Ella Mesma’s Guerreras, meaning “female warriors” in Spanish, incorporates aggressive behaviour and fierce warrior-like moments, but the evening more comprehensively explores internal battles and inter-female relationships.
Although the show as a whole (with guest artists Yinka Esi Graves, Houston Dance Collective and Luanda Pau) focuses on gender roles, Guerreras is an enduring testament to the trials women bear and their dogged perseverance to overcome challenges.
Mesma enters, a soft sway in her walk, joyfully joining Azara Meghie in a rooted African dance. However, the duet soon descends into a snarling quartet of explosive movement and basic hip-hop groundwork. Dancers cannon across the stage, but the chaos seems to have evolved from nothing.
A brief blackout introduces Anna Alvarez donning a lofty, feathery headdress as she unceremoniously kicks her impossibly long crimson dress tail. She breaks from forced rumba patterns into birdlike pantomimes, in contrast to guest artist Graves, who dances to her own rhythm: staccato snaps and rapid-fire footwork punctuated by stomps and body percussion.
Hsing Ya marks her return home by dropping her accessories and flopping out of her black dress. Sauntering around in nude underwear, she showcases her purchases like Vanna White. Ya comically bathes in pepper, bending over to pour it on her hair and body.
Next, salt in hand, she wiggles to bossa nova music until reaching a screeching climax and entangling herself in rope. Wrapped up, Ya extends her leg while presenting the audience campy victory smiles, but another sudden transition sees Ya screaming and struggling to escape.
From here, the show delves into relationships. Alvarez dutifully enters, unceremoniously rescuing Ya from the rope and soberly dresses her, while Mesma unobtrusively sweeps up the seasonings on the floor.
Meghie rages against something just outside of her salt boundaries in an animalistic solo. She prowls, scampers forward and launches a krump attack with tight swings and stomps.
Alvarez challenges Meghie inside the salt ring but they find peace as they lean on each other in a peaceful counterbalance – until Meghie sucker punches Alvarez in the stomach, urging Mesma to confront her in a punchy duel that mysteriously turns into a partner bachata to piano music. A sweet, synergistic duet with Ya uplifts, but too close, too vulnerable, too intimate, Meghie sends her away.
The finale shows each woman in a separate corner, facing her own issues with snippets from her solo. The four charge forward as a group, reference the human machine work from Houston Collective and catapult across the stage once again. The ending pose jostles, abrupt, and they slowly make their way for curtain call.
Guerreras offers thoughtful, deeply personal, narratives about the lived experiences of women; and although the pace is not frenetic, the show leaps about. There were clear attempts to unify the performance and brilliant bits of dancing from many genres, but if you are looking for a coherent show, Mesma’s unabridged Ladylike may better satisfy.
Reviewed by Sadler’s Wells, 8 June