Manchester Theatre Awards

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TORO: Beauty and the Bull

Carlos Pons Guerra inspired by stories from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and Angela Carter
DeNada Dance Theatre
The Quays Theatre, The Lowry, Salford
01 April 2018

Choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra relates to those whose lifestyle does not accord to the norm and finds alpha males to be intimidating figures that oppress women and homosexuals and impose their will on colonial lands.

TORO: Beauty and the Bull is a cautionary tale that re-works the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ legend. Two brothers and other men compete for the attentions of The Girl (Emma Walker) - a sex worker who has become indifferent to the uses men make of her body. However, The Girl bonds with a beast - The Bull (Marivi Da Silva) - and together they find acceptance with a dance troupe populated by ‘Dragimals’ – men who identify as animals and dress accordingly; until one day four male matadors arrive.

In an effort to make his point Carlos Pons Guerra goes to extremes to the extent that it seems he might be protesting too much. The only characters who seem to find any peace in the dance are the ‘Dragimals’ who defy their birth species to dress as animals in fetish-style leather straps and restraining face-masks. Men are portrayed as self-hating closeted Gays or rapists and women as either prostitutes or helpless brides. Even so there are moments when points are made with subtlety – the opening of Act Two, with the dancers behind opaque curtains is staged as if to give the misleading impression that the cross-dressing Dragimals are female dancers.

For all the darkness of the subject matter the portrayal of the characters is handled lightly with touches of absurd humour. Until the matadors appear in the second Act the audience is encouraged to laugh at the clownish antics of the men who are unaware that, by wrestling each other while half-naked and ignoring The Girl spread-eagled on the ground, they are revealing their repressed sexuality. Although they mock The Bull for being a beast the men communicate using animalistic chuckling sounds. While Emma Walker’s Girl is manipulated by the men she is able to command them with sharp snaps of her Spanish fan and, when they do manage to take control, her look of bored indifference makes clear that she regards their actions as inconsequential.

The choreography and mood of the dance is aggressive and sexual. Ryan Dawson Laight costumes The Beast and the Dragimals as if they are on their way to a bondage party with nipple-revealing leather straps and gag-style masks. Dances often have elements of dancers competing with each other but tonight it is pushed to extremes. When dancing together the movements of the men are so rapid and stylised that what looks like a game of ‘Rock. Paper, Scissors’ seems to be bordering on violence. The dance moves are fierce and intimidating-all thrusting hips and jerking arm movements. Emma Walker is objectified throughout being manipulated by the men and literally forced to dance to their tune.

TORO: Beauty and the Bull is told from the viewpoint of an outsider regarding the negative aspects of conventional society. As such it will not be to everyone’s taste but for those willing to risk an extreme approach it offers a stimulating and dramatic evening.

Reviewer: David Cunningham