Review: BalletMet Proves Theme of Humanity isn't Black and White in CARMEN.MAQUIA

By: Feb. 08, 2016
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BalletMet dancer Samantha Lewis. Credit: Zaire Kacz.

Upon first glance, the sterile, white sets that greet the audience once the curtain rises on BalletMet's "Carmen.maquia" might have many theatergoers double-checking their programs. Indeed, the barren stage, interrupted by amorphous masses that appear to be constructed from thin layers of crepe paper, in no way resembles the streets of Seville, Spain.

Yet it is on this blank canvas that the dancers of BalletMet create color through movement and emotion, effectively painting a vibrant, Pablo Picasso-esque portrait of humanity.

Originally performed in 2012 by Chicago's Luna Negra Dance Theater, "Carmen.maquia" re-envisions Georges Bizet's opera, "Carmen," through the lens of abstraction and minimalism. The story, based on Prosper Merimee's 1845 novella, is kept intact, although, in this version, choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano challenges audiences to view "Carmen" as a story not rooted in one specific place and time.

In choosing to displace the characters from the rich-hued, sunbaked backdrops that typically accompany their story, Sansano shatters preconceptions of what it means to perform "Carmen." In this production, there are no landscapes depicting the soaring archways and cobbled streets of Spain. Golden lights do not illuminate props and performers in an effort to evoke a sense of sultry romanticism. Elaborately tiered flamenco dresses and jewel-adorned bullfighting costumes are also nowhere to be seen.

Instead, the audience is greeted by a simple set: a white floor gleaming in stark contrast to the blackness that surrounds it on all sides. Tattered strips of cloth printed with Picasso's distinct Cubist renderings of faces frame the outer edges of the performance space, creating the illusion that the movement occurring on stage is part of a scene in the process of being painted on an unfinished canvas.

The dancers' costumes also challenge the audience's imagination, as they, too, are presented in black and white. A program note explains that the costumes are meant to structurally resemble the inside of flamenco attire -- something that becomes more apparent in the way that the fabric flows as the performers move about the stage.

In his pre-show address to the audience, BalletMet Artistic Director Edwaard Liang reflected on the first time he saw "Carmen.maquia," and explained how he was struck by the raw portrayal of humanity apparent in Sansano's contemporary interpretation of Bizet's masterpiece.

While watching BalletMet's production, it is hard to not agree with Liang. Through his artistic choices, Sansano propels the story of Carmen, Don Jose, Escamillo and Micaela into an unconventional setting. Even the use of a purely orchestral version of Bizet's score contributes to the universality of this daring production.

Like Picasso's paintings that hang above the stage, Sansano's reinvention of a beloved classic is a production that inspires those who view it to think differently about the world around them. "Carmen.maquia" explores themes of humanity that remain consistent anywhere and at any time -- from southern Spain in the 1830s to central Ohio in 2016.

BalletMet is set to perform "Carmen.maquia" from Feb. 5 - 14 at the Capitol Theatre, located inside the Vern Riffe Center.

Ticket information can be found on BalletMet's website.

The Vern Riffe Center is located at 77 S. High St.