As part of Sadler’s Wells’ fifteenth annual flamenco festival, María Pagés and her company take on Bizet’s opera and present their version of Carmen’s story in Yo Carmen. The affair is dotted with recognisable music from the opera, but apart from that there’s little to remind of the original tale in this woman-led and women-only reimagining. Pagés’ Yo Carmen dives into the heroine’s psyche, ignoring the story’s men – there isn’t a Don Juan in sight.
This Yo Carmen looks at the role of the woman – the cook, the cleaner, the lover, and in a slightly odd moment, the handbag wearer. It seeks to break down the character that men have attributed to Carmen – and women – over the years. It’s an important, and modern take, yet scenes do seem to blur into one another, and the lack of obvious plot can lead to an element of confusion.
This is saved by the flamenco. The dancing, as you would expect, is hypnotic and brilliantly executed. The best moments are when the company dance as one, flanked by the on-stage musicians; the auditorium fills with thunderous steps and excited audience members hoot and shout in encouragement from their seats. It feels visceral, and brings Carmen to life.
The eponymous María Pagés is the dominant force, but sometimes her presence feels a little too dominant. Halfway through and in a break from tradition, Pagés’ dances with a handbag and takes a moment to address the audience. It is now that she declares that “All the women here, we are Carmen”, and points to audience members and her fellow dancers. Yet when it comes to stage time, there are moments where you wish that these other manifestations of Carmen had had a chance to shine beyond the group numbers. It’s undeniable Pagés’s show.
One of the great successes of this staging is the light. When the dancing responds to the subtle yet brilliant lighting – clear boxes and simple but effective strips of light – the piece really comes to life. That said, what designer Pau Fullana does so expertly is to play with the darkness just as much as the light, and there are some truly exquisite moments that use this to great effect.
This production stands out for its beautiful lighting and prop-work, but ultimately Yo Carmen feels rooted in the real world, the rustic, and seems to transport you out of the four walls of one of Islington’s finest attractions, through the spirit of flamenco. A real crowd-pleaser.
María Pagés Compañía: Yo Carmen played at Sadler’s Wells until 17 February 2018
Photo: Sadler’s Wells