Review: Denada dance - Ham and Passion - Wilton's Music Hall

Performance: 21 – 22 February 2017
Reviewed by Ka Bradley - Thursday 23 February 2017


Performance reviewed: 21st February

Divided into three short pieces of camp, blunt sexual humour and feisty queerness, Ham and Passion is a sashay through Spain’s cultural history, taking in anti-fascism, masculinity, desire and, inevitably, ham, along the way. Its bold, often defiantly provocative symbolism is a wicked pleasure, and though Carlos Pon Guerra’s dramatic choreography sometimes uncertainly straddles the line between playing for passion and playing for hammy laughs, the passion of the triple bill wins out overall.

The first piece, Passionaria, follows drag artiste Anna La Passionaria. Though the simplest and least kinetic of the pieces, Fabio Dolce nevertheless brings a noirish energy to the proceedings – smoking in padded underwear and vampish make-up, haphazardly draping himself (herself?) in a sequinned gown, stabbing the ever-present leg of ham with a bloodied knife as part of a frenzied allegory. Dolce’s La Passionaria is never unaware of her audience, and the boundaries between drag act and confessional are blurred.

Pons Guerra talks eloquently about his historical inspirations and the phantoms peopling the stage behind Anna La Passionaria, particularly in this Gay Star). interview, and Passionaria has an intriguing visual density that suggests more than it directly speaks volumes. But this solo doesn’t quite give as much as it could, especially when followed by the high colour queer melodrama of Young Man! and the grand soap opera of O Maria.

Young Man! is another work of drag, this time with Marivi Da Silva and Antonette Dayrit as two young men, one tormented with lust for the other. The wide-legged strides and pugnacious leaps, recalling the machismo of matadors, are somehow both aggressive and hilarious. The very basic phrases of masculinity are both expressed and parodied by Da Silva and Dayrit; at one point the leg of ham and a chorizo are used suggestively, and by ‘suggestively’ I mean Da Silva mimes a blowjob and a handjob to brilliant comedic affect. Pons Guerra’s target is not the sex acts or homosexual sex, but rather the performance of ‘manliness’, itself a sort of drag – masculinity is a series of accessories and attributes that men drape themselves in, no different from Anna La Passionaria’s make-up and sequins, that can serve to hide, emphasize or entirely change the person beneath.

The overarching soundtrack of classic Spanish music, much of which lends the proceedings a distinctly filmic atmosphere, really comes to the fore with O Maria, the final piece of the triple bill and the crowning achievement. Da Silva plays a witchy, black-clad Spanish wife; Dayrit is her unfortunate husband, bound and gagged and dragged back and forth on a rope. Dolce rises from a pile of laundry as the Virgin Mary to call a temporary halt to the sadomasochism, and the three of them sit down at the table.

Dolce’s Mary is a paragon of benign grace; Da Silva once again demonstrates the sharpness and assurance of her grasp of character, snapping a red fan and fairly twitching with fury. But it is Dayrit that glows in this piece, transformed from a frightened beta male to a blossoming young woman in Marilyn Monroe white, with the help of the Virgin’s holy touch. Dayrit and Dolce’s transformation duet is dreamy, elegant and softly ecstatic, setting the piece up for its frenetic, witty collapse. Da Silva and Dayrit, female equals, find pleasure in their union, and with the help of the ham, bring the woman without equal down to their level.

Despite it’s small scale, and the occasional necessary crassness of the movement language, Ham and Passion is a wonderfully wide-spanning, tragicomic work that manages to evade being sanctimoniously ‘about’ the themes it tackles even as it tackles them. And it delivers ham and passion, as promised.

Ka Bradley is a writer and editor based in London. Her reviews have appeared in Exeunt, The Stage and Her fiction has appeared in Granta, Catapult, The Offing, Minor Literature[s] and Somesuch Stories.

Ham and Passion Creative Team
Choreography Carlos Pons Guerra
Performers Fabio Dolce, Marivi Da Silva, Antonette Dayrit
Répétiteur Marivi Da Silva
Design Ryan Dawson Laight
Lighting Barnaby Booth
Producer Sarah Shead – Spin Arts
Media and PR Simon Harper PR

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