Review: THE CAR MAN at NY City Center Digital

Spoiler alert. Once you think you’ve climaxed with Bourne’s storytelling, the plot only thickens with multiple climaxes.

By: Mar. 23, 2021

Review: THE CAR MAN at NY City Center Digital Matthew Bourne's THE CAR MAN by For New Adventure Productions filmed Live at Sadler Wells in London in 2016 and was presented on NY City Center Digital this March 2021. With Music by Terry Davies "Rudion Shchedrin's Carmen Suite," the film was edited by Steve Eveleigh and produced by Illumination Films. WATCH TRAILER.

Spoiler alert. Once you think you've climaxed with Bourne's storytelling, the plot only thickens with multiple climaxes. I almost accused Bourne of falling into the heteronormative direction that of which has been typical of classical ballet for centuries but atypical of Bourne. Matthew Bourne is admired world wide for his updated, genius takes on traditional ballet repertoire.

The Car Man is a cheeky twist on Carmen, the one-act classical Ballet. Sharing narrative themes of love triangles, passion, murder, and jail, The Car Man is set in a rural American town in the 1960s in the fictional mid-western town of Harmony, USA.

I loved hearing from Matthew Bourne before the film started. The idea of getting intimate with the creator before the performance is becoming more and more popular. Decorated with his achievements, ballets, and framed awards behind him, Bourne described his ballet as earthy and inspired by Film noir and James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice premise.

Hats off to the production for capturing the essence of being transported into the live theater without being a boring, single-camera archive. I was truly engaged the whole time.

The character Lana was played by ZIZI Straland, a winner of a National Dance Award who comes from a family of musical theatre stars and it showed, for better or worse.

The main character Luca, A drifter was danced by Chris Trenfield who has danced with Bourne for over a decade. Dancer, Kate Lyons, who played Rita, Lana's sister, was the most technically proficient dancer of the main cast. Dominic North played Angelo, an innocent hired man dressed in white compared to the dirty blue-jeaned boy ensemble.

Alan Vincent plays Dino, the car mechanic shop owner and older husband of Lana.

A projected billboard for the town of "Harmony" opens with a combination of natural krickets and the all-too familiar Carmen theme. The dancers frozen as if to pose for a postcard for the essence of this 1960s town and life. It's dark, dirty, and grungy. Luca enters with a leather jacket and backpack. The choreography sets off in an athletic frenzie of fists, floor work, and jumping. This kind of dancing is made for only the top athletes and artists.

After a 'hard days work' the car mechanics hit the showers in a steamy, sexy, and silly scene that is simply so much fun. A combination of pedestrian gestures, staggered movement combinations, and naked men is better than porn in the sense that you can't peel your eyes away. This transitioned beautifully into barefoot women Temps de flèche -ing into Dino's Diner scenes.

Twelve dancers and six couples dance at the diner. Combining pelvic thrusts with classical partnering The Car Man's choreography mixes all the best aspects of Fossi's Sweet Charity, Robbins' West Side Story, and Birch's Grease while still remaining very much Bourne.

Rita hooks up with Angelo in a dance while vocals and percussive stomping and clapping ensue. You can smell the Mobile gas, sweat, and cigarettes. A cheeky cigarette quartet leads the audience into a state of mischief.

Luca's solo execution feels stuck in those jeans despite his insatiable ability to eat up the whole stage with his jumps, turns, and overall presence.

He gestures to the "Man Wanted'' sign as he is the right "Car Man" for the job. The owner, Dino, a slob agrees and continues by swatting at flies, coughing, and making it clear that Lana is off limits with an unwanted tap on her ass and kiss. You could taste the cigar and smell the car oil. Yuck! Bourne has textured this ballet to cover all five senses.

Rita and Angelo engage in a sweet, musical chairs pas des deux to off set the lovely but raunchy boyishness that continues with the ensemble male dancers mocking Angelos "excitement" over Rita. Angelo's innocence is apparent. The heat suite builds into a sex dance between Lana and Luca. Lana's poor port des bras took me out of the dance a bit but the strength of her acting saved her.

The way Lana and Luca covered space seemed, at first, to be the literal and figurative narrative climax, until Dino discovers Lana fooling around with Luca. Luca manages to sneak down the fire escape until, until, until.

I realize what I thought to be the climax between Luna and Luca was a trick. A steamy bumping car with two unknown bodies was enough to cross your legs. And now the stage is shared with two lover of Luca in a simultaneous solo. The audience is in on it. In a "double solo" and ecstasy of orgamasm, Angelo and Lana share the stage fawning over Luca.

And suddenly Dino, in his pit-stained shirt at a wedding, catches onto Lana and Luca in a drunken rage. And Angelo no doubt the angel that he is stands up for Lana. Framing Angelo as the murderer of Dino later on, betrayal and deceit ignites. Bourne's masterful understanding of the human condition lends him all the right tools in his excellent directing and eye-catching choreography.

Act II, opens in a Cabaret with rich oil men no doubt. A Pas de trios between two miming men and a woman with a knife seem to almost be making fun of Martha Graham with the heavy modern dance breathing, "cupped" hands, and stag leaps that were in fashion in America in the 60s. This dance of comedic distress triggers Luca for putting the innocent Angelo in jail. A gambliing scene metaphorically leaves Luca alone at the bar with his thoughts of Angelo that transition into Angelo jail, wrongfully accused of murdering Dino months earlier. The pace of the Jail scene tended to slow in comparison to the concise scenes in Act I. Through a series of events where Angelo finally escapes, it is evident in his blue-jeaned and leather-jacketed revenge. With the guard's gun, Angelo makes his way to find Rita working at Dino's diner.

Meanwhile, Luca has a haunting dance with Dino's corpse. Bloody and horrific, it was challenging to buy into this one.

Car tomfoolery concludes in a wreck, a vandalized cafe with the word "murderer" painted on the door, and it is clear that Lana and Luca's scheme is up. The jig is up but the boxing match begins. I appreciate Bourne's ability to stay away from the gimmicks and tricks using cars and car parts and instead utilize these set pieces and props with integrity. The tire sequence was full of aggression and rumble until Angelo is seen holding Lana at gunpoint. Entering the scene with loads of percussion, Luca steps in between them, and now the ultimate fight between Luca and Angelo begins. A fight between two lovers is often the most exciting after all. The passion turns to rage. Complex fight choreography and emotions end with a bloody, blue-jeaned kiss. Luca grabs the gun and aims it at Angelo until we hear the fire. It is Lana. The one on the balcony and behind the murders all along. As the lights fade to black, the irony rises in the town of "Harmony." The Car Man was published in 2016 and it is a true blue-collar postcard on the complexities of life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.