Carlos Pons Guerra is both the choreographer and founder of DeNada Dance Theatre. Carlos is taking his work across the UK, after being nominated for a UK Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for ‘Best Independent Company’ in 2016 for his triple bill piece Ham and Passion.
O Maria is a piece in the triple bill Ham and Passion, which are three darkly humorous works that explore the history of homosexuality in 20th century Spain. It is a provocative bill that draws on our turbulent history of repression and liberation, which choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra hopes draws parallels with a lot of the turmoil we are currently living through.
Carlos is assured his love for dancing spurred from his ‘unbearable hyperactivity.’ He explained: “My first experience with dance was when we’d take my older sister to her flamenco lessons. I wasn’t allowed to take part, as I was too young and it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing for boys to do.” He told me he would steal the girls’ castanets from their cubby holes and clack away at home. “I would wear my sister’s polka dot skirt over my head, and wear her flamenco shoes with a dummy in my mouth, and I’d stomp away watching her videos,” he said.
Throughout his training, he enjoyed dancing but didn’t enjoy being told what to do. So he took a leap onto the other side and let the dancers perform his vision. “The first professional piece I made, Young Man! was a great moment because it was the first time I saw how all those stories and ideas I had in my brain could be realised and used to create a new world on stage,” he explained.
This triple bill Ham and Passion is the first three works that Carlos has ever made. Beforehand he has been working with Rambért and Northern Ballet, and even commissioned to create work in countries like India and the Dominican Republic. “I’ve had some very wise mentors to work with me, I’ve met amazing people and all of that makes your work grow,’ he said. “Ham and Passion is the first time I looked at myself, my history, my experience of culture and my home. So it is a wacky, slightly absurd reflection of me, and that is something I hope I can always imprint in the work I make in the future.”
Carlos’ piece Oh Maria that will be performed at the Lowry as part of the triple bill is what he describes as “A divine comedy of ham and bondage”. It is the story of an unhappy couple, a flamenco dominatrix called Conception who is married to Armando who dreams of being a woman. He explained: “You can imagine that there is a clash of interests there, and Conception’s sexual frustration leads her to tie her husband up and feed him phallic foods.”
“It’s about being able to realize your true identity; about being able to be free to enjoy the flesh and love whoever you want, however you want, and that is fine.”
Carlos’ initial research into the piece, and the rest of Ham and Passion was the countless stories of Marian apparitions in the village of Spain. Carlos was intrigued by Mary and it appeared as if she was on some sort of rural tour, she’d appear everywhere and on everything. He said “We did a lot of research into the cult of Mary in Spain, which is massive, and also very strong within the Spanish gay community, in a very folkloric, kitsch way. I looked at many of her representations in art, particularly at her statues and idols, how dramatic, painful and narrative they are; and we were particularly interested in Renaissance religious art and Catholic mass, which both really shaped how we created the work in terms of staging.”
His interest in the figure of Mary grew, and he began thinking about how nobody asked Mary if she wanted to be a virgin. “No one asked if she wanted this life of chastity and purity and suffering. It was just kind of announced to her, no questions asked,” Carlos said. “I also started thinking that, for all the miracles that happen in the Bible, there is no episode of miraculous sex-changing. If, as Leviticus tells us, sodomy is as old as the human race, surely somebody in Canaan or Nazareth must have wanted a sex change? I would like to think that, like in O Maria, our deities would be benevolent and grant transgender people that happiness.”
There are a lot of catholic themes in Carlos’ piece, “We have this guest star performance from the Virgin Mary,” he explains. “I am trying to propose a theology of acceptance. We get so much hate from the Church and its institutions, and I like to think that our gods are good, and that they understand that 21st century views on gender and sexuality have changed, and they accept that. Like the Gospels do, I use parables, particularly in the figure of Mary- an example of the often impossible impositions on gender that society and history inflict on us.”
He even touches on feminism, he said: “Mary became a role model for all women – pure, chaste, and gave birth without intercourse, so for centuries women have been judged against an impossible figure! So I have a cross-dressing Madonna to exemplify this, amongst other things.”
Stylistically, Carlos found himself experimenting with his choreography. Although he describes it as having a contemporary dance base, he also draws on the classical vocabularies in some sections. “There is a bit of vaudeville showgirl thrown in at times, there is wrestling and I would say a huge influence for this show is flamenco aesthetics, both in terms of choreography and music,” he said.
The overarching style of the show is rooted in the Spanish and Latin character, he explained: “I use our over-the-top nature, exaggeration, the melodrama we seem to be born with as part of our DNA and how we can shift between extreme emotions in no time, to inspire the character of the piece.”
It’s an important message that is portrayed through comedic and stylistic dance, when asking Carlos what he wanted the audience to take away from the piece, he told me: “I hope that people will be entertained and leave laughing, and most importantly, feeling more relaxed about all the gender stereotypes and impositions that can weigh us down so much, and just think that life can be good, that the flesh and other worldly pleasures are there to be enjoyed, so we need to drop the shame and stop creating divisions and repressing ourselves.”