The beauty of Bizet, the passion of flamenco

The Chilliwack Metropolitan Orchestra joins with the Karen Flamenco Dance Company to present the classic tale of Carmen, March 12.

Karen Pitkethly plays the lead role in Carmen at the Cultural Centre on March 12. The Chilliwack Metropolitan Orchestra and Karen Flamenco Dance Company have partnered to bring this story of passion

Karen Pitkethly plays the lead role in Carmen at the Cultural Centre on March 12. The Chilliwack Metropolitan Orchestra and Karen Flamenco Dance Company have partnered to bring this story of passion

Flamenco. The word may conjure up images of ruffly red dresses or the sound of castanets. But this dance form can be used to tell dramatic stories as well.

The Chilliwack Metropolitan Orchestra (the Met) has partnered with Karen Flamenco Dance Company to present Carmen on March 12.

Artistic Director Karen Pitkethly leads the Vancouver-based elite flamenco troupe. She started the company in 2008 as a life-long dancer and avid choreographer, extensively trained in ballet, contemporary and flamenco styles.

A traditional dance form from southern Spain, flamenco is gaining popularity in both its training and performance around the world.

Traditional flamenco music and dance is known for its emotional intensity, exhibited through percussive footwork, and expressive use of the upper body, arms and hands.

Karen Flamenco Dance Company has become well-known for their interpretations of stories including Moulin Rouge, Sleeping Beauty and West Side Story. They regularly perform at the Vancouver Playhouse, which is where Met conductor Greg Johnson and member Anne Fleming became captivated by their work.

Pitkethly and the Met first collaborated last year at Viva Espano, capturing the orchestra and audience with the beauty and grace of the flamenco dance.

While traditional flamenco is performed with a single guitarist and Spanish vocalist, larger venues like the Cultural Centre can accommodate far more.

The 45-piece Met orchestra will play Georges Bizet’s passionate and recognizable Carmen Suites, as the dancers beautifully blend the traditional flamenco dance form with a more balletic classical Spanish dance, making the show quite special.

story.Flamenco is particularly recognized for its ability to portray a feeling, and there are an array of dramatic emotions to express in this

The story of Carmen is one of a classic, tragic love triangle. It brings together Don José, the handsome yet naive soldier, Escamillo, the wealthy bull-fighter, and the alluring but heartless gypsy woman, Carmen. Her beauty and manipulation draws Don José to her, but she rejects him for the attraction of wealth, and the story comes to a tragic climax.

“I’ve always loved the story of Carmen,” Pitkethly explained. “It captures all the aspects of flamenco music. It’s got passion, tragedy, and of course, jealousy.”

She wears many hats with this production, as choreographer, artistic director, stage manager, and dancing the lead role.

Thus, she says that she finds relief being on stage, able to fully soak into the dancing and acting. And with her husband playing the role of Don José, it’s easy and fun for them to get into character.

The dozen dancers on stage harness the emotion and feed off of the energy of the orchestra musicians, as well as the audience.

Audience members are encouraged to engage with this performance in lively and spontaneous ways. They can shout out jaleo (words of encouragement), when they feel moved, using traditional calls such as “olé” or “guapa” which inspire the performers to dance or play even harder.

And there will be plenty to get excited about during this show, particularly in the fourth and final act.

The toreador arrives at the bull-fighting ring with Carmen on his arm, as she wears a stunning red gown covered with artistic flowers. The bata de cola, meaning dress with tail, is an authentic aspect of a flamenco dance, perfect for the majestic performance, adding visual drama to the final scene.

The costumes, choreography, arrangements and the acting are extraordinary, true evidence of the performers’ dedication to their art.

In fact, Pitkethly regularly visits Seville, Spain, where the story of Carmen is based, to study and be inspired by the teachers.

“It’s flamenco heaven in Seville,” she said. While soaking up the sun, she’ll discover the latest flamenco trends, catch some performances, take a few classes and learn new techniques to bring back to her core group of dancers.

“The collaboration of raw flamenco with a 45-piece orchestra is so beautiful, and it opens each audience up to a new pleasure,” Pitkethly explained.

Carmen takes place March 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $45 for adults, $40 for students and can be purchased by phone at 604-391-SHOW, online at or in person at the Cultural Centre (9201 Corbould St).