dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Sexual politics in Latin America
A new production of Bizet's Carmen by Welsh National Opera is aiming to bring us a new take on the tragic love story. The show, which comes to Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre on November 5 and 8, has moved the story from its traditional Spanish setting to a 20th century Latin America.
The opera tells the story of a love triangle between factory worker Carmen, soldier Don Jose and bullfighter Escamillo. And when Carmen chooses between her two potential lovers the loser opts for bloody revenge.
Director Jo Davies is hoping audiences will find it easier to relate to the heroine in this new production. "Bizet was telling, in quite a radical way, the story of a working-class woman who wants the freedom to express her own sexual choices," she says. "We were particularly keen to look at the economic circumstances of Carmen – she's a woman working on a minimum wage within a very tight community that is also under the control of a military state. So there are all these potential factors which could limit Carmen's freedom to be who she wants to be."
Latin America gives the production the opportunity to explore these themes in a hot-blooded climate. "We started to look at favelas in Latin America and realised the energy of those communities," says Jo. "There's a real energy in their religious and mystical beliefs and there's also a heavy military presence in some of these countries where the communities are pitched against the army. This is the environment which Carmen is growing up in - and it's a hostile environment. It's the sexual politics we are looking at."
And she adds: "Carmen has very much had to learn to use her power as a woman. She has no education, no money or economic standing, no family network that we know of and no real social standing. So she's had to find a way to get through. She's a woman by herself so uses all the tools she has."
For Jo, an important part of telling this story and creating the energy of Carmen lies in Bizet's music – but it also lies in the physicality of movement and dance. She explains: "There are lots of references within the opera to dance – moments when Carmen dances in front of Don Jose, she also dances for the soldiers and there's the physicality of the bullfighting. We wanted this strong physicality to be an integral part of the story - we were keen that those moments didn't feel isolated and were truly integrated into the piece and that they felt part of the world."
Choreographer Denni Sayers says this dance also helps set the opera in Latin America: "I've tried to create a fusion dance style so you wouldn't say we're in Buenos Aires or La Paz – it's something which is much more about the story we're trying to tell about the relationship between this man and this woman rather than about following one dance style slavishly and accurately. I'm using a lot of the idea of tango in that there's a lot of hesitation in tango and it's quite combative and I'm also quoting several other Latin American dance styles like lambada and salsa. It's a very conscious decision for the dancing to be quite combative and to highlight the challenge between the man and the woman."
Dancer Carmine de Amicis says the flavour of the dance is strongly influenced by the production's setting and how dance is a natural part of life in Latin cultures. "Because it's set in South America we have been exploring different elements of different dances to create choreography which reflects the culture of dancing together and rhythmical movement," he says. "an Bizet's score is not a Latin score so it's more about creating atmosphere than a particular dance."
And fellow dancer Josie Sinnadurai adds: "Moving the show to South America does give it another aspect – it's saying this story could have happened anywhere, rather than pinning it down to Spain. Carmen is usually known as the 'Spanish opera' so the country becomes really important while other operas are known more for their story. Moving it to another setting contributes to it feeling more like a real story with real people."
Welsh National Opera perform Carmen at Birmingham Hippodrome on Nov 5 and 8 alongside Rigoletto on Nov 6 and 9 and The Cunning Little Vixen on Nov 7. For more information and tickets see www.birminghamhippodrome.com or call 0844 338 5000.