28 Oct. - 3 Nov. 1999
Issue No. 453
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
By David Blake
Sextet et Carmen; Ballet Biarritz; choreography by Thierry Malandain; Cairo Opera House Main Hall, 22 October
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This reviewer spent a joyful, happy, sleepless night being buffeted by the Malandain Carmen, created by his Ballet Biarritz. When Bizet encounters the mighty Schubert in a street battle the results are bound to shatter the soul like an air-dried hurricane.
One word is enough -- Carmen -- like a blood stained mandela on a vast whitewashed city wall -- Carmen -- we are never to have enough of her. She strides through opera, film and ballet as the ultimate, bullet-proof heroine.
What a shadow. Malandain has made the myth: this woman and the wreckage created out of her libido is far beyond the reach of all others. Malandain is the Massine of our time. Swift, salacious and absolutely irresistible, his few dances summise the mayhem of the life of a cigarette worker with total ease and involvement. She becomes a fumeuse, a goddess to the inevitable end of total satisfaction.
Take her as Don José does and imbibe her as the Don does, inhale her, disregarding her like all others and go the way the infection takes you -- to death.
Schubert, Merimée, Bizet and now Malandain have made of Carmen a rigorous metal dream from a simple puff of smoke. Not good copy for the billion dollar companies who create Carmens by the packet. But nothing matters as we hurtle on through the age of self-satisfaction to which Malandain puts the mirror. He is a creator rising far out of the miserable human state of addiction to freedom by discipline.
The dance group he has formed is immaculate -- tall, powerful, stupendous creatures who yet remain down here to show us what involvement with the great arts produces. He made of Carmen a Lilith of liberation, mixing her with the gleanings of the ages, the primitive Demeter of the underworld and the spirits of Isis and Osiris with their phallic lotus-worshipping pharaohs, to the smoke-filled dens of Lautrec and Fassbinder.
"You people have had your pleasure, now pay" runs like a black vein through the work. Carmen was always European business -- a street legend mixed with music. Another shadow, the minotaur, hovers over the bull-ring driving it ever further into a grey pastel-coloured nether-world between life and death.
Foresight tells us the protagonists are doomed. Malandain wastes no time. This Carmen moves quicker than opera or film. He even prunes it. Schubert's music of the Death and the Maiden song and quartet he formed from it is a daring choice of the choreographer and completely successful. Neither is diminished.
In this music the rightness of choice of Malandain is breathtaking. From the start we are pitched into some of the most tumultuous, turbulent and disturbing music ever written. It is a typhoon of swirling, rearing sounds enveloping not only the maiden but Don José. Merimée's portrait of the Don is extended by choreographer and Schubert to a noble creature caught in the toils of disaster and passion. The pathetic, fragile architecture of his tiny life is shattered to bits by the advent of Carmen. Both of them have to answer death in Schubert's music -- beautiful, hymnal and deadly. The shade is of steel.
Early, too early really, for the lethal confrontation with riga mortis. It appears in the first scene. It rends everything. The maid must desist or at least resist her haunted, damnéd nature.
She can't, so the Carmen song goes on to become the lead of death. Lulu was evil because she willed it, Carmen is doubly damned because she is not evil. She is driven from far beyond her control to the same catastrophic end. Malandain, with Schubert's full co-operation, allows her magic moments of compassion and tenderness.
Carmen, Andriana Pous-Ojeda, and Don José, Isa•as Jauregui, are to be congratulated for their frightening involvement with their roles. They never seemed dancers on a stage but very beautiful young creatures tangled fatally in the dark hermetic myth and shadowy mixture of pity and mercy.
The stage picture is a few large masses, like boxes, which slide back and forth, moving like the music and bodies. The loom, they glow with tones and colours like witnesses or Norns to the pitiable fate of the creatures who are being sacrificed.
Of course Carmen must grow darker as it crashes along. After the subjugation of José he is set upon by a brute and kicked almost senseless against a wall while Carmen watches his torment motionlessly. Later, one of the boxes opens suddenly and out comes the murky minotaur to battle with the toreador, the death instrument of Carmen. This short dance shows another aspect of Malandain's greatness as a choreographer, the head and body of a muscular dancer, bullish, cunning but finally vanquished, another victim of the ruthless heroic passion of the girl with the cigarette.
She is finally done to death by the Don. A helpless puff of smoke. Both of them and their tiny unimportant lives have been illuminated momentarily by music, legend and the presentation of genius. The characters and the audience are grateful for this light shining icily upon them. It is spiritual and for all we know more powerful than death. Uncomforting. We are grateful for the secure feeling of our seats as we rise to leave.