DeNada Dance Theatre, Ham and Passion

Posted: March 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on DeNada Dance Theatre, Ham and Passion

DeNada Dance Theatre, Ham and Passion, mac, Birmingham, February 25


Phil Sanger as the Virgin Mary in Ham and Passion (photo: Joe ‘Boneshaker’ Armitage)

I saw ham.
I saw passion.
I saw Ham and Passion.

Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many colours or notes, there are only so many flavours — it’s how you combine them that sets you apart. It’s an expression of the land where you are and the culture of that place. – Wolfgang Puck

Carlos Pons Guerra has created theatrical tapas, interweaving three courses with the same ingredients of power, identity and gender whilst managing to concoct distinct and contrasting choreography with a jus of Spain poured over the top. The etymology of ‘ham’ is an overacting inferior performer derived from the late 19th century and linked to the old minstrel song The Hamfat Man from 1863. Amateurs and actors on a low income were forced to employ cheaper substances like ham rind or pig grease to apply their make-up rather than the professionals’ use of sophisticated oils.

As an adventure in extravagant kitsch, Ham and Passion allows us to wallow and question our preconceptions of gender and sexuality by ramping up the absurdity quotient over the course of the evening. From the tender cries of the downtown pearl, Anna La Passionara, to the wanton urges of the Virgin Mary, Pons Guerra firmly directs our gaze on this world, and there’s very little ham fat on show.

Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their [ham and] passion. – Martha Graham

Passionara is a three-legged duet between a drag artiste and the titular motionless ham; playing out as a back stage pre-show mini-drama, Phil Sanger prepares to grace the stage, transforming into a bedazzling mirrorball with a dress and knife that winks, flashes and absorbs the light. Sanger is exceptional in finding the maudlin physical nuances amongst the swell of sentimental Spanish songs; combined with a heavily stylised lighting design from Barnaby Booth, we’re presented with the possibilities of how much (or how little) a performer chooses to reveal himself.

Young Man! (inspired by Jean Cocteau’s libretto for Roland Petit’s ballet Le Jeune Homme et la mort) exhibits an enticing duel between Azzurra Ardovini and Marivi Da Silva in the sexual frenzy of post-Franco Spain. The kitchen table and food again provide the scenic anchor as Ardovini and Da Silva oscillate roles between matador and bull, man and woman, full body munching, and ham masturbation while a surrealist stereo soundtrack audibly pans around the stage created an aurally nauseous experience before they march us towards a heroin injecting crescendo.

 To say that gender is performative is a little different because for something to be performative means that it produces a series of effects. We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman.– Judith Butler

It is in the trio (quartet if you count the ham) of O Maria where we reach ‘Peak Ham’ as Catholicism’s very own Virgin Mary (played to sublime comic effect by Sanger) reveals her chastity belt is a little looser than history has lead us to believe. In a heady dessert of fleshy temptation and wild, abandoned hair whipped together by a dominatrix, Da Silva and Ardovini are the perfect physical foil to the simpering Virgin Mary. Gender has been tossed out of the window and what remains is power, temptation and the residue of a fixed identity. O Maria is the newest work in the evening and with the Virgin Mary Pons Guerra has created a character with a wealth of narrative possibilities to develop and explore in the future.

With an interval between each of the three courses my viewing rhythm was disturbed and so was unable to truly sink into Pons Guerra’s Spanish ham opera. Despite the finely crafted environment and extensive programme notes, I felt there was little ambiguity on display and no room for me to manoeuvre emotionally. I wanted my brain to do more; to fill a gap, discover a missing connection — but this fully-formed world asked very little of me. DeNada Dance Theatre’s Ham and Passion coalesces around the kitchen table and the presence of food in a riotous portrait of Spanish life. Pons Guerra has brought a fine set of ingredients for his guests but must be careful of potential choreographic gavage.