Festival Dance

Yo, Carmen

Playhouse, Edinburgh

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Mary Brennan

four stars

First there was a novel, then there was an opera and thereafter a succession of classical ballets and contemporary dance-works, all reinforcing the image of Carmen as a gypsy femme fatale. Flamenco dancer Maria Pages not only takes issue with this fiction, she’s created a pungently vivid riposte with Yo, Carmen (I, Carmen) in which she conjures up truths about women and the everyday lives they lead. Lives where fluttering fans are put to one side, and hands are instead wielding feather dusters and brooms while hearts and minds are meanwhile reaching out to a wider world, craving the freedoms and personal fulfilment that access to education can make possible.

Her Everywoman comes centre-stage in some wonderfully impassioned sequences of dance where traditional flamenco moves – some of them usually assigned to male dancers – are opened up to contemporary influences. An additional pliancy extends into tendrilling arm movements, accentuating the graceful womanliness of Pages and her seven (all-female) dancers, even as the staccato percussion of their driving footwork speaks of an innate, insistent strength. Although Pages is challenging the fantasy-cipher of Carmen as a male-devised character, she doesn’t exclude Bizet’s familiar, much-loved melodies from her soundscore. However his music gains a fine flamenco accent when sung or played by her live on-stage musicians, who further underpin the shifting moods of her choreography with strands of mournful cello, cascades of bravura guitar-work and visceral vocals.

Her assertion that all women are Carmen is given fierce physicality by her ensemble dancers, who are like amplifying echoes of her themes, but it is Pages herself who cuts through the Carmen-cliches with charismatic solos that are akin to anthems of free will and self-determination.