Dada Masilo’s CARMEN in JHB in September

carmen-002WOW, sounds like the South African Dance scene finally got it’s groove on, thanks to the groundbreaking work of the edgy young choreographer/Director Dada Masilo that’s filling up theatre seats – Go Go Go and support this new wave of dance this month:  Thanks to support from the City of Johannesburg, local audiences will get to see the latest dance/theatre work by 24 year-old trailblazer, Dada Masilo. Her CARMEN, which dazzled audiences at the recent National Arts Festival, will be staged at The Dance Factory from September 10th to 13th, as part of the Arts Alive International Festival.

During the past few years, Masilo has made a name for herself both as a dancer and as a choreographer. Trained in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Brussels, Masilo is a Contemporary dancer, who has a deep love for the classics – from Shakespeare to Tchaikovsky, from Ballet to Flamenco. As a dancer, she has impressed with her `signature speed` – the ability to move like greased lightening; and also to imbue her roles with a precocious theatricality. As choreographer, she has been amazingly daring, tackling the `big’ stories and boldly fusing dance techniques; musically, mixing the original scores with twentieth century composers and performers.

In 2008, Masilo was the recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Dance. For that National Arts Festival, she created a ROMEO AND JULIET, based closely on Shakespeare’s text – but reflecting the youth of the title characters in her use of Bach and Vivaldi, performed by Vanessa Mae and Nigel Kennedy. The work drew large critical and audience support and was restaged for the Arts Alive International Festival 2008, where it failed to disappoint. In October, it goes to the Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town.

CARMEN posed an even bigger challenge. Masilo says: I began with the idea of unraveling Carmen the woman – to search beneath the surface presented in the ballets and operas – to find the vulnerability beneath the cold, heartless exterior. In the process of research, there was so much to unravel: I searched for Bizet and found Shchedrin, I discovered many existing narratives. Ultimately, I have created a narrative which allows me and the dancers to do what we love most – to dance.

The first phase of CARMEN, was UNRAVELLING CARMEN a thirty-minute work commissioned by the FNB Dance Umbrella with additional support from the National Arts Council. This work, for seven dancers, premiered last March.

Adrienne Sichel in The Star wrote:

Not unexpectedly, Dada Masilo’s commissioned Unraveling Carmen…goes for the artistic jugular.The white floor transforms not into a bullring, but a red rose-spattered arena of sex, lust, violence and death. Flamenco is torn back to its original African origins in seductive arms, suggestive pelvises and organic rhythms. The physicality of the piece can be either blatantly suggestive or gently beautiful.

Inspired by the operas and ballets…and her own fascination with this doomed character, Masilo is yet again crafting her response and minimalist narrative to a European classic, informed by her creative energies and perspectives as a gifted young South African. Sexuality and violence mate with musical intelligence and thrilling physical candour.

In May, after a three-week tour to Mexico (as a dancer in PJ Sabbagha’s duet, BACK – and dodging swine flu) Masilo began work on the full-length CARMEN, a work for twelve dancers. The biggest challenge, was drafting a story, without the help of Shakespeare – the Carmen libretto proved to be a more complex source `It was she! It was she! No it’s not! No it’s not! I’m not talking tralalalala.’

Masilo is frequently asked how long it takes her to create a full length work. She usually says three weeks’ but in fact, the research takes months longer – and often continues after the work’s first, or even second staging. She is in love with narrative – telling a story, and the sharing of real time with the audience; and also gets personally involved with all aspects of the production,

from costumes to lighting design.

In CARMEN, Masilo leads a cast of 12 dancers including Penny Ho Hin, Carlynn Willliams, Lulu Mlangeni, Nicola Haskins, Vishanthi Arumugam, Gustin Makgeledisa, Mpho Masilela, Bailey Snyman, Xolani Mthabela and Lesego Ngwato. For music, she has chosen Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite-Ballet Suite for strings and percussion based on themes from Carmen by George Bizet; Bizet’s Carmen Suites;

Maria Callas singing the Habanera; and two sections of Arvo Part’s Lamentate.

The work runs without an interval and has not suitable for under 16s. Performances run on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th September at 20h00, Saturday 12th at 18h00 and Sunday 13th at 14h30. Ticket at R85 for Adults, R55 for Students, Pensioners and Groups of 10 or more, are available at Computicket. For further information, call The Dance Factory on 011 833 1347 or e-mail

Excerpts from CARMEN reviews at the National Arts Festival:

`simply superb!…The way Masilo moves is breathtaking…pliable, and sexy…There may never have been a bolder, more erotic Carmen…joins the list of brilliantly choreographed and danced performances accomplished by this bright star which is Masilo, and the packed house and ovation on its opening performance is…further testimony to the fact. If you have the slightest glimmer of interest in dance, you cannot miss this work of art. And if you are not interested in dance in the slightest, you must see this work, for it’ll change your mind.’ Steve, Artsblog, The National Arts Festival Blog, Thurs 2 July, 2009.

`…Dada Masilo takes a generally politely veiled tale of sexual violence and manipulation, and split its seams wide…The role she adopts in Carmen fleshes her into something irrevocably more terrible and sophisticated…This Carmen is more heartless than Lady Macbeth – she can kill, she can tease, she can break men with the flick of an eyelash, the thrust of her body or the flexing of her wrists. She’s tempestuous, bold and flamboyant, and she snatches the audience attention with characteristic urgency…you cannot pull your eyes off her.’ Robyn Sassen, Cue, Fri 3 July, 2009.

`Contemporary dance dynamo Dada Masilo’s Carmen has also seen a run on tickets. Masilo was the toast of the festival last year with her Romeo and Juliet, and her flamenco-laced interpretation…sees her `unraveling’ the sultry temptress to reveal her vulnerability and, by extension, that of women in a society beset by rape and violence.’  The Times, Sat 4 July, 2009.

`After experiencing Dada Masilo’s brilliant Romeo and Juliet last year, dance lovers have been eagerly awaiting her presentation for the 2009 National Arts Festival. Could she pull off another winner? She sure did…Carmen pulsates with passion, desire, jealousy, flirtatiousness and poignancy. Masilo is an extraordinary performer…’  Caroline Smart, Artsmart, Mon 6 July, 2009.

`Already legends are being made in Grahamstown…Dada Masilo…simply blowing everyone away with her sassy, sexy and oh-so confidently African Carmen…says she dances because she loves it. That’s obvious when you experience her exuberance on stage…I found her extraordinary creativity  mesmerising and magical…she adds layers and interpretations with the flick of the hip, a lift of the buttock and a swish of her flame-red gown…the production has an accessibility that’s inviting…I suspect that her work is as instinctual as it is researched. As hot-blooded as the Carmen she has created and portrays…she should soon set world stages alight.  Diane de Beer, The Star, Tue 7 July, 2009.

`This was the role that Dada Masilo was born for, rewarded with both a full house and a standing ovation at the Dance Factory’s passionate final performance on the Main programme (on Sunday). Having left her mark as Lady Macbeth and Juliet at previous festivals, Masilo’s Carmen has been one of the hottest tickets for 2009. The shaven-headed star…returned in the title role of the Spanish bad-girl Carmen and made it her own…So petite and yet so potent, you cannot take your eyes off Masilo…Here’s hoping Masilo will be back for 2010!’ Gillian MsAinsh, The Herald Online, Sat 11 July, 2009.

`…Dada Masilo’s Flamenco-infused ambitious contemporary version of Carmen… reflects the brash, hot-blooded, bull-fighting milieu…marked by anger, antagonism and adrenaline…  Tenderness and sorrow offset the predominant violence, passion and bawdry…There are lyrical, invigorating moments in Carmen, when the ensemble dancing reaches a bold, synchronised climax…’  Chris Thurman, The Weekender, Sat 11 July, 2009.

`Dance continued to be a major draw card for all ages. Dada Masilo’s de-romanticised Carmen enthralled the initiated and stunned the uninitiated with her choreographic sophistication and eclectic neo-classicism. Her interpretation of the lead role, Carmen is pure streetwise kasi meets Jozi.’ Adrienne Sichel, The Star, Tue 14 July, 2009.

`Dada Masilo followed last year’s triumphant Romeo and Juliet with a startling Carmen…’  Diane de Beer, The Star, Tue 14 July, 2009.

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