Icon re­turns to cen­tre stage


Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

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.

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