If it returns to this area, one absolutely must see Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures digital presentation of his powerful Theatre Dance piece, “The Car Man.”  It runs 1 hour and 38 minutes and not one minute is extemporaneous nor rambling. This Award winning “Musical Event” was presented on Friday, December 11, through Sunday, December13, 2020 by the Center Theatre Group. Better yet, perhaps the company will return to Los Angeles soon to perform this wonderful production live post-pandemic.

Often referred to as a “Dance-Thriller” it is an intense expression of Bourne’s genius not only as an intelligent and organic choreographer, but as a dramatist that makes his stories come alive.  His musicality, sense of pacing, and uncanny ability to surprise with an exquisitely designed conclusion, expresses his understanding of the human condition so moving and powerful one cannot hold back tears.

Bourne in his pre-performance talk reveals that no characters were intended to be fashioned after Bizet’s Carmen.  However, he admits there are some parallels, perhaps the characters Lana and Luca.  He actually sees the story as loosely based on the 1934 novel “The Postman Always Rings Twice” by James Cain and the Noire film of 1946 with John Garfield, Lana Turner, and 1981 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.

Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man" - Photo by Johan Persson, courtesy of Center Theatre Group

Matthew Bourne’s “The Car Man” – Photo by Johan Persson, courtesy of Center Theatre Group

Luca, the Drifter, The Car Man, appears in the factory town of Harmony.  Chris Trenfield, with his masculine eagle like focus so brilliantly counters the chaos of the gathering factory folk. He is soon fixed and burning for the sensual, and married, Lana.

Lana, a waitress at Dino’s Diner, is married to the irascible Dino, played by Alan Vincent, (the original 2001 character of Luca).  She soon notices the newcomer and lures him to her with her wiles to the gorgeous Seguidillas.  Lana is played by the remarkable Zizi Strallen, so secure and free as an actress and phenomenal technical dancer, she stuns and captivates with her range. One can almost hear the recitative from the Habanera “When will I love you?…I don’t know, Maybe never, But not today.“ The tease brings intensity to the relationship between Luca and Lana, distracted only by the sudden presence of Lana’s husband,

This happens against the nascent love and desire of Lana’s sister, Rita, also a waitress at the Diner, played by the delicate responsive Kate Lyons.  Rita’s affection for Angelo, the hired help, supports Dominic North’s stunning portrayal of a timid and innocent boy unschooled in the ways of the world and mercilessly harassed and bullied by the ultra macho males of the town.

Like a Greek Chorus of bawdy bored townsfolk, all incite and instigate the tyranny until halted by Luca. This sets the scene for raw machismo eroticism; heartbreaking twists of fate; along with murder and mayhem…thus, a “Dance thriller.”

The Ensemble of Matthew Bourne's "The Car Man" - Photo by Johan Persson, courtesy of the company.

The Ensemble of Matthew Bourne’s “The Car Man” – Photo by Johan Persson, courtesy of the company.

This was Bourne’s first time collaboration creating a complete score with composer Terry Davies.  Davies based the score on Russian Born, Rodion Schedrin’s Carmen Suite (after the Bizet Carmen). Davies cleverly employed just strings and percussion with additional music based on the original score.

The music had a beautiful range between the near underscoring of familiar Bizet melodies, to the rowdy quadrille of the Toreador Song, Lana’s sultry Seguidilla and the famed Habanera. Bourne’s love and sensitivity to the music added choreographed sounds of feet pounding, and hands dropping against the wood floor, countering the musical underscoring.  The use of vocal cheering, yelling and comments, gave a live and immediate feel of being a part of the story.

The designer of Set and Costumes, Lez Brotherston and the Lighting Designer, Chris Davey highlighted the characters with exquisite sensitivity creating emotional notice of the quality of the ambiance, performance and mood.

The rest of this amazing cast included dancers Cordelia Braithaite, Tom Clark, Daniel Collins, Pia Driver, Glenn Graham, Nicole Kabera, Katrina Lyndon, Andrew Monaghan, Leon Moran, Danny Reubens, Katie Webb, Daniel Wright.

The way The Car Man was filmed live at the Sadler’s Wells during their 2015 National Tour in partnership with Illuminations Production for Sky Arts using six cameras, created the full emotional and physical impact of the story.  A rare and sensitive way to see theatre these days, and a treat for the emotions, aesthetics and the art of Theatre Dance.  Hopefully, it will be extended by the Center Theater Group for those wishing to see it for the first time or repeat-visit to this searingly brilliant theatre.

To learn more about Matthew Bourne/New Adventures, click HERE.

To visit the Center Theatre Group website, click HERE.

Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Zizi Strallen and Chris Trenfield in Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man – Photo courtesy of the company.