“Carmen.maquia” continues a trend of excellence


Provocative works of contemporary dance are a duet between what’s presented on stage and the viewer’s imagination, a remarkable pas de deux between art and audience, and is the highlight of “Carmen.maquia,” presented by Visceral Dance Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art on June 29. Choreographed by former Artistic Director of Luna Negra Dance Theater, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, the work combines elements of contemporary dance technique with ballet, flamenco, and fandango. Sparse Picasso-inspired sets and elegant, yet simple costumes beg the viewer to fill in the blanks. The score by Georges Bizet has been worn out by usage in television and movies but is given new life within the context of the action.

The tale of forbidden love between noble guardsman Don Jose (Tyson Ford) and tragic figure Carmen (Laura Mendes) is as old as storytelling but refreshed by the two leads, who express raw, smoldering emotion in their dancing. Don Jose’s arranged marriage to Micaela (Alessandra De Paolantonio) and macho competitor for Carmen’s affections Escamillo (Justin Bisnauthing) create the perfect love-quadrangle set up for rousing confrontations of chest-thumping one-upmanship and a literal tug-of-war. The leads give a grand performance but don’t oversell it and allow Sansano’s chimeric choreography to tell the story sans facial pantomime.

The serious approach by the leads is tempered by the comedic and pompous shenanigans of the ensemble. A gaggle of fellow factory workers, the Cigarerras (Grecia Cruz, Nia Davis, Leslie Marfil, Kaliana Medlock and Erika Shi) tease with fingers pointed at their nose and topple over each other in a manner just shy of slapstick. Two Guardias (Gabriel Canpea and Ruben Andres Castillo Gomez) goof off while on guard duty as one leaps over the other as they roll across the stage like fallen logs tumbling down a river. Two Gitanos (Da’Rius Malone and Javares Selby) perform moves like yoga in fast motion to a Romany-inspired melody. The goings-on of the ensemble in the background occasionally draws attention away from the plot but are so delightful that we can forgive the distraction.


"Carmen.maquia," with Justin Bisnauthing and ensemble; Photo by KT Miller Photography
The set and costumes deserve as much praise as the dancing. Set design by Luis Crespo is composed of long white rectangles that fold in an out like accordions. These abstract and malleable shapes transform into a public square in Seville, a lively bar, gates outside a large building and the hedge outside a spacious manor. Costumes by David Delfin are dichromatic, skin-tight body suits, all white with a diagonal black stripe across the chest (except for Carmen dressed in all black). The impression the costumes create morphs with the story, looking like imposing guard’s uniforms in one scene and high couture fashion the next. The artistry of scenery and costume give you just enough to get the point across but not enough that you can’t let your imagination run wild.

Of course, Bizet’s score is a given crowd pleaser. The prerecorded soundtrack, made popular through numerous uses in pop media, is revived through Sansano’s choreographic interpretations, as in a sultry solo by Mendes during “Habanera” and stimulating “Toreador March” performed by the full ensemble, who twirl high on their toes like ballerinas then descend to the anxious crouch of a matador. Other tracks like the “Prelude” and “Gypsy Song” have you tapping your feet in time with the dancers.

Artistic Director Nick Pupillo could be called the Sammy Sosa of Chicago dance, producing hit after hit, every production more vibrant than the last. It’s no wonder that top notch talent flourishes under his wing. The team-up between Visceral Dance Chicago and Sansano & Co. in “Carmen.maquia” only emboldens this trend of excellence.

For more information on Visceral Dance Chicago, click the company link below.

Happy 4th of July from all of us at See Chicago Dance!