The passion of football, the creativity of dance: La Partida by Vero Cendoya Dance Company

Penny Pit Football Pitches, Prestonpans, Edinburgh
November 1, 2018

Róisín O’Brien

Scotland is cold. How this climate affects its culture, society and attitudes is perhaps a question for another time, but cold weather certainly did not create the joyous La Partida.

From Barcelona based choreographer Vero Cendoya comes a choreographed football match, a dance of two teams on the first night of November in Prestonpans, a small town east of Edinburgh. The stadium energy of this piece did not let down its misty-breathed audience.

This performance of La Partida was part of At Your Leisure, a new festival in East Lothian and Edinburgh aimed at bringing together dance and sport. It is curated and co-produced by a panel of Young Festival Producers and dance company Room 2 Manoeuvre, in consultation with youth groups. At Prestonpans, the audience sat on benches surrounding a small pitch while, next door, an even bigger pitch was crowded with other teams and young children who spilled out of one arena to the next. It was the perfect environment.

Vero Cendoya Company in La Partida at PrestonpansPhoto Eve Johnstone
Vero Cendoya Company in La Partida at Prestonpans
Photo Eve Johnstone

La Partida avoids becoming either a dancing homage or mockery to football through its structure. Set up as a match, the piece ‘begins’ when the two teams run onto the pitch and are met with enthusiastic cheers from the audience. One team (the men) is composed of footballers, while the other team (the women) is made up of dancers. Cendoya cleverly combines the two disciplines by integrating them, rather than using one to talk about the other.

What follows for the next fifty minutes is a clever, humorous and emphatic series of reactions, strategies, tussles and negotiations between the two teams. The dancers disobey function and rules and instead seamlessly sync up in hunching yet lithe sequences as they surround an attacking player, or barrel turn, leap and fling themselves onto other bodies (their team or the opposition). The dancers are magnetic: there is a real attack and rawness in their stretched limbs and impressive flips and cartwheels.

There are some brilliant set pieces. When the men score their second goal, each team goes through the motions of crushing disappointment or jubilant elation, respectively, in diabolically slow motion. It’s the perfect rendition of any television match replay. At half time, the referee as the arbitrary decider of goals takes centre stage in his classical solo. While ballet is often used in this way as a shorthand for ‘effeminate’ or ‘diva behaviour’, here and without denying those associations, it’s an amusingly indulgent illustration of the referee’s tyranny and his blissful enjoyment of it.

It’s a shame the piece falls down in its final moments. The rules of the game are abandoned for a series of duets between each footballer and dancer. No team is clearly pronounced as a winner and the referee blows his whistle, signalling the end of the show. For a dance piece to maintain momentum for fifty minutes is some feat, and a need to ‘wrap it up’ rather than letting the game conclude sees the show limp towards its conclusion.

Nonetheless, this does not detract from the success of La Partida. Played in front of a crowd perhaps more used to cheering at matches than clapping at shows, La Partida succeeds in securing that holy grail of genuinely interacting with new audiences, by finding them in new environments and reacting with sincerity to that environment.

At the end, the festival organised a coach to put the audience through their paces. All the kids jumped up and unquestioningly donned their bibs. But they didn’t just kick the ball and tackle each other; some spinned around, or dived to the floor before stretching their legs into the air. Despite the cold, this was a wonderfully warm and engaging evening, with both the passion and joy of football, and the intensity and creativity of performance.