CULTURE

Carmen, a genuine Gypsy tobacco worker and Salome, a dancer of fiery flamenco

Prosper Merimee with his novella and Georges Bizet with his opera got the story of Carmen wrong. Also wrong, then, was the legend these two started, and which then spread around the whole world. Carmen was indeed a Gypsy tobacco worker from Triana in Seville, and she did have a forceful and independent spirit. But she was not a brazen hussy, and she ended up at the end of Don Jose’s knife – thereby becoming a legend and a symbol – for another reason. As for Salome, there have been so many versions of the Biblical myth of the dance of the seven veils, aimed at the head of John the Baptist. We will now see the impassioned woman, drunk, throw off her veils in a turmoil of flamenco. Art can do anything. Today, these two Spanish productions are neither opera nor conventional dance performances, but modern multimedia spectacles, with much music, song, dance, theater and even elements of other arts, creating a colorful atmosphere. Quite by chance, Athenians will be able to enjoy both productions soon at the start of this year’s cultural summer: «Salome» will be on at the Herod Atticus Theater on May 31, and «Carmen» at the Lycabettus Theater on June 3, 4, 5 and 6. This really is a coincidence as the two productions are performed by two different Spanish companies. Both these companies base their productions on the traditional music and dance of their country, but they also feature some very different elements. The Aida Gomez dance troupe is more dance-theater, and they are coming with «Salome» on the invitation of the Cultural Olympiad. «Carmen» will be presented in Athens by the celebrated La Cuadra de Sevilla troupe, with trumpets, drums and horses on stage. Both teams are led by famous Spanish artists: the former by the well-known movie director Carlos Saura and, of course, Aida Gomez, the dancer, choreographer and director of the Spanish National Ballet, and the latter by the multi-talented director, choreographer, musician (and, in his youth, bullfighter) Salvador Tavora. Aida Gomez was responsible for creating a music-and-dance production of «Salome» based upon Spanish tradition – flamenco, that is. She commissioned the music from Tomatito, a distinguished guitarist and composer in Spain, and she herself took on the choreography, along with another famous Spanish choreographer, also known to us from his previous appearances here, Jose Antonio. For the direction, she requested the skills of internationally renowned film director Carlos Saura. The production opened in Spain in January at the Santander Festival, to enthusiastic acclaim from audiences and critics alike, and now begins an international tour. It appears that the Biblical myth associated with the decapitation of John the Baptist can indeed be combined, without a hint of scandal or discomfort, with music, and the atmosphere of such a typically Spanish form of music and dance as flamenco. The story of Salome, Herod, Herodias and John opens the performance in contemporary time and moves, full of invention, toward the historical past. It is said that the dance with the staffs of Herod, the meeting of Salome and John, with its clear erotic undercurrent, and, of course, the Dionysiac dance of the seven veils, which this time drop one-by-one to the sound and figures of flamenco, are especially impressive. Salome is, of course, performed by the wonderful Gomez, John by Antonio Rodriguez, and Herod by Francisco Eduardo Jimenez. Saura, as he stated during his visit here during Holy Week, is already considering the possibility of adapting the production for the big screen – in a different form, of course, as this is a different form of art. Salvador Tavora, the creator of the «Carmen» which is coming to the Lycabettus Theater, searched in the archives dating to Carmen’s actual time in order to find the truth surrounding this mythical figure. As a Sevillian himself – just like the title character – he drew on the stories his mother’s grandmother, a century old when he was a child, to talk about the tobacco worker Carmen and her story. His research confirmed all he heard as a child: Carmen was a Gypsy from Triana in Seville, a tobacco worker in the early 19th century. Don Jose was also a true figure, a Basque officer serving in Seville, who protected the Gypsies from an unjust attack they had suffered. And this is how their fateful meeting came about. They fell in love and scandalized the conservative society of the time. An officer and a Gypsy! Another officer ridiculed Don Jose for his relationship, and Don Jose killed him. Carmen visited him constantly while he was in prison, but she, independent and fiery spirit that she was, at some point began a relationship with a bullfighter. Don Jose, once he was released, stabbed her for «betraying» him. Moreover, he did it in public, at the Prince’s Gate of the arena in Seville. The myth took on really great proportions when the firing squad sent him to find his beloved. «There is a big difference,» says the director, «between the story of a tobacco worker who connects with an officer because he helped her people, and the story of the cunning, quarrelsome and brazen literary Carmen, who offered sex to soldiers and robbers in taverns and smugglers’ dens.» And so he decided to stage the true story of Carmen, a story that differs greatly from the dozens of versions that, through art, have given birth, over the past two centuries, to the myth. A story that, as he says, transmits the true nature of the people of Andalucia. It was only natural, then, that he would use artistic forms that are purely Andalucian: To start with there’s an impressively exotic set, accompanied by colorful costumes, an orchestra with trumpets and drums, guitars, local songs, deblas and tonas, and flamenco, not to mention a large troupe of 50 members – including dancers, musicians, singers, actors, even horse-riders – together making a phantasmagoric, but still genuine Andalucian spectacle. Tickets for both «Salome» and «Carmen» are already on sale at the Hellenic Festival’s box office, Pesmazoglou Stoa, 39 Panepistimiou Street. (For the performances of «Salome,» tickets for the upper tier can be purchased from record shops Metropolis and Virgin.) Spider-Man