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    Complete archive, 1999-present

    2018-2019 reviews:


      Carmen / Solo for Two

    BAM's Next Wave Festival presents a stogie-sucking "Carmen" and an eye-opening side piece, "Solo For Two."


    Early in this century, the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset pondered the difference between the Mediterranean and Nordic temperaments. His conclusion: it had to do with the influence of the sun and the quality of light in the south. The abundance of light, he ventured, predisposed those in the south to sensual pleasures, while the lack of sun pushed the Nordic peoples to darker intellectual and psychological probing.

    Choreography by: Mats Ek.
    Directed by: Yorgos Loukos.
    Dancers: Maite Cebrian Abad, Yoke Martin, Yuval Pick Marketa Plzakova.
    Music by: Bizet, Rodion Shchedrin, Arvo Part.
    This essential difference between Europe, northern and southern, is magnificently embodied in the strikingly original choreography of Mats Ek, in two dance pieces being presented by the Lyon Opera Ballet company as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. Ek is not one to pull emotional punches and together, "Carmen" and "Solo for Two" put forth a bold view of sexual intimacy and passion.

    In "Carmen," Ek vigorously pushes the male-female role reversal between the sexually free gypsy girl and the marriage-minded soldier Don Jose beyond safe boundaries, substituting a cigar for the familiar rose between Carmen's teeth, turning her into one of the boys. Borrowing a cinematic flashback structure, Carmen begins with Don Jose facing a firing squad and recalling in the last moments before death his tempestuous liaison with the gypsy girl who refused to be tamed.

    Conspiring in the overall effect are Rodion Shchedrin's freshly-imagined arrangement of the Carmen suite, which subverts the lush score by replacing full melodic lines with spare percussive accents, and the chiaroscuro lighting of Goran Westrup. Maite Cebrian Abad's Carmen (she shares the role on alternate nights with Yoke Martin) is a veritable force, robustly feminine even as she usurps the masculine identity of her lovers. What she can do to men's hearts and libidos with the simple pull of a red handkerchief is testament to Ek's ability to marry emotional insight and devilish wit.

    As directed by Yorgos Loukos, "Carmen" succeeds in being a Baroque feast for the senses, pulsing with color and vibrance, even as it strikes dark noirish poses, suggesting the inner geography of the soul. Yet it is the enigmatic and austere "Solo for Two" that continues to haunt long after the evening has ended. "Carmen" has become so familiar through its many ballet and operatic, cinematic and theatrical incarnations, that it is easy to forget that at bottom it is about a man and a woman, or a woman and her men. The emotional drama between man and woman is reduced to its bare bones in the shorter, and far more Spartan, "Solo for Two," and it is its very spiritual nakedness that makes us brace in our seats.

    Ek's inventive choreography lets us appreciate anew the wonders of what the human body can be and can do. His dancers suggest plastic toy action figures, whose limbs may be removed and rearranged in different positions. "Solo for Two," set to three haunting piano pieces by Estonian composer Arvo Part, is a moving chamber piece that depicts the profound communication between man and woman in all its psychological and emotional complexity. In its relentless probing of the subtleties of the soul, Ek's choreography reminds one of Ingmar Bergman's disturbing forays into the depths of marital relations.

    Ek comes by his Bergmanian influences honestly. His father, Anders Ek, was one of the film director's oft-used actors in his theatrical productions and the younger Ek himself served as Bergman's assistant at Sweden's Royal Dramatic Theater in the early 1970s. But make no mistake: Ek's sensibility is his own and it is a witty and droll one to be sure. The variations on the theme of human beings' quest for spiritual connection enacted in "Solo for Two" are punctuated by light humorous touches, delightfully Chaplin-esque in their throwaway matter-of-factness. The affecting symbiosis that dancers Yuval Pick and Marketa Plzakova capture owes as much to Ek's irrepressible comic flourishes as it does to his grand statements of sweeping limbs and torsos across the floor.

    One of "Solo's" most eloquent moments comes when the partners disrobe, face each other nakedly for a moment and then don one another's costumes, the man slipping into the woman's gray gown, the woman into his blue pajamas. Their genders switched, the man's formerly angular, masculine movements give way to more fluid (yes, feminine!) gestures. The rich psychological shading in the exchange between dancers of garments and colors touches something deep down, asking us to consider the complex sharing of male and female aspects within one soul, the search for one's emotional complement becoming that much more urgent.

    The set design by Peder Freiij and lighting design of Erik Berglund complete the portrait and etch the images of "Solo for Two" in the mind. Mats Ek proves himself a choreographer to watch in years to come.

    OCTOBER 25, 1999

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