Ela Mesma Company

Dispora Dance Theatre

PYLOT Magazine interview: GUERRERAS at Sadler’s Wells

Photography Max Barnett
Words Abi Buller
Talent Ella Mesma, Hsing Ya Wu, Azara Meghie and Anna Alvarez
Ella Mesma presents her project Guerreras (Spanish for ‘Female Warriors’) as part of a series of specialised dance evenings at Sadler’s Wells. The project has been curated as part of the theatre’s Wild Card programme, which presents dance as an art form that explores cultural and social identity. In Mesma’s production, guest dance-artists will perform routines that work in tangent with, and takes inspiration from, her latest show, Ladylike. The provocative work premieres tonight alongside Guerreras at the sold-out show, which focuses particularly on feminine experiences of sexuality and the body-expressed through the perspectives of four women engaging in Latin dance and theatre. The project places emphasis on the holistic show experience, with a score by Sabio Janiak, lighting by Ciaran Cunningham, and costume by Jodie-Simone Howe of Hair the Beat. It will also premiered with pre and post-show elements including a rumba dance class.

We sat down with Ella prior to her show to discuss the background to her latest production.


How, for you, is dance and movement an appropriate medium for exploring topics such as cultural and social identity?For me, dance and movement are the perfect medium. I work a lot with voice and sound too, but these dance styles are so inherent in my life: Salsa, Rumba, Breaking, Contemporary, alongside politics and culture, so the piece is just a perfect reflection of me, my life experience, and my view of the world.

Which dance styles did you draw inspiration from to inform the characterisation in the piece?

Cuban music and dance and hip hop are the main foundations of this work. The predominant styles are: Rumba – a Cuban dance with elements of flamenco; Guaguanco – a game of flirtation and sexual competition between a male and female; Columbia – a dance originally performed only by men, which includes rooster like shoulder movements and fancy footwork; and also New York styles Rocking – formed in New York in the early 1970’s with influences of Salsa, Breaking and Contemporary, alongside references to gang culture. There are also elements of Flamenco, Yinka Esi Graves (dotdotdot dance) and other Latin styles, all of which combine beautifully to tell the story of these four individuals, and of course a special vogue feature performance with the Houston Dance Collective.


Why is it significant for you to include theatre performance amongst the hip-hop and Latin dance choreography?

The use of theatre in this piece allowed me to enhance the work. Using voice and text helped me to tell the stories. I love to work with juxtaposition and find a rawness and realness on the stage. Because I came into dance late, I also want to reach real people and for the audience to connect to the visceral experience.

What inspired the selection of dancers featured throughout the curation of this piece?

The cast are all very individual. Each dancer has wonderful traits and very different experiences and dance styles. I wanted to marry these forms together. Hsing Ya Wu is Taiwanese and is an incredible contemporary dancer. Azara Meghie is a b-girl (short for breakdancing girl) and actor. Anna Alvarez is a Tango and Contemporary dancer, and I am a salsa and b-girl. The original cast included ‘The Cuban Insider’ Lia Rodrigues. Throughout, these performers have continually inspired me to maintain the originality and rawness of each dance style alive within the work.

How did you create a narrative through the female lead roles?

Each role has been created for that individual. With the skills, imagination, and personal experience each dancer brought, alongside the topics I brought to the table, we created four dance monologues. It has actually been quite a healing experience for all of us: we looked at Enneagrams, and at the things each character was denying themselves to heal, and it became quite a cleansing and bonding experience. I love working with this group.

In Guerreras, what is the significance of blurring temporal lines rather than focusing on a particular time period?

I think that the issues we cover in the work are universal and timeless. The four characters are archetypes, and are fluid entities, but they could include, for example, a 1920’s housewife, a modern day ‘mistress’, a b-girl, a showgirl, and I wanted to use traditional dance forms from different time periods, so it made sense to place these entities in an abstract world between Cuba, New York, and Britain. Each of them could be in any three of these countries at different times.


Alongside themes of female sexuality, how have you approached and referenced political ideas within your choreography?

The topics covered are around voyeurism, consent, pornography, male gaze, and trafficking. Of course these are abstract references open to the interpretation of each member of the audience, but there was a lot of research to create all the ideas within the piece. For example, referencing the woman as ‘chicken’ or ‘hen’, which I decided after lots of research into the work of various feminist writers such as Carol Adams and Alice Walker.   

This project includes pre and post-show elements, such as a rumba dance class – what is the purpose of including these in the production of this piece?

I wanted to share the history of this incredible dance style (rumba), and acknowledge, for example, it’s links to Africa. Luanda Pau, who will teach the rumba class, is the daughter of Domingo Pau “El Columbiano”, one of the greatest dancers of rumba in Cuba, and soloist in the National Folk Ballet of Cuba. Like her father, Luanda became principal dancer of the National Folkloric Ballet of Cuba and a soloist dancer of the Conjunto Folclórico Nacional de Cuba. 

The other elements pre and post show are also about enhancing the audience experience: for me all the elements of art, music, and dance should be included in this experience, and each element serves a different purpose, including work by artist Hugo Canuto (and a discount at Sh! Woman’s store!)


See more at ellamesma.co.ukmaxbarnett.co

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