Mats Ek Carmen

This essay will analyze and discuss one of Europe’s most creative and influential dance-makers, the Swedish dancer and choreographer Mats Ek; acclaimed for the theatricality and immediacy of his work while his contribution and development through the dance field with the main focus on his revision of the classical ballet stories. It will also discuss one of his major works Carmen and relate it with the original one. Mats Ek is a prominent and controversial figure of the contemporary dance.
He has his own choreographic style and his work in contemporary dance choreography is contested. He was born in 1945. Eks mother, and his big influence, was the famous dancer and choreographer Birgit Cullberg, the founder of the world wide recognized, Cullberg Ballet Company. As said before, his mother was a huge influence for Ek. Therefore one can see that both, Mats Ek and Birgit Cullberg, choreographic style has a lot of same characteristics such as the attention of psychological characterization, the sensitive portrayal of humans feelings and the humorous episodes. In performance we see a fantasy world so unwaveringly strange and characters so imperiously dysfunctional we’re genuinely compelled… Ek may ask his dancers to go to some very odd places but the Cullberg Ballet follows him with ardent alacrity” (Judith Mackrell, the Guardian. ) In 1974–5, Ek was a member of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Dusseldorf, and then made his choreographic debut in 1976 with The Officer’s Servant, for the Cullberg Ballet, the first of many of his works formed on them. In 1980 he became the artistic director of the Ballet Cullberg and a member of the Nederland’s Dance Theatre.
He also worked and created pieces with many great dance companies. Mats Ek in well known for his revisionist versions of the classic ballets. He has also created his own work and most of the time his pieces have to do a lot with humor. However in reworking ballet classics, Ek likes to keep the characters alive so as to always provide an inner emotion to the characters emotions and contrasts. The characters in his pieces,in contrast to the classic ones, have an emotional world of much more intense than usually and the relationship between them has a greater depth.

Although he is revising the original pieces, he never forgets to stay true to the original context of the work and as far as the music is concerned he always uses the original one with very slight changes only to suit the new dramatic structure. Mats Eks key word, is clarity, despite the fact that he aims for clarity, this does not imply that he also uses simplicity in his pieces. “I was never interested in keeping to the classical traditions as such, What I want to explore are the underlying fairy tales that convey fundamental human issues love, deceit, pain, goodness.
The classics have become cliches, and we have forgotten how they came to be and what they imply. We know them so well; they cease to have meaning for our time. ” (Mats Ek) Mats Ek is very often labeled that he relates his choreographies with the politics of the time that the choreographies are being made. This is not however right because none of Mr. Eks choreographies can be regarded as a political manifesto. In his pieces, the strong images and the dramatic situations will occasionally lead into humorous episodes. Humor, is one of Eks main characteristics throughout his pieces and as mentioned previously in the report so is his mother’s.
By using humor in his dances, this does not mean that the pieces lose their tension. Since Mats Ek also studied theatre, most of the time his creations are a lot more dramatic than usual and this can be detected in every one of his pieces (Fifty Contemporary Choreographers, Pages 144-146). “Ek has a vivid theatricality and gift for genuine surprises… his theatricality is matched by a full-out dance language that merges the sophisticated with the primitive. I became aware of just how much meaning Ek can compress into his pieces” (Nadine Meisner, the Independent).
Ek’s style has become distinctive for its imaginative interpretations of storylines, in combination with a lyrical approach which transfers through movement the underlying emotions and feelings rather than just the narrative detail. His choreographic style and vocabulary is mainly from his ballet training, his relationship and dance experience with his mother and his collaboration with the Nederland Dance Theatre. Although Ek has rejected the conventional codes of classic ballet, it is clear in his pieces the he uses a lot of ballet technique.
This can be found within the jumps, turns and footwork that he uses within his movement vocabulary. At the same time though, Ek uses a lot of contemporary movements such as drop of the pelvis, a lot of floor work and body weight. He manages to relate both styles with a unique and wonderful way in order for everything to look good and lovely. (Fifty Contemporary Choreographers, Pages 147-148) “ Ek has done a great deal to enlarge how women are portrayed on stage, especially in the ballet classics. His “Giselle” and “Carmen” offer intense reimagining’s of their heroines”. (Keeping dance alive: a Mats Eks portrait.
Claudia La Rocco, TV classics) Let’s now move on to one of his most famous and great works, Carmen. Originally, Carmen was first performed in Paris on 3 March, 1875. Written by Georges Bizet. The story is about a temptress, Carmen, and her lover Don Jose who sacrifices his devoted lady, Micaela, to pursue his manly passions for Carmen. Jose, angry by her sexual behavior and blinded by his own rage, kills Carmen, thus bringing upon himself his own devastation resulting in death. The opera is set in Spain and the story line is more complex than the original novel by Prosper Merimee.
The character of Carmen was too offensive for family theatre. Although Carmen appeals to popular culture, the opera still attracts academic discourse as the spirit of Spain is personified in the character of Carmen. It is clear that in order for Carmen to be represented as a whore, she had to be black. That suited the beliefs of that time being, that the color of her skin will make her bad and evil. Moreover the color of her skin makes her also more exotic than any European and this will make her more desirable to the male audience and maybe more hated by women.
In 1999 Mats Ek revised the Spanish classic Carmen to audiences all over the world. This version of Carmen is currently in the repertoire of the Royal Ballet, Cullberg Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, National Theatre, Ballet of Prague and the Polish National Opera Ballet. Ek in his pieces in general manages to show each character’s psychological aspect in depth. In Carmen, one can see that he presents Carmen as this woman who is complicated and has a complex behavior. That is what he usually does in his pieces, he presents all the women as very complicated and sexual creatures.
In his choreography Ek is trying to keep the original features of the opera; but in order to attract more modern audiences he makes some changes so that the audience, in that time being, will be able to relate with the characters (Fifty Contemporary Choreographers, Pages 144-145). For example, the sexual behavior of Carmen in the piece is very important for the story line. However in the original piece it was not that clear. In Mats Ek version though, the sexuality is clearer and more understanding for the audience. Generally Eks version explores the actual human behavior as it is in real life.
He pushes the male-female role reversal between the sexually free gypsy girl and the soldier Don Jose beyond safe boundaries, substituting a cigar for the familiar rose between Carmen’s teeth, turning her into one of the boys( Cigar Crossed Lovers, David Bogoslaw, 1999). That cigar shows that she has a masculine soul in a woman’s body. (Carmen, 2010)  Carmen is a symbol of freedom and anarchy and can have as much freedom as she wants. In contrast, Jose is a traditional feminine role, a weak character that wants peace and a marriage, but cannot control his passions for Carmen in spite that he is going to marry Micaela.
Eks Carmen begins and ends with a scene of a man, Jose, facing a firing squad and recalling in the last moments before death his tempestuous liaison with the gypsy girl who refused to be tamed. The dance then retells the story of the progressing love affair between Carmen and Jose. Eks choreographing style in this performance is a combination of both, ballet and modern dance. As they first dance together, Carmen and Jose, is like she is slowly explaining to him, throughout the dance, how she is and how she likes to live her life.
He also tries to show her that he is a military man with a lot of discipline. At the beginning of the piece their movements are more aggressive, but as soon as they fell in love their movements become more soft and gentle. This change of the movement shows how they started to feel comfortable with each other as time passed (Janet Adshead, 1988, Dance Analysis: Theory and practice, Pages: 72-75). Carmen’s movement style initially is aggressive and masculine while it is becoming more beautiful as the story evolves.
However, the fact that Jose is carrying the rose and Carmen the cigar, this shows that she is still the “man” in their relationship (As Willful As Ever And Puffing On a Cigar Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times. 1999). Another example of how the movement shows the emotional world and the relationship between the characters is when there is a trio between Carmen, Jose and Escamillo, who is the reason why Carmen does not love Jose anymore. He is the new love of her heart and that makes Jose angry. In the trio the two men’s jealousy is extremely obvious throughout the dancing movement.
There is imitation and repetition between each ones movement and the fact that they keep a certain distance between one another, shows the jealousy between them. At the end of the trio, when Carmen is going to strike Jose’s face, it becomes clear that she does not love him anymore. More over there is Michaela’s character which is also made clear through her movements. At the beginning she is dancing in a shy way but after she gets really angry with Jose and Carmen, thus her way of movement changes. She begins to be more aggressive and dynamic in terms of movement vocabulary and that is a reflection of her emotional world.
The music in Eks choreography, as mentioned above, is faithful to the original one by French composer Georges Bizet. The only difference is that is being used for different purposes in the story. In the original opera the music is a guide for the progress of the plot. In Mats Ek piece however, the music is not really needed to explain the plot or the relationship between the characters. It is there to create a mood in the piece. One thing that is really different from the original opera, in terms of sounds, is that in Mats Ek piece the dancers are sometimes talking and shouting. This adds a dynamic touch to the whole piece.
Shouting is also more realistic than just singing opera. Carmen is wearing the same color of costume in both versions and almost in every version that has been created in the world. Red is the color of passion and sexuality. Thus, when the audience first sees Carmen, immediately understands her character and that she is a temptress. Micaela, in contrast to Carmen, wears blue, a color that symbolizes her innocence and that she is fragile. The street ladies costumes in Eks piece show their character and their Spanish ethnicity in contradiction to the original opera costumes that are showing the class and there social status.
Ek uses very colorful, shiny and ruffled dresses that are a throwback to the 80s, in order to show that all women have sexuality. The costumes of the men are very simple and dark, just to show their discipline, as they are military men. The designs and sets in Eks Carmen are cartoonish and with playful colors. In terms of light, he tries to keep it dark. There is a metallic backdrop and panels which are suggestive of Spanish fans, as well as a large exercise ball downstage.
In Mats Ek version of Carmen, there is a deeper reflection of all the characters emotional world. Carmen is clearly a symbol of Freedom and anarchy with an even more complex nature than the one of the classic story. That is what Mats Ek does anyway. Except from changing the classics into more modern and humorous editions, the thing that makes him special is how he deals with the inner world of each character. He manages to present each character, throughout the dance, in a very intense way so that the audience can understand for sure the characters personality.
However he keeps the original story as it is, and he aims to show the same meaning as the original piece while at the same time he tries to explore a bit more the relationship between the characters. All of the above lead to Ek’s success when revising the classic stories. He remains faithful to the original story but however he does it not only with a more modern vocabulary but also with a more modern approach to suit the present. “Much like Bizet’s opera of the same name, Mr. Ek’s version proves that a grim tale of love and death can be downright entertaining” (As Willful As Ever And Puffing On a Cigar Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times. 999). It seems that Carmen will continue to appeal the audiences for years to come. Mats Ek Carmen will also continue to be popular to the audience because of the emotional and dramatic state of Mr. Eks pieces. He is a choreographer that distant himself from anybody else in the dance field. He is very original and successful with his choreographies and it is no wonder that he is so famous and he has achieved so much. He is an extremely talented choreographer with a lot of theatrical ideas and that is what makes him so special throughout all these years! Bibliography:
Adshead, J. 1988. Dance analysis theory and practice. London: Dance books Bremser M. and Sanders L. Fifty Contemporary Choreographers. Second Edition. 2011. Roudledge Au S. Ballet and Modern dance. 1998. Thames and Hudson world of Art. Articles: As Willful As Ever And Puffing On a Cigar Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times. 1999 Websites: Linda. 2010. Carmen. http://www. theballetbag. com Peter Grahame Woolf. 1996. Mat’s Ek Carmen. http://www. musicweb-international. com Claudia La Rocco. Keeping dance alive: A Mat’s Ek Portrait. http://www. classicaltv. com

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