Charmaine: The composer, Georges Bizet’s Carmen, much like Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, (The Rite of Spring), draws attention from many choreographers. What drew you to this story?
Sansano: It wasn’t actually that I thought I wanted to do Carmen, but every time I saw Carmen from other choreographers I always wondered how I would do it. I also think that there are some stories that talk to you, in a specific moment, for private reasons. For example, you like a song because something is happening to you that is related to the song. In that moment in time I was Don José [a soldier called to arrest Carmen for her alleged insolence and with whom she develops a complicated relationship], so I completely understood and I empathized a lot with him and I think all of those things made me achieve CARMEN.maquia.
Charmaine: Are there versions of Carmen (dance, music, opera) that inspire(d) you?
Sansano: So many times that I saw Carmen I never really understood the story. I’ve gone to about four different versions of the opera and in Chicago I saw the Lyric Opera present it too. So what I did is I took the opera and wrote my own script by what was happening and my own interpretation of what was happening and then I drew the story.
Charmaine: Were there challenges you faced, or gave yourself, when you decided to take on this historical work?
Sansano: The first challenge was aesthetic; not going with the old interpretation and what people think that Spain is. Then there’s the theatrical aspect, the acting. Most of the things that I did were not that literal, and for me one of the biggest challenges was to make people understand what was happening without any words or any lyrics of the opera because everything is just music.
Charmaine: How close is this work to you, given your Spanish roots and the Spanish origins of the Carmen?
Sansano: Until I actually searched for the story, I didn’t know about its Spanish origins. I knew the music; I saw a lot of versions. Probably the first version I saw with the music of Carmen was of the flamenco type with flamenco shoes. But the first time I saw a different Carmen that caught my attention was the [the late French choreographer] Roland Petit’s version. Even then, I was so involved with the dancing that I just wasn’t as interested in the story. I was interested in the dancing, the aesthetic, and those things.
Charmaine: Your work, including Carmen, has been described as a melding of contemporary dance and the “subtleties of the Spanish paso doble and flamenco…” Is this accurate?
Sansano: It’s everything that anybody thinks is accurate—one of the things that I like about choreography is that you don’t obligate anyone to believe anything. You’re just sharing something and they take it the way they want it and there’s a freedom in that, in the possibilities. The way I see it, especially after 2 years [since the premiere], if I tell you the story with words it will be different than you telling the story, so the only thing that I’m doing is telling this story with my own words. I didn’t try to be more flamenco or less flamenco, I was just telling the story. My vocabulary is influenced by Spanish dance but in CARMEN.maquia, it’s influenced by something weird. That’s what I mean by going back to the words—my words are my words.
Charmaine: Where does the extension of the title come from “maquia”?
Sansano: “Tauromaquia” is the art of bullfighting, and because we compare Carmen to a bull, we took bull, and put in “Carmen” to compose CARMEN.maquia.
Charmaine: How has it been to set the work on Ballet Hispanico?
Sansano: It’s been easy. I think it’s important for a work like CARMEN.maquia that each individual has his or her own personality already imprinted in his or her body, face. For example, I don’t think it would work completely in a ballet company where all the dancers are like clones because you wouldn’t see the differences between them. We would have to work a lot on the movements to create differences between the people, because the costumes are all white, and the set is pale, and the first thing that people see is the differences between the dancers and that is something that Ballet Hispanico has, and it’s really important. Find out more here