Brothers in arms: Michael Barnes and Nicholas Tredrea. Pictures: Emma Kauldhar

Toro: Beauty and the Bull

Patrick Centre

Birmingham Hippodrome


Birmingham-based Carlos Pons Guerra is one of the new breed of emerging choreographers, setting new boundaries and engaging with new ideas.

Pons Guerra may be only 30, but since the creation of his DeNada Dance Theatre in 2012 he has become internationally recognised – and in demand - for his innovative and creative talent.

De Nada translates as “you’re welcome” from the Spanish by the way.

His Penguins, seen recently at Birmingham Rep, was child-friendly, classic story-telling. His world premiere of Toro is far to the other end of the scale, dark, brooding and with undercurrents of violence, sexual and physical exploitation and the corruption of power.

The piece is based, in part, on the 1740 original story f beauty and the beast, La Belle et la Bête, by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve as well as the erotic and feminist reworking of the fairy tale by British writer Angela Carter in her 1979 collection The Bloody Chamber and other Adult Tales.

bull and whore

Marivi Da Silva as the Bull and Emma Walker a the prostitute

Then within that basic framework is DeNada’s dedication to Hispanic and Latino culture and Pons Guerra’s desire, in this piece to link Spain to its colonial past in South America where conquistadors saw the native peoples as inferior. Exploitation of the New World by the Old and by coincidence, Pons Guerra, hailing, as he does, from Grand Canaria, was born somewhere between the two.

From that premis comes an expansion into the nightmarish circus that is male supremacy, whether over women, or in creating the freak shows all minorities endure under oppression. Minorities from the native South Americans under conquest to today’s LGBTQ communities.

Pons Guerra sets his retelling of the fairy tale in a bizarre circus in a dystopian South American  Spanish colony and describes it as “a grotesque tragicomedy played out by conquistadors, female bulls and dragimals - animals in drag.”

We open with a prostitute, danced in beautiful rag-doll style by Emma Walker, who is being abused by male conquerors until she is rescued by a female beast, a symbolic bull danced by Marivi Da Silva.

The bull takes her to a circus where she encounters more beasts, dragimals, danced by the men, Nicholas Tredrea, Michael Barnes and Jason Tucker - who had spent the day learning to dance the piece with three male dancers instead of four after Jonathon Luke Baker suffered an injury.


Emma Walker as the whore under threat

Not that anyone would have noticed with the piece flowing and developing smoothly as if nothing had happened. The three dance as abusers, as the animals in drag, as a stylised crooner and, this is Spanish influenced remember, as matadors.

Pons Guerra has set his piece to an eclectic collection of Latin music with the likes of Spain’s Sara Montiel, or Cuba’s La Lupe along with the likes of Costa Rica’s Chavela Vargas with even Russia’s Rimsky-Korsakov finding his Latino side with Capriccio Espagnol.

While the music ranges from pasodobles to mambos, flamenco to the classical, the dancing draws on ballet, contemporary dance and even bull fighting.

There is remarkable symmetry, opening with two brothers (Barnes and Tredrea) step for step vying for not so much the affection as conquest of the prostitute. There is much posturing, with menace, with the men battling to control, be the top . . . beast, there are brutal sexual under-currents, and a constant threat of violence, but there is some humour, and some tenderness, as in one particularly striking section, when rescued whore and female beast dance together to Vargas’s hauntingly beautiful Flor de Azalea

It is a dance which flows like ripples in silk to the music, erotic and sensual and quite lovely and mesmerising to watch.

The design and costumes by Ryan Dawson Laight are striking, with curtains at the rear of the stage given life by Barnaby Booth’s lighting, a whore’s parlour in act one and a blood red circus in act two.

The costumes are striking and give us stylised bulls with flowing skirts and wire horns with harnesses across the chest – although, I suspect Marivi Da Silva’s modesty as the female beast probably relies as much on a wing and a prayer as full confidence in her costume.

Contemporary dance is a little like modern art in that it can be interpreted in how the viewer sees it, and Toro presents scenes on many levels from the exploitation of women to the violence of men to women, other men, and pretty much anything else; there are moments when women take back control allied to moments when all seems lost.

You feel for Walker’s prostitute who is kicked around by every man she meets and cheer for Da Silva’s stylized beast who is out-numbered by the stronger men but still attempts to stand up to the oppressors.

It is all beautifully and at times brutally, at times sensually danced, and danced with remarkable precision with the mood and style changing with each piece of music, telling a story and expressing feelings that you are free to interpret for yourself, perhaps comparing them with Pons Guerra’s programme notes on what he has set out to express.

It is superb, thought provoking contemporary dance from a company and choreographer whose reputation continues to rise. To 23-03-18

Roger Clarke


DeNada Dance Theatre

Tour Dates: Sunday 1 April at 8pm, The Lowry, SALFORD QUAYS, Tickets: 0843 208 6000 /; Thursday 12 April at 7.30pm Pavilion Dance South West,  BOURNEMOUTH Tickets: 01202 203630 /; Saturday 14 April at 7.30pm, Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, LEEDS Tickets: 0113 220 8008 /; Tuesday 24 April (time TBC) PATS Studio Theatre, Surrey University, GUILDFORD Tickets: 01483 68 6876 /; Wednesday 25 & Thursday 26 April at 8pm Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells, LONDON 020 7863 8000 /; Friday 27 April at 7.30pm, Déda, DERBY Tickets: 01332 370 911 / 

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