Yo, Carmen (4 stars)

Yo, Carmen

credit: David Ruano

María Pagés' flamenco poem to womanhood is brazen and brilliant

The first dance in Yo, Carmen – a playful opening and shutting of spotlit, cream coloured fans in different patterns – could almost be a morse code message. María Pagés certainly has plenty to say to us throughout this show, whether it's with the thunderclap tattoos performed by the feet of her army of seven bailaoras, or the rambling speech she gives later on, encouraging us to throw out our girdles and anti-cellulite creams.

This is Pagés' tribute to womanhood. Yo, Carmen: 'I am Carmen', she is Carmen, all women are Carmen. Borrowing from Bizet's score, she intends to liberate the fiery fantasy figure of Carmen from the male imagination, and present universal woman in all her tangled, contradictory glory: sensual, practical, intellectual, social, solitary, tormented with yearning, brisk with scorn.

In separate scenes, Pagés builds her picture step by step, backed by six musicians and the full-throated tones of singer Ana Ramón. Poetry in five languages – the English supertitles a little distracting – overlays the movement of the dancers as they read and dance with books, straight-backed, whirling them as if the words are the tempered, sophisticated equivalent of the macho torero's cape. This same cape motif returns when, aproned for cleaning duty, Pagés performs a storming solo before being passed a knotted cloak of tea towels which she parades and drapes about her. It's Andalusian flamenco imagery but it also suggests a two-fingers up, a sending-up of and improvement upon the elegant power for which matadors are worshipped.

These women may be washing windows and sweeping floors but they are defiant; queenly. The poise, arched back and stomp of flamenco gives every movement a particular dignity. 'I made this piece for the dignity of the woman', Pagés tells us. Yo, Carmen is not a call to arms but an acknowledgement of the many roles women play, not in an ideal world, but in a messy imperfect real world. Most potent of all are Pagés' solos. There is wisdom in her dance, a cross-me-if-you-dare glint. In one, she spins the layers of her skirts into a black sandstorm, then veils them over her head. Her face may be covered but she is far from invisible or silent.

Playhouse, until Sun 13 Aug, 8pm, £11–£35.

Yo, Carmen

  • 4 stars

A vibrant ode to womanhood, and a radical reimagining of Bizet’s voluptuous opera heroine – from the brilliant flamenco dancer and choreographer María Pagés. Visionary and flamboyant, and blending dance, music, poetry and theatre, Yo, Carmen digs deep into the primal emotions of flamenco – and is unforgettably…

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