At midnight a week ago Tracie O’Keefe was at Central Station in Sydney to record her performance of a section from the ballet Carmen.
To give you some context, O’Keefe is 65-year-old naturopath, mental health professional and retired dancer who is dedicated to extreme health, fitness and wellbeing. Each week she spends between 10 to 14 hours at the gym and dance studio.
This performance was recorded during the COVID 19 pandemic at Central Station when many performance venues were closed.
Carmen is a famous opera composed by the French composer Georges Bizet, first performed in 1875, and later adapted as a ballet by the French dancer and choreographer Roland Petit in 1949.
Dance is O’Keefe’s creative outlet and she wants to create pieces that have a purpose and a message of kindness and compassion.
Since she’s a vegan, she decided to adapt the choreography to a new narrative.
Carmen – Reimagined as a Feminist and Animal Activist
Although O’Keefe loves the ballet Carmen, she says the storyline is old-fashioned, misogynistic and promotes oppression of women and animal cruelty.
“Both Carmen, who is characterised as a loose woman who drives men to jealousy, dies at the hands of an ex-lover, and the bull dies at the hands of the matador,” she says. “Neither of these in today’s world is politically correct as women have the right to love who they wish, and the killing of bulls is cruel and unnecessary.”
Covid-19 lockdowns meant that for the first time during a tradition of hundreds of years, the Running of the Bulls festival where they chase, torture and kill bulls did not take place in Spain. So this piece is also to celebrate that (hopefully permanent) cessation of animal cruelty.
In this variation from Carmen, O’Keefe changed and updated the narrative: Carmen is an independent woman who does exactly as she pleases.
“Although she loves men, she owes them no debt of unstated allegiance. She is not a possession, chattel or in debt to any of her lovers because she had not promised them anything,” says O’Keefe.
“Although she can be coquettish, she does not surrender herself to men’s desire to dominate her.”
At the beginning of the ballet O’Keefe also reimagines Carmen as an animal rights activist who seeks to rescue the bull from slaughter.
The choreography is changed so Carmen beckons the bull to follow her to safety. She also alternates between being the coquettish Carmen and the spirit of the bull.
“Ballet companies need to review the narratives of their ballets to reflect what we teach our children about women’s and animal rights in today’s society,” says O’Keefe. “Art should reflect the changes in society and the changes that need to happen, not just be archaic dogma incarcerated in tradition.”
In keeping with the theme of compassion, the entire costume – designed by O’Keefe – is vegan, including the pointe shoes which are the Gaynor Minden vegan range.
Dying Swan – Vegan Version
Carmen is the second of O’Keefe’s performances this year. In March during lockdown she performed a vegan version of Dying Swan to call attention to harm being done to wildlife and the environment. This was performed in a private garden in Sydney:
Music: The original piano recording accompanying this piece was composed and recorded for O’Keefe by Kian Woo and is used here, copyright reserved, with full licensing rights solely for Tracie O’Keefe and O’Keefe & Fox Industries Pty Ltd. It may not be copied or used or remixed in any way by any other party.