Yo, Carmen performed by Maria Pages’ company at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, is as its title suggests, not just an exploration of the famous gypsy woman of Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella and world famous adaptation of that character in 1875 by Georges Bizet for his opera, but an exploration by Maria Pages into the very soul of Carmen as a woman and the Carmen within all women. This is a very feminine perspective full of insight and celebrating the universal strength and identity of women of all ages and all cultures across the world.
If you have in your mind the tourist hotel trivialisation of Flamenco music and dance with its stereotyped images and colours, then honestly you are coming to the wrong performance. If you want to see and hear a story being told through the music, dance and language of Flamenco that takes its heartbeating rhythms into new artistic directions and dares to examine and re-address many stereotypes from a position of cultural identity and strength, then you have picked the right show as, through the music of Bizet, master Flamenco guitarist Jose Carrillo and others, we are given a dazzling display of Flamenco dance with its beat changing fluidly from timing to timing like a flowing river. As well as the music and dance, the soul of our story is also exposed in the words of poets that include Marla Zambrano, Widdad Benmoussa and Maria Pages herself.
Yo, Carmen is a delight to watch and the use of Flamenco to tell a story throughout this performance is outstanding as music, dance, shadows, colours, rhythms, shadows and song all converge into one. One movement based around an event as ordinary as keeping a house clean is just a joy to watch.
Colour is one thing that is noticeably absent from this performance unless it is needed. Instead our dancers are usually in a very muted colour palette, but there is a reason for this as inside of everyone there is the colourful and flamboyant Carmen, but this Carmen is not one of an image made by someone else, or a stereotype imposed by others trying to sell eternal youth. No, this Carmen is a strong, powerful and independent woman comfortable with her own body and her own age. Yo, Carmen has a very positive message about self worth and identity to send to all women.
I could go into greater detail about the technicalities of the dance here, but honestly, I don’t think that this is the core of this performance. Yes, the dancers are of formidable skill level here, but I think that to concentrate on the dance misses some of the very important statement being made here, and also the fact that for people from the regions that Flamenco comes from that the music and dance are far more than just that to them, they are a beating heartbeat of their lives…Flamenco is alive to them, and Yo, Carmen makes us understand for a short while that music, dance and life are inseparable from one another.
Review by Tom King