.; 27 at 2 p.m.; and 28 at 9 p.m. At the Haifa Congress Center, (04) 838-4777, (04) 841-8411, on the 30 -and 31 at 9 p.m. And, at the Jerusalem Congress Center, (02) 623-7000, (02) 622-2333, on April 1 at 8:30 p.m.