December 13, 2013
Carlos Casella displays uncanny proclivity to rediscover small gems in the “female” repertoireFriday, October 18, 2013
Canciones de mujer: a gender-bending delight
Actor-singer-dancer-choreographer and all-around performer Carlos Casella has been gifted with the skills to blend the most unlikely of genres into all-new creations. A founding member of the seminal dance-theatre group El descueve (along with Ana Frenkel), and a cast member of the international hit Villa Villa, by avant-garde theatre company De la Guarda, Casella feels equally at home acting, singing, dancing, and choreographing modern dance pieces for contemporary ensembles.
Casella’s every step takes him in a new direction, which he follows with steadfast dedication and meticulous attention to detail. The approach applies to himself and to all the talent surrounding him or, as he unassumingly likes to say, the talent he falls back on to create visually dazzling and emotionally shattering performances.
Casella’s ¡Babooshka! Canciones de mujer, part of the Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires (FIBA), is an all-encompassing, awe-provoking materialization of his uncanny proclivity to dig deep into the essence of seemingly unmatchable tunes and genres, from the overplayed sentimentality of bolero to the often-derided pop art of cumbia songstress Lía Crucet, from the timidly provocative shrill voice of Libertad Lamarque singing her trademark Besos brujos to the pop explosion of Britney Spears’ Toxic. And, of course, the diabolically enchanting, enrapturing vocals of Kate Bush’s Babooshka, after which the show is named.
¡Babooshka! Canciones de mujer, is extremely difficult to typify or define. Part musical, part concert and theatre staging, ¡Babooshka!... is Casella’s personal labour of love — a fitting tribute to compositions sometimes dismissed as Canciones de mujer, meaning they could all fit into a gender-specific repertoire. What Casella does in ¡Babooshka!..., however, is help audiences reconcile with and rediscover small gems in the “female” repertoire, reworked by himself and arranged by musician Alejandro Terán into an aural delight.
Icelandic singer-composer Björk kicks the evening off to a smooth, silky start, as though you were quietly lounging to the atmospheric sound — a kind of hush — of an after hours moment of relaxation. Björk’s murmur of a song is followed by a sudden outburst of Italian Passione, appropriately billed in the hand programme as “in Mina’s version.” If an artist is able to pull this one off with a captivating result, it becomes apparent that they are able to rise to unbelievable performance heights.
Next, Casella launches into Britney Spears’ Toxic. The intelligentsia usually takes a condescending view of facile, formulaic solutions, and Spears’ Toxic, with its domestic wisdom about the byways of love, is no exception to the rule.
By the time Casella appropriates Italian songstress Rita Pavone’s signature tune Qué me importa del mundo, the stage is his and his alone. Switching his register higher to match Pavone’s shrill voice and phrasing, Pavone, erh, Casella, does a fine job of wearing his heart out on a sleeve and throwing you back to the canzone-dominated 60s, when Italian performers ruled pop/romance.
Spain’s Rocío Durcal, so quickly and unjustifiably overlooked on these shores, comes to the fore in Casella’s masterly rendition of La gata bajo la lluvia, the embodiment of human vulnerability and frailty. Shifting from passion to heartbreak with amazing ease, this is an unrivalled one-man display of ballet grace and precision.
The same grace he brings to his unpredictable inclusion of cumbia star Lía Crucet, whose talent and guiding inspiration Casella duly acknowledges. Crucet’s iconic status is formally yet joyfully revealed in Casella’s rendition of the diva’s classic Qué bello, seamlessly segued into Gloria Trevi’s Todos me miran.
All the songs in the show were composed to be sung by women — save for a canzone about a sailor in love with a mermaid — but Casella appropriates them with no gender-specific modification. It’s not that Mr. Casella’s style of performance is full of innuendo — his uncanny blend of masculinity and femininity, as well as his dexterity and self-assurance, come through naturally, with the kind of malleability few artists are capable of.
Where & When
¡Babooshka! Canciones de mujer. Tomorrow, October 19, at 00.30 at El Picadero, Pje. Enrique Santos Discépolo 1857.