NW Dance Project stages alluring new ‘Carmen’

It was a cold, rainy night. Luckily for me, I had the NW Dance Project’s waiting room to keep me warm while waiting for the company’s dress rehearsal of Carmen to start. I also had the group’s resident bulldog to keep me company.

“Tell me about your upcoming production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen,” I asked. “How would you say it compares to the original, and what differentiates the two?” The pink bandana-wearing bulldog acknowledged my question with a slight raise of her head. It seemed if I wanted answers, I’d have to get my hands dirty and resort to the tactics of old-school journalism. Instead I pulled out my iPhone and opened the press release for NW Dance Project’s latest production: Carmen.  

I’m not sure if you knew this—I certainly didn’t—but Bizet’s original Carmen is extraordinarily famous. I write for Arts & Culture, and yet had never heard of arguably the most famous of operas ever performed; talk about a paradox. (In my defense, I joined the Vanguard A&C section for that exact reason: to get myself some freakin’ culture! Moving on…)

Skimming through the press release I learned that when Carmen was first brought to life in Paris in 1875, the show was apparently rather scandalous.”‘The opera, which is written in the genre of opera comique (lighthearted theme), is set in southern Spain and tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naive soldier who is seduced by the fiery gypsy Carmen.” Apparently this José dude abandons his childhood sweetheart in favor of the tempestuous temptress, who then proceeds to kick his ass to the curb in favor of her new flame, Escamillo.

“Talk about passion intermingled with tragedy!” I exclaimed out loud to my lazy audience of one; the bulldog, whom I decided to nickname Sarah Jessica Barker, shifted onto her side.

With the basic theme of Bizet’s 1875 Carmen in mind, I proceeded further down the rabbit hole (press release), and emerged in our current year, finding myself face-to-face with NW Dance Project’s reimagined Carmen. To be exact, I found myself in a women’s hair salon. This, along with a men’s barber shop, is where internationally renowned choreographer Ihsan Rustem decided to set his dance rendition of Carmen. Apart from the change of scenery and a few select plot twists, the overall story remains the same—(minus all the singing, that is: Rustem’s version uses Bizet’s instrumental suite).

For the first time since my arrival, Sarah Jessica Barker let out a woof of excitement. Looking up, I saw the waiting room doors open. The rehearsal was about to begin.

You might think, as I first did, that a couple of hair shops would seem a rather odd setting for a tangled love affair, but Rustem’s choice hit the mark perfectly. To be fair, with Rustem’s all-star supportive team—including world class dancers, set design by Spanish prodigy Luis Crespo, and alluring costumes from Project Runway winner Michelle Lesniak—the performance could have taken place in a garbage facility and I would still have found it just as enticing. If only I knew “opera” could be so full of life and passion, I would have given it a shot years ago! Talk about the perfect precursor to spring.

Forty-five minutes later, I slowly awoke from my dumbstruck state and looked down at my notepad: It was a barren landscape. Not a single word in sight. I could still tell you about the set designs and the hair dryers rolling across the stage, or the costumes constructed with painstaking detail. About how each character was brought to life through the range and precision of motion only a professional dancer can call into existence. But rather than doing all that and boring you to death, allow me to simply sign off by highly recommending you go experience Carmen for yourself, and leave you with a little something from Carmen herself: Andrea Parson.

Vanguard: Well, I’m speechless. That performance was awe-inspiring. What does the character Carmen mean to you personally, and is there anything in particular that you would like the audience to take away from the performance?

Andrea Parson: The depth of feeling that Carmen as a character is able to feel was especially enjoyable—and challenging—to bring to life. I hope that the audience is able to harness that passion for themselves. Going about daily routines, I think that people oftentimes let certain passions pass them by; whereas, for better or worse, Carmen lives an extremely passionate existence.

You can catch Carmen live at the Newmark Theatre March 16–18 at 7:30 p.m. If you see Sarah Jessica Barker, say hello for me!