Ham and Passion

Midland Arts Centre


TO el hombre in España, a ham, el jamón, is much more than an accompaniment to cucumber or cheese in a sarnie, or a traditional salad standby for funereal teas – it is manhood itself.

To any self-respecting macho Spaniard his culinary skill Hammidwith a ham, drying, curing, preserving and caressing to perfection is a symbol of his masculinity – much in the same way, although admittedly to a much lesser degree, the raw sausages with a charcoal crust, or barbeque as it is known, are the preserve of the male of the species in Britain.

Spain has no less than seven geographically designated and protected types of cured ham, more than any other country, all fiercely protected, and virtually every man worth his preserving salt, has his own method.

Phil Sanger as Anna La Passionaria and, top, as the man behind the mask. Pictures: Maria Falconer

And this emblem of man, erotic, sexual, powerful, symbolic and funny is a recurring theme in three very different pieces from Carlos Pons Guerra’s DeNada Dance Theatre.

The opener is Passionaria, danced by Phil Sanger as Anna La Passionaria, a drag artist, a star of 1939 Barcelona. I always find drag artists, and in the same vein, clowns intrinsically sad. Actors appear on stage portraying someone else, but no matter how good or convincing, underneath it is always them in a role; drag artists and clowns, on the other hand, never appear as themselves, they are always hidden behind their mask, their shield against . . . themselves? Who knows?

Dance is interpreted in as many ways as there are audience members and here Sanger depicts a tortured soul, at times dragging a ham around behind him, at times quite funny, as he slowly works towards the final transformation as the glamorous, shimmering Passionaria, calm, dignity and confidence coming only with the donning of the mask.

The second piece, Young Man!, sees the ham become more sexual - bone in it is easy to see the link. It is inspired by Jean Cocteau’s libretto for Roland Petit’s ballet Le Jeune Homme and sees a young girl seduced in a Spain seeing the explosion of sexual liberation and freedom that followed the death of General Franco in 1975.

Danced by Azzurra Ardovini and Mahammid2rivi Da Silva, the seduction of the girl, Ardovini, is by both a young man and that very Spanish symbol of sexuality, the ham, ending with the most dangerous seduction of all . . . drugs.

The final piece, O Maria, brings humour to the ham, one could even say choreographer Pons Guerra is hamming it up (groan).

Set in Seville of the 1950s in a time of suffocating Catholicism, Conception and Armando, danced again by Ardovini and Da Silva, are bound in an unhappy, loveless and at times sadistic marriage, until, from a pile of clothes in the corner appears the eponymous lady of the piece, a vision of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, one of the lesser known figures of the Catholic calendar.

Phil Sanger, again, as Our Lady Undor of Knots with Azzurra Ardovini as Conception in O Maria.

Danced by Sanger, Our Lady breaks down sexual and gender barriers – but only after her own barrier is breached by . . . what else, the ham.

There is lovely moment when the table cloth is swept up in one movement to become a gown for the semi-naked and now sexually and physically released wife

The Spanish music for the trio is full of passion, arranged and edited by Luke Wilson and Clive Wilkinson, including a very clever section in Young Man when music constantly drifted from left to right speakers and back again to produce a strangely unreal and disconcerting feeling.

Dramatic lighting from Barnaby Booth was also important on the bare sets, adding to an evening of passionate, and at times funny narrative with superb dancing from the three strong cast which ranged from sexy to soulful, torrid to tender and always interesting.

Carlos Pons Guerra, who hails from Gran Canaria, and his DeNada Dance Theatre, are one to watch out for.

Roger Clarke


DeNada Dance Theatre


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