Company: Adventures in Motion Pictures (AMP)
What: The Car Man
Where: London, The Old Vic
When: through until December
A slick and dramatic night out with lots of action, passion and excitement to thrill folks. Not a dance performance as we know it which is both a great strength and a potential loss. I'll eat my hat if it's not a hit.
Viewed in any objective way Adventures in Motion Pictures (AMP) probably did more for UK dance than any other company in the 1990's.
They were certainly more successful at wooing new people out to a dance show and for a while it seemed that many folks I sat next to at more standard dance and ballet performances were chancing their arm having first been to see AMP's Swan Lake and enjoyed it so much. Ballet.co was just starting at the time as well and everybody was full of Adam Cooper, feathers and whatever.
The reason for their success was introducing West End musical pazzazz to their shows, and making things fast paced and easy for people to see what is going on. And much of this has been achieved without any public subsidy as well. What's more their Swan Lake received much critical acclaim.
I certainly enjoyed Swan Lake, and Cinderella, the follow-up. But I'd be lying if I said I had the AMP bug to the same degree as many fans, be they dance types or otherwise. Although I enjoy much of the slickness, I find the show aspects and big dance numbers a bit limiting at times. While I can't argue with the numbers I still can't fully fathom why Swan Lake and Cinderella enjoyed such tremendous success compared with some other dance/ballet fare. While I applaud that success even as I write lynching parties will be forming for me for expressing less than full adherence to the creed...
While the Carmen music is used as a base the plot is very different and Carmen becomes Luca - a drifter and man who enjoys both girls and boys. The action takes place in a diner/garage owned by sweaty, middle-aged Dino (Scott Ambler) and his smouldering (if not for him) wife Lana (Michela Meazza) who falls for Luca. Angelo, a shy, weak mechanic also falls for Luca, while in a relationship with the well-meaning, loving and perhaps boring Rita.
So what do we see? Well there is an awful lot of sex to be found in an American diner in the 60's it seems. Wherever you are in the 2 hour show you might find it comforting to know that you are never more than a minute or two away from some blistering hot passion! And it's not just the main characters - everybody seems to be at it. And if they are not, you just know they are thinking about it.
The plot... Luca drifts in, is given a job mending cars, he and Lana get very passionate. He then gets passionate with Angelo in a car - Angelo's first time with another man it seems.
Lana and Luca are at it again, get discovered by husband Dino whom they kill. It's rather good because, as one suspects, it's not so easy to kill somebody with a monkey wrench and so Dino keeps awaking and staggering on in life a little further. Eventually dispatched, it is Angelo who gets fitted-up and goes to jail for the crime. He kills a goaler who tries to have sex with him, escapes, and comes back to haunt Lana and Luca who have been running the garage. There is a fight and Lana shoots Luca having seen him for what he is.
Obviously this is a bare bones plot overview. There is much humour in the show and some lovely observation of life and what makes people tick. And much passion/sex of course - perhaps I just lead a sheltered existence.
Sets and Costumes
A truly fabulous evocation of 60's small town America to film-set standards. I do enjoy good design and these must be some of the best I've seen on any stage. Lez Brotherston excelled himself and they must have cost a fortune to realise. Chameleon like they allow for lots of very slick scene changes, all of which went off without a hitch. To stage a car race with two apparently full size American classics is a marvellous thing to behold.
I'm not so sure on this. While AMP are a dance company their marketing and whole approach is different and the dance is not quite so central to their shows. I found a lot of repetition, particularly in the group numbers, and the dance vocabulary does not seem so wide.
Inevitably you find yourself concentrating on the pdd and there are many inventive things involving the floor, tables, chairs and even dough and a bowl. It's often quite raw exciting and hungry stuff - but somehow as movement it didn't really fully engage me and fire me up. However....
AMP possesses some of the most dramatic actors and actresses you could wish for and if the movement itself does not always talk, they certainly do. The story comes alive and sparkles and indeed some parts are just pure acting - not a dance step in sight. I also like the un-balletic look - the men *all* seem chunky and the women womanly.
Scott Ambler is particularly good as Dino, you can practically smell the unwashed aura and nicotine. His fight and murder scenes work particularly well. I also liked Michela Meazza who captured that 'woman of a certain age' so well. Some would call her a tart while others would admire her style in not giving up on her youth, Every time she moved, something of her body wiggled just a little in sympathy and we understood. AMP's strongest asset is its dramatic dancers.
Does it work?
Yes it's worth seeing for sure - way too slick an entertainment to miss. But if you want to major more on dance then I reckon the Didy Veldman Carmen for Northern Ballet Theatre is stronger and more moving choreographically - if less of an all-round show.
It will be interesting to see how AMP develop as they become a resident company at the Old Vic and less the new boys on the block. Regardless of what critics might say, if they continue to reel in a newer audience they are to be seriously applauded.