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Motorpoint Arena

Africarmen

22 October 15 words: Alison Kirkman
The pace never lets up in Tavazia Dance Company's re-imagining of Carmen
Africarmen

Photographer: Manoj Nair

To reimagine Bizet’s opera, set it in modern day Africa, and do it with only seven dancers to play eighteen different characters is no mean feat but that’s what artistic director Bawren Tavaziva has done. I had no idea what to expect but somehow, it works. 

Set in an oil-rich military dictatorship based iTavaziva’s home country of Equatorial Guineathis tale tells of a small community striving under relentlessly harsh working conditionspresided over by a cruel gangmasterThe central characters are a happily married couple (Theo Samsworth and Anna Watkins), a young girl with the gift of prophecy (Ellen Yilma), and Carmen (Lisa Rowley), a beautiful young woman yearning for a better life. 

One towering oil derrick – the only scenery on an otherwise dark stage – casts a long, imposing shadow on the characters and acts as a constant reminder of their place in the world. The costumes are simple, modern with subtle hints of colour and pattern in the women’s dresses, plain workmen’s slacks for the men; only Carmen stands out in bold pink and blue. 

A strong African flavour dominates the bespoke score composed by Fayyaz Virji and, for those familiar with Bizet, subtle nods to the original can be heard as the story unfoldsIt was interesting to hear more about this in the Q&A that followed the performance: “I spent many hours with my head in my hands,” jokes Virji as he explains how certain sequences took much longer than others to get right. 

There was strong direction from Tavaziva music-wise too. Used to composing his own music, this time he felt a “vibe” from others was needed to make such a big work a success

Africarmen isn’t for everyone; fear, infidelity, violence, rape and loss are all strong themes as Carmen attempts to break free and one of the villagers is forced from his home to become a soldier. 

It’s also loud and fast paced, but packed with complex and challenging choreography – Tavaziva’s signature fusion of ballet, contemporary and traditional African dance. The dancers barely have time to pause for breath. Their skill, strength and stamina are to be greatly admired.

Lisa Rowley in particular is a pleasure to watchHer duets with Samsworth and, later, Carmine De Amicis – the boxer with whom she embarks on a second illicit affair – are sensual and evocativeyet she expresses vulnerability too. Somehow, even with Carmen’s flaws and the devastating events she finds herself at the centre of, Rowley makes her character likeable and, in the end, despite everything, you’re still on her side. 

Tavaziva Dance Company performed at Lakeside Theatre Arts on Tuesday October 20 2015

Tavaziva Dance website

@AlisonKirkman

 

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