Flamenco Carmen – Flamenco
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I believe this to be one of the most exciting dance productions ever filmed. Created by choreographer Antonio Gades in collaboration with director Carlos Saura, this matchless production shows how the explosive power and intensity of feeling in traditional Spanish flamenco can bring vividly to life the sultry passion, earthy emotion, love and rivalry that is Carmen. Yes, Bizet is here too, but much of the extraordinary energy is created by the pulsating guitars, the ululating voices, and the insistent heel stamps of the dancers.
Vanesa Vento lives and breathes Carmen, emphasizing the many faces of this character, female, passionate and freedom fighter, but fickle in love as she shamelessly flirts with men she likes, inspiring desire, rivalry and jealousy amongst both the men and other women. But Carmen's gypsy wildness becomes her own downfall when she discards Don José's love for that of the bullfighter, as, possessed by a piercing despair, Don José kills her.
You may not, if you have never before spent any time with the art of flamenco, know these remarkable artists but every one of them is worth getting to know. Carmen stars Juan Antonio, Zafra Moreno, Ricardo Friere Gonzalez, Vanesa Vento, Angel Gil, Joaquin Mulero, and Jairo Rodriguez.
PERFORMANCES TO KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF
I have been remembering that in former times we only had one opportunity to see a great play or star performance in its first production. If we missed it, we missed it. No more.
Many of these great performances are still available on YouTube and elsewhere, although the older generation, unused to this amazing worldwide treat, often doesn’t know they’re there or how to access them.
Now, while there’s a summer lull in the availability of current online videos as the theatres gear up for the Autumn season, I thought I might share a few past productions which have knocked my socks off in yesteryear or would have done if I’d been old enough, smart enough, perceptive enough, or had enough pocket money.
Here’s one of the performances that I’ve always regretted missing and can see now, Jason Robard’s astounding Hickey in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, recorded in 1960, directed by Sidney Lumet. I was only 15 at the time and living on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
Ian McKellen has earned the right, in his 80-odd years of flawless performances in classic plays, major contemporary work, and especially in Shakespeare, to do what he damn well likes these days and he is clearly revelling in trying all kinds of experiments just for fun.
For example, this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe has him playing Hamlet in a hybrid drama/ballet/animation of Hamlet, a role he first played nearly 70 years ago. Good for him. If he can’t do anything he likes at his age, who can?
Here, though, amongst other great performances, is what he will be remembered for, a stunning 1979 Macbeth with Judi Dench as his Lady.
I railed for years about the unfairness of never having been able to see Shirley Verrett’s legendary Tosca with Pavarotti as Cavaradossi and Tito Gobbi, one of the greatest Scarpias in opera history. And then I discovered that it was available online from the Met. https://www.metopera.org/season/on-demand/opera/?upc=811357013762
Closer – Lyric Hammersmith
There is an excellent revival of Patrick Marber’s 1997 shocker about sex and lust and sex and, well, you get the idea, at the Lyric Hammersmith. Claire Lizzimore’s forensic production hits just the right notes from the original and adds new insights with the benefit of the years since.
The four protagonists who fall for and then swap partners are carefully drawn by Marber. There’s Alice, feckless, beautiful Alice who gives up stripping for love of Dan. There’s Dan, disengaged writer who plunders Alice’s life as the source for his novel only to fall in lust with self-contained photographer Anna who divorces physician Larry to be with Dan who turns back to Alice, as Larry does to Anna. Still with me?
Closer is a play about sex, stunningly frank, about what we will give to a lover and what we withhold. I remember being truly shocked when I first saw Closer by the openness of an early scene in which the two men tell each other their sexual fantasies, online, one pretending to be a woman. Today, I am less easily shocked but still have the capacity to be stunned by Marber’s skill at delineating character and motive.
All four actors – Jack Farthing, Ella Hunt, Nina Toussaint-White and especially Sam Troughton as the tortured doctor, Larry, are excellent. And the director adds a significant extra to the stage picture by having four shadowy figures, almost unseen, move behind the action and the on-stage band, in silent response to the dialogue like a Greek chorus, seen but unseen.There are hints of Chekhov here, and Shakespeare, in a thoroughly satisfying revival which, in many ways, improves on its 1997 premiere.
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.