This show could be headlined “Local Girl Makes Good”. Dancer, choreographer and actress Yana Maizel was born in St. Petersburg, raised in Toronto, and lives in Paris. She also happens to be a flamenco dancer who trained in Spain. Her solo show, not surprisingly, is anchored in her peripatetic background. Maizel’s homecoming also garnered a standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience.
Maizel calls her work “flamenco-theatre” as it is a mix of dance, text, clown, and thematic line. In fact, the text embraces all four of her languages. Oddly, there are two titles. The English version is My Name Is Not Carmen!, but the translation of the French title is Life Is A Train Station, the latter taken from a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva. Both names apply. The former fights against the stereotype of a flamenco dancer. The latter refers to her very mobile life. The text also comes from filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, and Maizel’s own words.
The piece centres on questions of identity – the feeling of isolation, the longing for the familiar, the fear of the new. Throughout, Maizel plays off her excellent musicians, guitarist/composer Thiago Vasquez, and singer Cristo Cortes. Each dance sequence evokes a different mood, and this is where Maizel’s acting/dancing skills reign supreme. Her footwork can sound bitter, playful, bewildered or artistic. For example, near the beginning of the work, we hear Maizel stamping her feet before we see her. As the lights come up, her dance segues into a fierce, angst-ridden standoff with the musicians that reflects hopelessness and despair.
There is also a foray into humour. Mid-show, Maizel drags out a dressmaker’s dummy garbed in a typical colourful flamenco dress. She clips flowers in her hair as she regales the audience about how much easier it would be if her name were Carmen (or Manuela or Delores), and if she didn’t always have to explain that she used to be from there, but not from here etc. The convoluted speech is very funny as she gets trapped in the words of her own misdirection.
The show, in fact, is a journey from isolation to acceptance, as Maizel finds comfort in her art. When she does finally perform a traditional flamenco dance, her talent, anchored in a burning intensity, is obvious to all. At one point, she even manages to speak and dance at the same time which is a remarkable feat of breath control. It should also be mentioned that the theatrical values are strong, with effective lighting and costume changes. This is an intelligent show that has been put together with exquisite care.
The end mirrors the beginning. At the start, Maizel wears a blue shift, akin to a slip. She is back in this slip at the end, and never has a flamenco dancer been more exposed with bare arms and legs. We get to watch the body of a flamenco dancer, and how the muscles work within the movement. It is an unusual sight in an art form where the dancers are almost fully covered. The metaphor is clear, however. Maizel and flamenco are one and the same.
My Name Is Not Carmen!, conceived and performed by Yana Maizel, Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto, Nov. 8 and 9, 2012.