“Mariposa – a trans Madama Butterfly that will linger in the mind” ★★★★ Financial Times
Following the success of Ham and Passion and Toro: Beauty and the Bull, Spanish-born choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra and his DeNada Dance Theatre returned to UK theatres in 2021 with Pons Guerra’s latest dance theatre work, Mariposa, a queer tragedy inspired by Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
Mariposa (‘butterfly’ in Spanish) debuted this autumn, having its sold-out world premiere at DanceXchange, Birmingham on Sept 30 2021 (presented as part of Birmingham International Dance Festival), followed by equally sold-out performances at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds. Mariposa performs at The Lowry on Sunday 16 January.
Nicknamed “the Pedro Almodóvar of dance” by the BBC, Carlos Pons Guerra is one of the UK’s leading emerging queer voices in contemporary ballet. Hailing from Gran Canaria, he trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds, and the Royal Conservatoire for Dance of Madrid, before founding DeNada Dance Theatre in 2012.
In Pons Guerra’s dance reimagining of Puccini’s seminal opera, action takes place in a Caribbean port. Under flickering neon lights a local rent boy and a foreign sailor fall ominously in love in this queer take on the Madame Butterfly classic, where, immersed in the heady mist of a Havana’s smoke, a young man is asked to sacrifice his gender in exchange for love and a better life.
Mariposa transports Puccini’s Orientalist libretto to the turbulent socio-political repression of post-revolution Cuba, to a dockland world of faded showgirls, hopeful rent boys, troubled sailors, and santeria (voodoo-like) spirits. Engulfed in a tropical storm of repressed desires, this brand-new production is an exploration of what we are ready to sacrifice in order to be loved and accepted.
This dance opera is set to an original score by three-time winner of the Spanish MAX Awards for the Performing Arts, Luis Miguel Cobo (credits include Arakala Danza, Iván Perez, Marcos Morau, Carte Blanche, Wiener Staatsballett), which takes its inspiration from Caribbean sounds as well as Puccini, with libretto by French-Indian writer Karthika Nair (whose feminist, award-winning poetic retelling of the Mahabharata, Until the Lions, was adapted to dance by Akram Khan). Costume and set designs are by Ryan Dawson Laight (who recently designed Blak Whyte Gray for the Olivier award-winning Boy Blue Entertainment), whilst long-time collaborator Barnaby Booth will design lighting.
A diverse and intergenerational cast take this passionate new production to the stage. Harry Alexander, winner of the UK Critics Circle National Dance Awards in the category of Best Emerging Artist (2017), and a dancer with Michael Clarke Company and Julie Cunningham amongst others, performs the title role of Mariposa. Preston, his sailor, will be danced by Stan West, who recently toured with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and performed in Marianne Elliot’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning production of Angels in America for the National Theatre. Corey Annand, who created the title role in Arthur Pita’s The Little Match Girl and played the baby penguin in Paul McEneaney and Pons Guerra’s Penguins, also joins the cast as Kate, Preston’s wife, as does Michael Marquez, former dancer with Phoenix Dance Theatre, as the Orisha deity. British-Indian dancemaker and cultural curator, Jaivant Patel, whose work reconceptualises the queer South Asian body onstage, performs the charismatic role of Gertrudis, the brothel owner.
Mariposa has been commissioned by Birmingham Dance Hub and Spin Arts, with further support from DanceXchange and the British Council. The creation and tour of Mariposa is also funded by Arts Council England.
Pons Guerra, who has recently premiered his new family work about transgender childhood, The Bull and the Moon, has also created work for companies such as Ballet Hispanico of New York, Nashville Ballet, Rambert, Sadler’s Wells, Northern Ballet, the National Dominican Ballet, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Cahoots Northern Ireland, amongst others. In 2016 DeNada Dance Theatre received a UK Critic’s Circle National Dance Awards nomination in the category of Best Independent Company, and in May 2018 Pons Guerra featured in Prejudice and Passion, a BBC Four documentary that portrayed his journey as an emerging independent choreographer creating LGBTQ work. A young choreographer that has quickly stepped into the international scene, Mariposa follows years of on-site research into the queer and transgender sex worker community of Cuba and the Dominican Republic.