Ham and Passion aims for big theatricality, but works best when it tightens its focus. DeNada Dance Theatre’s triple bill revolves around a leg of ham, which becomes a prop in a series of dramas exploring sexuality, gender and Spanish identity. It’s the shortest work, the female duet Young Man!, that gives those ideas dramatic bite.
Directed by choreographer Carlos Pon Guerra, DeNada Dance Theatre has a rising profile, with two nominations at the recent National Dance Awards. The works on this programme are set in a Pedro Almódovar-tinged world of Catholic iconography, drag queens and sado-masochistic relationships.
The solo Passionara stars Fabio Dolce as Anna La Passionara, a 1930s drag artist who murders her fascist lover. Guerra frames the story as preparation for performance, with Dolce putting on makeup and a glittering dress, caressing the ham – which at one point is wrapped in a uniform jacket – before stabbing it.
Passionara assembles clear themes and images, but it’s hard to bring them to life without other characters to bounce off. The tricky sightlines of Wilton’s Music Hall don’t help. It’s an enchanting, atmospheric venue, but too much of La Passionara’s ritual was blocked or shadowed.
Young Man! was inspired by Jean Cocteau’s libretto for Roland Petit’s ballet Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, in which a female Death seduces a Parisian painter. Guerra casts two women, with Marivi Da Silva fabulous as a macho, male-coded death, prowling around Antonette Dayrit’s troubled artist.
They’re a well-matched pair, sexy and funny, with Da Silva switching effortlessly from cool insolence to suggestive ham and sausage-stroking. The jokes are woven fluently into a muscular, sharply-characterised duet, danced with sensuous precision. Guerra keeps the references light: Dayritt’s dungarees and Da Silva’s yellow t-shirt are nods to Petit’s 1946 production, but look right on this new couple.
O Maria brings Da Silva and Dayrit back for more bondage and comedy, but the pacing is all over the place. Now playing a flamenco dominatrix, Da Silva wields a fan while tying up and feeding a submissive Dayrit. There’s a sour taste to this overlong sequence. The appearance of Dolce, a vision of the Virgin Mary putting their relationship to rights, is a heavy-handed joke. Da Silva dances with authority, while Dayrit moves with flowing abandon when finally released from her knots.