The month of March is a time for celebrating the Spring season and the high spirits that come along with it, as well as reflecting on the winter months and events both personal and of nature that have come to pass.
This past month Carmen: To Havana And Back, an immersive theatrical cabaret rendition of the classic comic opera Carmen expertly did just that, putting an old-time meets modern life cultural spin on the fierce and tumultuous original story at New York City’s Public Arts.
An original work by Variety Life Productions, the 360 degree explosion of live music, drama, and dance made its much anticipated return to the city for a limited-time engagement during the first week of the month. The artistic interpretation of Carmen–who dubbed a “gypsy” is tragically caught in the competitive crossfire of two men vying for her love–is set in El Tropicana cabaret nightclub of 1950s Cuba, and features the comic realism and Spanish flare of the original play (set in Seville, Spain) while enveloping audience members in the spectacle that is the show.
Carmen: To Havana And Back is a spectacle in the best sense of the word, as from the moment you descend the stairs to the performance venue, you are greeted with a traditional Cuba Libre drink and thrown into what seems to be the dressing room of Carmen herself, covered in the kinds of feathers, rhinestones, and glitter that only cabaret can bring. Chatting, primping, rehearsing and giggling, a trio of dancers guides you into the two-story open area stage, bathed in pink and blue lights and pulsing with the energy of Salsa as a live band sets itself up to keep the cadence of Carmen’s dance–both literal and metaphorical–between a soldier and a matador who want to win her heart.
The style and sound of Latin culture bring you along for the rides as male dancers in traditional guayabera shirts, pants, and suits reminiscent of Tropicana nights past move effortlessly across the space. The audience, invited to dress the part as well, has a front row seat to not just Salsa performances, but tap, juggling, a contortionist, and even bow and arrow arts that are seamlessly woven into the few hours in such a way that there’s always something to watch or listen to. Cuba’s This Carmen appeals to the senses with its interactive layout, leaving space for actors and dancers to Cha Cha you across the floor and sit down at your intimate table setting, or for you to stroll throughout the set and find yourself at the second floor of the nightclub with a bird’s eye view.So close you can see them glistening from the work they put in, their fusion of ballet, Salsa, hip hop and contemporary dance dutifully showcases the skills of each dancer, some of whom caused jaws to drop, including my own. The sign of any good night is dancing on the bar, which in the world of Carmen happens in 1950s Cuba, too. Coming from a Latina perspective, Carmen: To Havana And Back deserves to have a Broadway-level run of show, where guests can take a quick trip to the Caribbean for more than just one week. Whether going alone, with friends or on a date, this is one event that if you missed this month, you really truly did miss.