A female figure is spread-eagled on her back, flat and motionless. Dressed in flesh-coloured underwear, she is clasping an open red Spanish fan in her hand.
This opening scene of DeNada’s Dance Theatre production, TORO Beauty and the Bull, merely hints at the sensuality, vulnerability and dark drama yet to surface.
A paso doble plays as two male dancers in boxer shorts participate in a mirror-imaging, primitively macho duet, with posturing reminiscent of alpha male animal dance rituals.
As they gradually engage with an inert doll-like female dancer – dragging and tugging at her possessively and disturbingly tussling for the territory of her body, with a foot triumphantly placed on her head or her pubis – we are aware of the darkness that underlies this visually stunning performance.
There ensues a competitive squabble over two trophies – The Girl and The Bull – but the men leave with nothing, clucking and squawking like disgruntled ridiculed birds of prey, in the closing of the first act.
This powerful, and quirkily undefinable at times, dance theatre hybrid is meticulously assembled and directed by Spanish choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra.
The choreographic diversity of TORO is dazzling, both in its light and intensely dark moments. It is both balletic and contemporary, athletic and fluid, with strong voguing drag themes and subtler corporal hints of flamenco.
Guerra articulates this gender-bending Hispanic tale of Beauty and the Beast through the amazingly competent team of DeNada dancers, who clearly fully understand his direction and vision.
The enigmatic Marivi Da Silva in the role of The Bull is sublime, her interpretation heart-breaking. Clad disturbingly in a harness strap across her naked breasts – her face partly obscured by a metal cage tapering up to create horns – she is a noble beast, tortured and goaded by man.
The bull’s dignity contrasts starkly to repetitive male pelvic thrusts, choreographed at regular intervals throughout the piece.
Emma Walker’s role as The Girl, is most pleasurable when juxtaposed with Da Silva’s Bull in a series of exquisite female duets; breathtakingly tender, as Beauty and Beast make their sensuous explorative connection.
The luxuriously decadent opening to the second act is where the male dancers come into their own as “Dragimals”; fantastical, camp, voguing bull creatures. Primitive and beautiful, they parade, writhe and undulate erotically in circular skirts of miniature frills.
Watching from the side-lines, The Girl is in awe of these wild beasts; as are we – the audience – like voyeurs witnessing a secret intimacy between unknowable creatures.
Guerra’s vision is clearly captured by Barnaby Booth’s superb lighting design, vital to the fantastical, moody, filmic richness of the work and an integral collaborator in the telling of this tale.
As is the delightful choice of music from the rhythmically haunting Noche de Encantimientos (from La Noche de Los Mayas by Revueltas) to the earthy tones of Chavela Vargas – among other melodies – seamlessly jostling for our attention and brilliantly sweeping us from one moment to the next.
My only reservation lies in the feeling that Guerra’s overwrought provocative imagery and caricaturist representation of an aggressive testosterone-charged world, determined to bridle, manipulate, abuse or silence women is, at times, ironically lacking in power in the telling of the female struggle.
It is the quieter moments: the casting of a woman as The Bull, the kindred connection between Beast and Beauty and the grace of the untamed creatures, which in the end have the loudest, clearest voice.
Despite this, TORO is a tapestry of deliciously vibrant visuals, rich in fairy tale fantasy and undoubtedly captivating.
This is a sensory feast from an immensely talented company of dancers fed by Guerra’s rich imagination and keen eye for the spectacular.