Choreography: Carlos Pons Guerra
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
DeNada Dance Theatre are one of the UK’s most exciting and rapidly upcoming dance companies, led by Spanish choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra, who is based in the UK and divides his time between Birmingham and Leeds – the country’s main dance hubs outside London. He brings to his work an interest in transgression and outsiderness and a distinctly Hispanic flavour.
TORO – Beauty & the Bull is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast as seen through several lenses. Set in a dystopian South America that is at once historically-resonant and eerily unfamiliar. Beauty (Emma Walker) is a prostitute: a fiercely defiant young woman who is at the mercy of men. The Beast (Marivi Da Silva) is a she-bull – a supposedly-monstrous creature also victim to the cruelty and whims of men. That the Bull embodies all the passion and compassion of what is normally attributed to humanity means she wins the trust and love of the Girl as they find common ground as victims of men, who fight for the right to possess but are more interested in the combative struggle between them than the thing they supposedly desire.
In the second half of this two-part ballet, we meet the Dragimals: other creatures who represent beauty and passion and are defined as possessions – beasts – by men at a circus sideshow in the desert.
TORO explores the nature of outsiderness within the terms of those who decide who is in control and who is not – women, animals, beasts, queers. Who is it that defines monsters and by what right do they do this and at what expense? In the programme notes Guerra talks expansively about the outsiderness of homosexuals and the drag community, linking it with the queerness of fairy tales and the monsters that appear in art and culture – and children’s nightmares – making connections with how those narratives to this day demonise women, people of colour and difference, recalling the Spanish children’s tales of his youth.
Guerra’s wide-ranging interests extend to his choreography, which is a thrillingly exotic mix of technically-extravagant ballet, contemporary, flamenco and vogue. His movement is diverse and perverse, fluid and spiky, erotic and sensual, violent and sometimes startlingly-explicit. Somehow, this approach, the bold selection of Spanish (or Spanish-flavoured) music and the strong performances enable the somewhat kaleidoscopic narrative to come into focus. The second half is terrific, horrifying in the right way, drenched in fiery red and thrillingly danced, as circus matadors, Dragimals and the Girl and Bull hurtle towards the powerful conclusion, set to Rimsky Korsakov’s Capricio Español, via an unsettling Spanish version of ‘Unchained Melody’ by La Lupe. Jonathan Luke Baker’s solo is especially impressive and sensual, then agonising.
TORO is a slightly-bizarre piece of dance theatre – but in a good way. It is culturally diverse, questioning and delivered with enormous style and imagination: it pushes boundaries (and probably a few people’s buttons) but is so gloriously unrepentant in its fabulous queerness and technical flair that it explains why DeNada are already punching above their weight.
Classical ballet is all about suspiciously wrong creatures, transformation, outsiders, loving the wrong people and the consequences of straying outside the lines. TORO is well-within that tradition but looks at it with a modern, interrogative and slightly angry eye, which is exciting and distinctly different from the pure abstraction of much modern dance.
Now, more than ever, we need to be clear on who the monsters are.
Reviewed on 1st April 2018 | Image: Emma Kauldhar