Compañía Metros' run of "Carmen" at the Joyce Theater from February 21 to March 4, 2007 begins with a set divided into threes, atop which characters from the production move in striking slow motion, allowing the audience to observe their simultaneously unfolding paths. As a male dancer in working class garb walks languidly across center stage, the voluptuous, maternal Gitana (Gypsy) on the stage right terrace performs the Flamenco's sleekly coiling arms as her feet stomp furiously, hinting at the production's evolving moods and themes. Stage left, the title character tiptoes cautiously atop a rooftop, her sudden collapse foreshadowing her fate.
As the chorus of Workers enters, all dressed dingily in dull-colored plaid pants, tank tops and dresses, Carmen immediately stands out in the crowd with her over-the top-flirtation as she and a male dancer chase one another in the midst of a beautifully choreographed group piece in which the male dancers constantly lift the females in beautiful kicks and leaps. While Susana García's "Carmen" is dressed in the drabbest frock of all, whose color, cut and unflattering ruffles do nothing to compliment her wan complexion or short, compact frame, no garment (or subsequent lack thereof) could do anything to thwart her smoldering sex appeal, confidence and charisma as, channeling her legendary character, she becomes more attractive, complex and sympathetic in every scene.
There is nothing subtle about choreographer Ramón Oller's constant sexual simulation, and Carmen's legs strategically execute open choreography- from splits, to leg extensions, to prolonged deep plies- from the first time the audience lays eyes on her. Caressing every inch of her own body, her seductive behavior inspires extreme hatred from the female chorus that screams at and shuns her. And yet, with the transition from a triumphant sounding ballad into Flamenco music, the girls' own balletic movement gives way to similarly ostentatious hip rolls and gyrations in contrast to their usual, hypocritical masks of societal restraint.
A fusion of vixen and vulnerability, Carmen is a tough case for feminists. On one hand, she is self-assured and sexually aware, encouraging her entourage of male admirers to touch and caress her constantly. And yet, she often acts uncomfortable when her advances result in the desired attention, even slapping one male suitor when he makes his advance. Much to his girlfriend, Micaela's dismay, however, she is only too happy to fall into the hands of the handsome José. Upon learning of her lover's betrayal, Sau-Ching Wong's delicately riveting Micaela dances through her devastation, throwing herself literally at and upon him as he longs only for Carmen. As José holds her up limp, like a rag doll, she loses complete control over body, mind and soul.
The chorus girls' frantic, retaliatory Flamenco then confronts Carmen. In lieu of music, the sounds of claps and opening fans prevail. As one girl grasps Carmen's hair, all laugh as she cries when another one's bucket of real water drenches her completely. As yet another admirer, waiting in the stage left wings, strips Carmen down to only her bottoms to dry her, she appears like a tortured soul longing only for affection as the bare-chested duo performs a sensual rooftop dance.
Clad in nothing but trunks and a scarlet shawl, Carmen gives new meaning to "running around half naked" in much of the show's second half, much to the chagrin of the Workers and the newly emerging Matador's delight. A caricature of masculine arrogance, the impossibly tall, dark and handsome torero towers above his fellow danseurs. As they move like bulls in the background, he captivates the chorus girls, now in bright, flowery dresses, using their colorful shawls like capes. While the girls vie in vain for him, he and Carmen become literally and figuratively entwined as Micaela cackles in the face of her devastated ex.
Despite his betrayal of Micaela, the flip side of the coin proves too much for José to bear. In the evening's final showdown, a pas de deux danced by Carmen and José becomes increasingly agitational as water pours onto the stage. As a distraught Carmen splashes through it, the Gitana offers it to her in outstretched palms, attempting to console her. However, the pair's tormented struggle turns violent as Carmen continues to reject a disbelieving José. Kissing her, he thrusts her to the ground and strangles Carmen, who dies with a strangely serene smile. As she breathes her final breaths, water pours over her body, flooding the stage and many an observer's eyes.
Compañía Metros' "Carmen" is an extremely technically and emotionally challenging story ballet. Most of the performers are constantly onstage, engaged in an extremely aerobic fusion of Flamenco and ballet. This is particularly true of Carmen, who moves constantly between the ground and air in jumps, rolls, lifts, extensions, splits and symbolic midair leaps into the arms of many men. And yet, in transmitting the physicality of Oller's extremely athletic and aesthetic choreography, they must also convey the nuances of complex characters and their heart-wrenching fates, leaving the appreciative audience feeling completely emotionally drained.
Artistic Director and Choreographer: Ramón Oller
Assistant Director: Alicia Pérez-Cabrero
Music: George Bizet & Martirio
Costume Design: Mercé Paloma
Stage Design: Joan Jorba
Sound Design: Albert Puig
Sound: Jordi Thomás
Original Lighting Design: Gloria Montesinos
Carmen: Sandrine Rouet or Susana Garcia
José: Javier García or Vicente Palomo
Gypsy (Gitana): Mari Carmen García
Torero: Christian Lozano
Micaela: Paloma Muñoz or Sau-Ching Wong
Manuela: Sonia Martín
Bruto: Daniel Corrales or Geoffrey Ploquin
Smart Aleck (Listillo): Anrau Castro or Yannick Badier
Workers: Sonia Martín, Sara Enrich, Diana Noriega, Paloma Muñoz, Daniel Corrales, Raúl Heras, Thierry Martínez, Glenn Graham
Bulls: Daniel Corrales, Raúl Heras, Arnau Castro, Geoffrey Ploquin