A Conversation with Carmel

A Conversation with Carmel is a dialogue of artistic fusion with a lot to say, and far too many ways of saying it. The production, from Natasha Gilmore's Barrowland Ballet, swings wildly and abruptly from traditional ballet to contemporary dance, from joyous celebration to solemn vigil, incorporating filmed segments and community dance groups in support of its more seasoned core performers. At its best, this show dazzles spectacularly, at its worst it merely fizzles out.Its premise is to explore old age, its impact on relationships, its effect on memory and perspective, and ultimately its proximity to death. A film of talking head interviews with older people provides the stimulus for a series of routines that centre around a surprise birthday party for Carmel, played exquisitely by MBE-holding dance royalty Diana Payne-Myers. The symbolic relationship between all this is interesting, and has important things to say about the basics of dance as a medium. That dance can be as much of a conversation as verbal interview; that the raucous dance of a birthday celebration can hold some equivalence with a death ritual: these are interesting and inviting notions. Abstractly, they form a far more coherent whole than it seems from the formal experience of the production.The best sections involve the core company: a family with an interweaving set of relationships, of which Carmel is the oldest - as highly-valued as her young grandchild and almost as dependent on the family unit, something that is structured into the shape of the routines, particularly the lifts. The figure of Carmel and her relationship to the other dancers is perhaps the show's richest element, demonstrating the compatibility of her apparent frailty with both gracefulness and torment.Yet the production is crowded, if not stifled, from all sides. The film segments are not interesting or well-arranged enough to warrant the extent of their use: unlike the dances, their quality does not stand up on its own merit. The chorus of community members pinched from a social dance group show tremendous spirit, but their energies are not always used by Gilmore as well as they could be - a section of freeze-frames that represent photographs at the birthday party, for example, has a distinctly GCSE-drama vibe about it. And, at the show's lowest point, a pre-recorded video of senior citizens strutting their stuff to Beyoncé Knowles’ 'Crazy in Love' seems so close to YouTube pastiche that it feels wholly estranged from its parent production.A Conversation with Carmel is still, whatever its problems, hugely likable, and in an arts festival absolutely dominated by the young and male, it presents a refreshingly female-heavy cast that also reminds us of the value of the older performer. Although, ultimately, its many voices may be talking out of sync, it engages us in a conversation more than worth having.

Reviews by Tom Moyser

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The Blurb

Fusing contemporary dance, theatre and film, this visionary piece explores the secrets and stories of Carmel on her 80th birthday. Professional dancers plus an ensemble community cast. 'Choreography is stunning' (One Up One Down, List).