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Choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano on the making of ‘Carmen.maquia’

Spanish Choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano is no stranger to BalletMet.

His World Premiere of Lovely Together appeared in Innovations and the well-received 18+1 in New Directions/New Works in our 13-14 season.

But this is the first time BalletMet will perform a full-length story ballet from Sansano.

Carmen.maquia first premiered in Chicago in 2012 to rave reviews.

It’s “emotionally fiece” and “riveting from start to finish,” wrote the Chicago Sun-Times.

Read on to learn more about why Sansano used Cubism to inspire him, how he casts his Carmen and why he created the ballet in the first place.


On why he wanted to make Carmen.maquia

I created Carmen in 2012 with a company I was directing, Luna Negra Dance Theater. There are always different reasons why you create something. In my case, it might be something personal, something I feel really attached to. Or I always wonder when I see a piece how would I do that if I had the chance? So Carmen is one of those pieces where I saw versions, and I never really understood the story and [thought] how would I do that? Then, in Luna Negra’s second season, we made it to honor women. [Each ballet] was by a woman choreographer or the theme of the piece was about a woman. Also, I thought it was an incredible opportunity for the dancers to fill a full evening, to experience what it means to start, have something happen, to end and how to change your character throughout the whole story.

On what “maquia” means…

The title for me was important. Because I saw a lot of Carmens, and I didn’t just want to call it Carmen. A lot of things went through my mind. The art of bullfighting is [called] “tauromaquia.” And Picasso used to say that Carmen was like the bull that nobody could domesticate or control, no? So we found that similarity where Carmen is like the bull, so we just took “tauromaquia” and took “tauro” out and put “Carmen” in.

On why the story of Carmen resonates…

I think it’s a story that we all can relate to. That’s why those kinds of stories, they last. And they will last forever because [it doesn’t matter] if they were in a different time period, I think we’ve all been or felt like Don Jose. I think if Carmen were a person today, we would hate her. She was doing whatever she felt. She was like a little girl. The important thing about that character is she was doing what men used to do, and that’s why we made it so important, the character Carmen. It’s something really peculiar… And we would empathize much more with [Don Jose] because Don Jose represents what it means to commit in every single part of your body to somebody, and that somebody doesn’t empathize with you. I think also in that period I was at the end of a bad breakup. I think I really empathized with Don Jose in that way. I knew how he felt. I didn’t kill anybody, but I wanted to [laughing].

On finding the right music…

The music was one of the challenges. I didn’t want singing, and there is just like 35 minutes [in the score] without words. I was like what do I do now? So I did a lot of searching. I had to give up the fact of [the music] being just from Carmen. It just needs to be by Bizet. So there are two or three tracks that are from another part of Bizet and some versions that I found on the Internet that are from different composers who played with the sound of Carmen. So with all that I made the soundtrack, and I was really, really happy because it really tells the story.

On the set and costumes…

Another challenge was how do we make it look? Do I want to make it look like Spain or what people think of Spain? Which is different from what we really are. That’s why I chose two different artists for the set and the costumes who are Spanish and from my generation. The costume designer is a really famous fashion designer in Spain, David Delfin. And the set designer is my partner in the arts. His name is Luis Crespo. When I had to describe to them what kind of look, there was a lot of discussion, and I was clear that I didn’t want red or dots or no mantilla or that sort of thing. In the search we were doing, we found a relationship with Picasso. Picasso has a whole collection in Paris just about Carmen. He loved bullfighting, and he loved Carmen. So we found that connection, and that’s why the stage is all white. It’s like a canvas. The idea of the costumes are like the inside costumes of the flamenco dancers, which is just white. And I liked the idea of drawing the stage with the dancers.

On finding the right Carmen…

When I look for a Carmen, in this case I actually talk to the dancers about it a little bit. Historically, our main lead woman wasn’t the prettiest or the tallest. It was the one that had more character, that could be funny or had an intensity in the eyes. For example, this really famous singer, actress of the ‘60s, Lola Flores. When everybody talks about her, they say she couldn’t sing, she wasn’t pretty, she couldn’t act, she couldn’t dance, but you couldn’t stop looking at her. I like these characters. They are not an ideal of what a Hollywood movie would choose, but to have this thing where you just can’t stop looking at her… you want to be with her because she has this charisma. I look more for that sort of charisma than just being a pretty Carmen.