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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Car Man Presented at UC Berkeley

Also see Richard's recent review of Tapestry


We saw the swan song of Matthew Bourne's Car Man at the Zellerbach Hall on the University of California campus in Berkeley recently. This was the last performance on American soil since nervous presenters in Chicago, Boston and Toronto pulled out after a disappointing advance box office return. I had seen Mr. Bourne's Swan Lake and Cinderella and found this dance piece less exciting.

Matthew Bourne has taken ballet-dance choreography from Martha Graham and Jerome Robbins. In some scenes you could see the West Side Story influence. However, the two hour presentation becomes repetitious and monotonous along the way. The choreographer's knowledge and feel of small town America in the '60s is based on Hollywood films. You can see elements of MGM's The Postman Always Ring Twice and one of the films I worked on, My Own Private Idaho. There are also elements of many "B" films that were made in the 1960s. However, it is an Englishman's interpretation of these films.

This dance-theater piece is a loose take-off on Bizet's Carmen. Luca, danced by Ewan Wardrop, is a sexy drifter who arrives in Harmony, USA, population 375. Harmony is a car and sex centered Midwestern town that must have come from Mr. Bourne's fertile imagination. Luca takes a job in a grubby auto garage and proceeds to seduce Lana, the sex-starved wife of his boss. Lana is danced by Vicky Evans. Luca swings both ways so he then entices Angelo, a timid, nice fellow who works with him in the garage. To make matters more complicated Angelo has a girlfriend who is Lana's sister. Eventually, a murder, frame-up and revenge emerge from all of these vaporous ingredients.

There is a lot of bellowing, heavy breathing and fuming looks between the lead dancers. It is supposed to be hypererotic but I found it unerotic. I found no chemistry between the two and Ms. Evans does not look like a sex symbol. In fact she looks more like Marian the Liberian in Music Man. Mr. Wardrop has the body of a sexual being but I was not that impressed with his movement. Angelo, played by Will Kemp, is the best of the three main characters. He has the grace of a ballet dancer and his solo parts are outstanding.

The opening ensemble work with the chorus dancing, horsing around, and working on cars is one of the highlights of Car Men. This scene creates great anticipation for the rest of the evening. However, many of the scenes become tedious and it is only when the ensemble is on the stage that the dance piece reaches any heights.

Richard Winsor is a marvelous dancer with great movement but why, oh why, does he have to have those phony facial expressions every time something is happening? He uses every method acting face known during the two hour piece. From his biography he is new to the scene and maybe with experience he will learn to tone down his expressions.

Car Man becomes completely out of control in the second act. It goes from a snobbish French bistro (why I don't know) to a prison rape scene that looks more S&M than rape and then to strange visitations between Angelo and his girlfriend and finally a midnight drag strip that looks like a scene from Weber's Whistle Down the Wind. This act really does ramble around the map.

The music is canned and the Rodion Schedrin orchestration of Bizet's score has always been one of my favorites. The sound system is good and of course the dancers have to be accurate to the beat. Sometimes they are not. Lez Brotherston's set is ingenious. The central platform goes from a locker room to an apartment to a jailhouse and there are many striking scenes.

I have to say that the dance is a hodgepodge but let's face it, this is really a dance piece and not a ballet. I only wish that Car Man were more exciting. Maybe with the other lead dancers that were listed in program, it might have been.




Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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