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Toro: Beauty and the Bull review at Lilian Baylis Studio, London – ‘sensual and provocative’

Emma Walker and Marivi Da Silva in Toro: Beauty and the Bull. Photo: Emma Kauldhar

Fairy lights hang from the ceiling. In the foreground a woman is stretched out, her legs spread-eagled. Behind her, bare chested men vie boisterously with each other, their strutting, parading movements reminiscent of a bird’s mating ritual. She is the object of their attention and they crowd around, pulling and thrusting at her body.

Toro: Beauty and the Bull, choreographed by Carlos Pons Guerra, is a work of purposefully confused sentiments, as comic as it is serious. While it’s not okay to watch a female body treated in such a way, the men are rendered so ridiculous by their obsessive, animalistic actions that the woman regains a position of power. She may dance with a floppy, broken elegance but she is in command of their desires.

In a reversal of traditional stereotypes the strong, masculine figures become detestable while the beast, or bull, is tender and protective. Muzzled in a steel mask, her breasts held tight by leather straps, the bull offers the woman a brief interlude of freedom and safety in a seductive, exotic world populated by ‘dragimals’ – half humans, half animals that strut and Vogue like drag queens.

The dancers are brilliant and their performance, combined with Pons Guerra’s compelling choreography, consistently holds the attention. Yet Toro is not a pleasant experience. Desire becomes dark and the scenes of violence and rape depicted in the second act are physically uncomfortable to watch.

As difficult as the subject is to portray, these moments do not come across as gratuitous or objectified. Instead, Toro presents an urgent comment on society – a challenge to the viewer and their perceptions.

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Dark, sensual and provocative commentary on gender and social conceptions