Luna Negra Dance Theater’s CARMEN.maquia | Dance review
It’s no secret that Picasso had a thing for chasing women. On canvas after canvas he twisted and mangled the female form, capturing wives and mistresses in dreamy repose, other times showing them gored by bulls. “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats,” he famously told one of his lovers. (Charming dude.) Despite his lecherous ways, the painter felt pursued himself—haunted‚ even—by one woman throughout his life and career: the gypsy seductress Carmen. Plucked from the pages of the 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée and made famous onstage in Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera, Carmen represented for Picasso love’s temptation and tragedy. It’s fitting, then, that his paintings inspired Luna Negra Dance Theater’s world premiere CARMEN.maquia.
An abstract riff on the well-known story, the title of which references tauromaquia, “the art of bullfighting,” was brought to life at the Harris Theater for one night only on March 24. Luna Negra’s first-ever full-length production, this contemporary Carmen was executed by an award-winning triumvirate of talent: choreographer and LNDT artistic director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, Spanish fashion designer David Delfín and set designer Luis Crespo, all of whom demonstrated both boldness and subtlety in their choices.
Ramírez Sansano interpreted the story through quick, athletic, emotive movement, combining modern and ballet with nods to traditional Spanish dances (pasodoble, flamenco). The gifted ensemble of 14 moved with frenetic energy and fluidity to orchestral selections by Bizet, playing the roles of bullfighters, fortune-tellers and soldiers. Occasional cartoonish gestures, which I loved, punctuated CARMEN.maquia’s melodrama: Dancers ran into each other like bobbleheaded busybodies and Carmen playfully smacked guys on their butts.
The work’s highlight was a gorgeous duet between Carmen (a seductive and powerful Mónica Cervantes) and Don José (the nimble Eduardo Zuñiga). These dancers tied together their bodies effortlessly, only to unknot themselves, a cycle repeated over and over, an impossible tangle of love and lust. In certain configurations, the pair’s bodies looked Cubist.
Delfín’s minimal black-and-white costumes—sheer skirts, a pure white approximation of a bullfighter’s jacket—share some of the same silhouettes as his Fall/Winter 2012 collection and lend the production an especially contemporary feel, as do Crespo’s featherlight, moveable walls. I’m not sure that I successfully distinguished the tobacco shop from the cantina, nor did I realize until reading the program’s synopsis that the white slips Carmen studied in horror were Tarot cards, but CARMEN.maquia, while at times surreal, did tell its story completely.
Blood is spilled at Carmen’s tragic end and, in Luna Negra’s version, the blood flows blue. Whether a clever nod to Picasso’s Blue Period or simply a powerful, haunting way of introducing color, it was a thoughtful decision, one of many that breathed new life into a familiar tale.