Edinburgh International Festival: María Pagés slings a large leather bag over her shoulder and starts rummaging around inside it, frustratedly.
The flamenco dancer and choreographer behind this powerful celebration of womanhood can’t find what she is looking for – and she’s had enough.
What follows is Pagés’ only song in the show (she leaves the rest to the stunning flamenco vocalists in her company), where she lists all the things women have to carry around in order to live their lives. Initially witty, the song then moves into more serious territory, condemning the countless anti-ageing and beauty products that conspire to make women feel bad about their natural, and changing, appearance.
If all this sounds a world away from Mérimée’s novella and Bizet’s opera, it is. This is Carmen, but not as we know it. Some of Bizet’s music makes an appearance, played gloriously by an eight-strong musical team, but Pagés is here to give us a real depiction of women – not the male fantasy that resides in the original story.
Joined by six superb female dancers, she cradles a baby then dons an apron and sweeps the floor; while romantic engagement with men (depicted by chairs) feels egalitarian and sensuous, rather than dysfunctional. Standing alone in a spotlight, Pagés swoops a long black scarf over her head, capturing the old Spanish widows we see in pictures, but giving her a new vibrancy.
In case there’s any confusion (which from the mumblings around me, there clearly is), towards the end Pagés steps forward to address the audience. This show is about all women, she tells us, her, me, our mothers, our grandmothers, our daughters; a moment of recognition and empowerment to challenge the stereotypes she grew up surrounded by in Seville.
It’s a strong central message, and the vehicle which delivers it is equally strong – pounding, adrenalin-inducing footwork and beautifully intricate arms all performed in perfect unison.