A sophisticated collision of cultures: DeNada Dance Theatre’s TORO: Beauty and the Bull

Patrick Centre at the Birmingham Hippodrome
March 22, 2018

Phil Preece

A world premiere’s always an event, but when it’s by Carlos Pons Guerra’s company, DeNada Dance Theatre, you never know what you’re going to get. The good news is that this witty and sophisticated take on the classic archetypes of Spanish culture is a theatre connoisseur’s dream.

Spain. To British eyes, home to the extreme; the land of heat, macho men, flirtatious femme fatales and the cruelty and drama of the bullfight, all blood and sand, all passion and pain.

The first half of Toro: Beauty and the Bull is played out to an eclectic soundtrack of bygone Spanish radio hits, to English ears unsettlingly close to the staccato cries of the Islamic world with its alien-sounding instruments and the call of the muezzin. But this is the Spain, firmly in Christian Europe yet close enough to touch the inscrutable East that this becomes the missing soundtrack of a trip to the Moorish fantasy that is the fortress of Alhambra, as we are reminded the Arabs were in Andalusia, on European soil, for a long time.

Emma Walker and Marivi Da Sliva in DeNada Dance Theatre's TORO Beauty and the BullPhoto Emma Kauldhar
Emma Walker and Marivi Da Sliva in DeNada Dance Theatre’s
TORO Beauty and the Bull
Photo Emma Kauldhar

Here the two protagonists are female dancers, Emma Walker (Beauty) and Marivi Da Sliva (Bull), who are persecuted and abused by a gang of swinish men. In an ingenious series of culturally-determined tableaux we see the men put the women firmly and violently down in what they believe should be their ‘rightful’ place, with the women desperately trying to fight this blatant oppression. But Pons Guerra has more up his sleeve than this.

In the second half the men appear as ‘dragimals’, that is animals in drag, representing harnessed gay people, ethnic minorities, the colonised and other marginalised groups.

I’m simplifying wildly, but basically although gender politics to an eclectic soundtrack referencing clashing yet intertwining cultures shouldn’t work, here it becomes a triumph that resolutely refuses to insult the intelligence of an audience. It’s as packed with stuff as an egg, and with all of that seminal item’s cultural promise.

More please, more.

TORO: Beauty and the Bull continues on tour. Visit hwww.denada-dance.com for dates and venues.