The American Dream, or rather, the failings of that principle are often explored in art. The author John Steinbeck suggested that the reason socialism never caught on in the US is “the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hope for freedom, prosperity and success has underpinned American culture, capitalism and consumerism. The lust for wealth is explored in Matthew Bourne’s acclaimed dance piece, The Car Man, that uses the passionate score of French composer Georges Bizet’s Carmen.
In the small town of Harmony, a stranger arrives, bringing chaos to the three-figure population. Set between a car garage and diner in the Italian/American community, we see the youthful population thrive, until a catastrophic – but potentially prosperous – turn of events takes place. Matthew Bourne meets Bizet meets Grease meets West Side Story in this visceral and feisty dance piece.
First seen in 2000, Bourne’s production won the Evening Standard Award for Musical Event of the Year. It may seem ambitious – turning a 19th century French opera into a contemporary dance piece – but the music works much like a film score and charges the movement with a passionate, frenetic energy. So powerful is the music that you can hear the absence of the orchestra, which could have pushed this production into excellence. Still, the production is hot, dark and seductive and Bourne’s choreography triumphs in creating a fast paced thriller that tears apart the notion of the American Dream. The ruthless carelessness of the characters is embodied by the movement. The narrative is strong and easy to follow – this is sophisticated dance at an accessible level. This desire for money, and the gluttonous excess that the protagonists adore speaks of an individualistic ideology that continues into current times. Bourne’s ensemble, the collective, with their slick, perfected, trusting performance proves that while alone we can be great, together we are greater.