Hello Carlos, we are excited to have Toro: Beauty and the Bull performing here in Bournemouth. How long has this piece been in development and what was the starting points?
We are very excited to be returning to Bournemouth ourselves! The piece itself has been in development since August 2017, but like with most of my works, and particularly narrative works, the story itself has been developing in my head for over two years. First you get an idea, in this case it was this bull, that had the body of a woman, and the head of a bull- which of course is a male animal. And then this character starts living in your head, with you, and you start asking questions- who is she, where does she live, what has happened to her- and as you ask those questions, other characters start popping up and taking shape and the story starts coming alive before you’ve even stepped into the studio. I guess the main starting point was reading the works of British novelist Angela Carter, in particular, her anthology of fairy tales for adults, The Bloody Chamber. I was seduced by her use of language and her feminist and very erotic, very gender-fluid reading of fairy tales. It made me think of how fairy tales have always reflected fears, anxieties and morals of the times in which they are told, and from there, I started thinking about what today’s fairy tales would speak about. For instance, Victorian stories of female vampires expressed male fears of women’s sexual liberation, or the change in status when women started becoming independent, getting an education, and making their own living. Bluebeard clearly warns against women’s curiosity and disobedience to men. I wondered what our monsters are today? Who are our beauties, who are our beasts? That got me thinking that, in the Western canon at least, what was monstrous is normally defined by the same people: white superior men. So with TORO, I decided to create a fairy tale where the oppressed: ethnic minorities, colonised peoples, women, the LGBTQ community- could express who they felt the monster was: the oppressing male.
Can you tell us about the Dragimals? What they represent?
The dragimals are actually animals in drag- which is a term my friend Phil Sanger, who has worked with DeNada in several productions, came up with! They represent many things, but in essence, are the ‘beasts’, the monsters, who are monstrously and brutally treated by the humans. To me, they represent anybody who has been oppressed- the gay community, the female gender, colonised cultures. They are the monsters, but actually are the only beings in the work that behave with compassion, love and care, as opposed to the white men, who are absurd, swinish characters. With the dragimals, I wanted to show the beauty of all those groups society has deemed freakish, which is why the live in a sideshow somewhere in the desert. For their choreography, we looked at several things: historical artistic representations of the monster, and in particular the idea of the hybrid monster, seen in so much ancient art (think of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India), as well as from artists such as Hieronymus Bosch. But the main source of inspiration for their movement was actually voguing. I researched New York’s 1980’s drag and vogue culture, and thought about how a group of ostracised people- the LGBTQ community of its time, and in particular, the African American LGBTQ community- had got together to express and fight for their identities, creating a form of dance that was raw, guttural, elegant and activist. A form of dance that was about achieving realness: becoming who you want to be, and being proud of it. I felt all these ideas resonated with the concept of the dragimal, ‘freaks’ that had been ostracised, colonised and subjected by beings that are quite monstrous.
Can you give us some insight into the costuming in Toro?
I collaborated with Ryan Dawson Laight on the costume and set design for TORO. Ryan and I have worked together on every production I’ve made for DeNada, as well as some external commissions, and for me, costume is one of the first things we speak about, as I feel it really influences the process and how the story develops. Ryan has a great creative mind and our conversations always shape what I create for the stage. For TORO, we really played with the concept of human vs. monster. We didn’t think we had to stick an animal head on any of the dancers- that wasn’t interesting. We felt that creating structures for the animal head was closer to what we were trying to portray- the suggestion of an animal, but we wanted to show that it was a human inside. Because of the themes of colonisation, power and brutality, we brought in leather harnesses, chokers, muzzles: to portray the idea of how humans have been contrived and treated like lesser beings throughout history. We also really liked the concept of the hybrid monster, and the materials Ryan used have all these different textures, as if the monsters were made up of different types of flesh and fur (which is something that also inspired the creation of the movement). For the men in act one, we played with dressing down the Victorian coloniser image, in fleshy pastel colours, giving it an almost silent film feel. We wanted to achieve The Wizard of Ozeffect between act one and two: a bleak black and white for the first act, which moves into glorious Technicolor in the second.
What would you like to get across to the audience with Toro?
I think that the world is looking, more and more, like a science fiction novel, so I thought I had to respond to this through fantasy. TORO is a darkly comic, very dramatic and camp work, it is a tragedy but it has a lot of comedy, love and intimacy. Ultimately, it is a fable-like reflection of the current world, where women and men are still being harassed and abused, where homophobia is back on the rise, when our governments and societies seem to think some human lives are worth more than others, and that paticular groups of people are monstrous. TORO is unlike many fairy tales in that it doesn’t try to moralise, but rather, to denounce what is happening. So I hope that audiences react to this; that they see that our real monsters are the people who oppress, who silence voices and who demonise anything other, so that maybe together we can create a fairy tale happy ending.
What was the biggest challenge in creating this piece?
One of the biggest challenges is actually the subject matter, and what happens to the two protagonists: two females, who fall in love, and are persecuted and bullied by a gang of swinish clowns, in a world of asphyxiating masculinity. It is hard to watch some of the scenes, more than anything, because they reflect things that still happen outside the world of this particular fiction. Another challenge- but this is the kind of challenge I love- was coming up with the distinct physical language for the men and the monsters. We felt that the dragimals had to move with quirky beauty and elegance, but that the humans had to behave like an exaggeration of the monstrous. That was crucial to getting our point across, and it took some time- but I think we got there in the end!
What do you enjoy most about being a choreographer?
My favourite thing- and this is because I love working in the narrative genre- is being able to go somewhere else, to so many different worlds and places, in your head. This is extremely annoying for anyone I’m with because I have a tendency to disappear, mentally, at any given point- you’ve got all these stories and all these characters living in your mind, and it’s so great to just be able to go dream with them. And when you get to see them onstage, to see what was living in your head for so long dancing in front of you- that sensation is incredible. That is actually what drew me to fairy tales as a kid, especially as I was really bullied in school. To be able to pick up a book, or just switch into your brain, and travel to somewhere completely different, where you don’t have to face a reality you don’t like to live through- that has got me through a lot.
What has stayed important to you throughout your career?
I think the most important thing is to remain true to who you are. I think in my work I always look back at where I came from (which explains the amounts of Spanish fans, hams, cigarettes and castanets in a lot of it!) and what my story is. Many times I start making work and by the time it’s finished, and without knowing it, I have added so many parts of my story and self into it. I think that is what makes honest work- even when you are making shows that are as melodramatic, over the top and as theatrical as TORO!