Icon returns to centre stage
CELEBRATING A KIWI CELEBRITY
SHE was an activist, a mayoral candidate, a onetime stripper and now the late Carmen Rupe will once again be centre stage as her life is celebrated in a performance at the Auckland Town Hall.
The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s composerin-residence Jack Body’s Songs and Dances of Desire: In Memoriam Carmen Rupe will pay tribute to the flamboyant drag queen and one of New Zealand’s greatest cultural icons, who died in 2011, through a mixture of dance, song and ‘‘total entertainment’’.
Mr Body has waited 20 years to see his vision brought to the stage.
Inspired by the ‘‘fearlessness’’ shown by Carmen in her autobiography, the project began in 1991 with a concept for a ballet combining Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen and tales of Carmen’s life.
But the risky project was canned, as were revised shows in 1998 and 2000.
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra finally performed Carmen Dances as a concert piece in 2002 to an audience that included the legend herself.
The journey has been long.
‘‘In some ways I’m quite pleased in retrospect that it’s taken some time to get here because the concept has transformed and become stronger,’’ Mr Body says.
He and Carmen became friends after the composer travelled to Sydney to visit her King’s Cross apartment.
‘‘She meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But she was an extraordinarily colourful personality and a true icon.’’
Carmen was born into a family of 13 in Taumarunui and was known as Trevor Rupe for the first 20 years of her life. She entered the sex industry in Australia after leaving the army in the 1950s and took the name Carmen from Dorothy Dandridge’s character in the film Carmen Jones.
Returning to New Zealand in the late 1960s, Carmen became an entrepreneur, opening the famous Carmen’s International Coffee Lounge – a ‘‘flamboyant space’’ festooned with avant-garde European art, mirrors and tropical fish, according to Te Ara – the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.
For the dancer who will take to the stage as Carmen, she will always be the charming personality happy to stop and say hello.
Central Auckland resident Jason Moore met Carmen many times while living in Sydney.
‘‘She was a celebrity in the true sense of the word – she’d earned her stripes,’’ he says.
‘‘She had her own special aura so you knew you were in the presence of someone very interesting.’’
It is a role Mr Moore does not feel he would have had enough life experience to play a decade ago.
‘‘Even if you’re just rolling a shoulder to give someone a look on stage – it’s something only experience and maturity can bring.’’
Behind the frivolity and feather headdresses there is a deeper message about social and cultural change to be heard, he says.
‘‘Even now that she’s passed she’s still very much relevant to our society.’’
Songs and Dances of Desire will play at the Auckland Town Hall on Friday at 8pm.
Dancing desire: Left, Central Auckland dancer Jason Moore will be taking to the stage in Songs and Dances of Desire: In Memoriam Carmen Rupe.
Flamboyant icon: The life of New Zealand transgender icon Carmen Rupe will be celebrated in a performance at the Auckland Town Hall on March 8.
Dedicated: Composer Jack Body’s tribute to Carmen Rupe, Songs and Dances of Desire, has been more than 20 years in the making.