Interview: Stella Arauzo - Carmen


The fiery Carmen struts into town, in contemporary dance form courtesy of the late Antonio Gaudes. Director Stella Arauzo tells Ysabelle Cheung why the infamous ‘man eater’ is just misunderstood

Beloved Carmen! The pinnacle of male fantasy and fear, of female sexuality and wanton immorality. The novella written by 19th century writer Prosper Mérimée has undergone translations in various mediums, including the famous opera by Georges Bizet (premiered 1975), a musical, a ballet and countless films based on the fiery gypsy. We speak to director Stella Arauzo before the Hong Kong premiere of the contemporary dance version (choreographed by the late Antonio Gaudes), in which Spanish flamenco is weaved in the narrative.

The character Carmen is described by Antonio Gaudes as 'a free woman' and 'an honest woman'. How are these characteristics portrayed in dance?
Honesty is always present in the work of Gades, resulting in the integrity of their efforts and a search for truth in feeling, a flight from the superfluous and the commercial, going straight to the essence of the character. This is all shown in the character of Carmen.
Gades’ freedom is reflected in his dances – through never-corseted movements, through the movement of arms, hips, gaze, the way the dancers move their heads and the intensity of their movements and interpretations of the story. Above all, there’s strength, passion, intensity of movement, fierceness in her eyes – but also feeling, sensuality and femininity.

Did you read the novel version and watch the opera version of Carmen? To you, what are the differences in art forms between the three versions (dance, novel, opera) and how does is the story depicted differently between the three?
I read the novel by Mérimée a long time ago and I've seen some versions of the opera, including the wonderful version of Carmen by Alicia Alonso and Maya Plisetskaya.  I’ve also seen several film adaptations. So many wonderful Carmens have existed and still exist.
Obviously in dance, movement is the supreme protagonist – as it is in the Gades production, which incidentally, was the first in the Spanish dance world, a wonderful blend of classical music and flamenco. The opera will always be based on the voices and the music, and the novel will always have more descriptive power, though you can live through the characters, and imagine them yourself.
In Gades' Carmen, the husband's character appears as in the novel – a character that Bizet dispensed with. Here, Gades and the husband goes to the essence, the marrow, of the characters, and strips Carmen of all superfluous adornment and cliché, lending the costumes, the scenery and lights a sobriety and stripped-down nature that is very different from other versions.

There's this theme of private and public property and of ownership (of love, of bodies, of sexuality) in the story of Carmen. How does the energy of the performance and the way the dancers present their figures on stage capture that?
Sexuality is always expressed through the hips, the shoulders, the pelvis, chest, hands, and eyes – all in an exquisite and exciting game.
With Carmen, her fierceness towards life and indomitability is always present in this game between her and the bullfighter and husband Don José. She eventually chooses death rather than lose her freedom.

What does the flamenco form allow for in expression that might not be so visible or clear in literature and opera?
It’s just the same – they are different languages, but they go along the same path. They show the same passion, the strength, the courage, the sensuality and so many other words that define this universal woman. In the case of flamenco, all these words describe it perfectly: passion, strength, courage, sensuality, masculinity, femininity, the earthly, the visceral, and the mystical.

Additional translation by Tom Tiding.

Carmen Jan 2-4, Cultural Centre, Grand Theatre. Tickets: $180-$520; This event is now sold out.


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