Young Spanish-born choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra has been forging a distinctive style that – to borrow the title of one of his own works – might be dubbed “ham and passion”: a lurid mix of melodrama, eroticism, iconoclasm and showmanship.
With two acts, six dancers and an extended playlist of Latin music from mariachi marches to Cuban torch songs and Spanish orchestral fantasias, Toro: Beauty and the Bull is Guerra’s most ambitious work yet. DeNada Dance Theatre’s production opens with Beauty (Emma Louise Walker) lying inert on a bordello floor with her legs spread. The beasts of the story are four men who brace their arms like stags locking horns, or face each other off with cockfight struts. Awoken, Beauty struggles but fails to escape, until she encounters an altogether different beast: the fabulous Marivi da Silva as the Bull, flamenco-skirted, her breasts in straps and horns upon her head. This mythic creature comes to represent a different, fantastical alternative: a mix of power, tenderness and passionate sensuality. No wonder Beauty falls for the Bull; and no wonder the beasts hound them.
For all its emotive imagery and heightened conflict, the first act feels laboured. The setup is schematic, the musical playlist keeps chopping into the action, and too often the choreography fills out the music instead of motivating it.
Act two sees both piece and performers shift into gear. The male dancers, now costumed like the Bull in horns, harnesses and skirts, perform as “dragimals” – flamboyant, chimerical creatures who mix Swan Lake arms with showtime shimmies, Mata Hari exoticism with King Kong voodoo. It’s all deliriously inauthentic, and segues into a polymorphously perverse love-in of unbound eroticism. For Beauty, this looks like heaven. But the men return as circus ringmasters, de-horning the Bull, forcing Beauty into a bridal gown and tethering her to net curtains. The music comes to a melodramatic climax and so, pelvises pumping, do the guys.
Subtlety be damned! That’s fine – but sometimes the piece feels more driven by Guerra’s ideas than his characters. When those characters do come to life, though, they can set the stage alight. Da Silva – strong, wild, fearless – is dynamite throughout.