As part of the Dance Insights Online programme, 2020 Artist in Residence Carlos Pons Guerra curated an exciting programme offering a unique insight into his creative inspiration. Dance Insights Online – a curated online programme of performances, discourse and events, provocations and artistic inspirations. Each programme will offer audiences an insight into the process and mind of the creator.
Carlos Pons Guerra presents a selection of work that focuses on inspiration and insight into life as an artist. Carlos will host an exciting programme on the DX website that includes an exclusive online premiere of his 2018 works; TORO, a live interview with choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, an Instagram take-over and a specially curated Spotify playlist.
5 INSPIRING FILMS
As a dance maker, an idea doesn’t often come to me in the form of movement. I’m more attracted to a character, a story or a conflict; and from there comes the choreography. I think my creative head works more like a scriptwriter or film director, and it’s because of that film always offers me a wealth of inspiration.
These are five (or so) films that have inspired me to cross the silver screen to make something for the stage
Anything, and everything, by Pedro Almodóvar
My artistic guru, my hallowed saint, my master and model- Spanish film director Almodóvar is who inspired me to start choreographing: to try and somehow capture his melodrama, irreverent kitsch aesthetic, unbound gender performance, Hithcockian plotlines and visuals, as well as his marriage of ultra stylish modernity with pure Spanish tradition, through dance.
Incest, religion, passion, chorizo, cocaine, drag and mommy issues- his is a wonderful world where the trivial becomes poetically crucial. Where fresh gazpacho gets spiked with a box of tranquilizers (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and nuns write pulp fiction or take LSD for divine visions (Dark Habits). Gorgeous leading ladies confess to vengeful murder whilst broadcasting the news on national television (High Heels) and a leg of ham becomes a fatal weapon against abusive husbands (What Have I Done to Deserve This?). You fall in love with a very young and psycho Antonio Banderas who kidnaps and ties you to your bed (Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down) and you scream at a council gardener to please water you with his hose, to appease an all-consuming internal fire (The Law of Desire).
There are plenty more- it is simply impossible to choose one – but Almodóvar’s genius, the amazing and beautiful actors he works with, and the colorful, underground and unique Spain his films are set in, are definitely worth binge-watching, and will inspire any choreographer or dancer.
If you are a first-timer, I would say a good place to start are Bad Education and All About My Mother, before heading to some of his wilder earlier films.
Favourite scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IPEmZQT5X
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1972)
This rococo, claustrophobic and explosive German film about a middle-aged fashion designer, Petra, who becomes obsessed with young model Karin, is a perfect essay on desire, lust, aging and the need to possess somebody, all taking place in an amazingly designed apartment, full of mannequins and crazy colored rugs.
Astounding, powerful and at times beautifully awkward performances from its all-female cast- including always silent secretary Marlene, played by Irm Hermann- that since first watching, I try to achieve when directing my dancers. 70’s fashion at its very best, with the most incredible wigs you have ever seen, and a guttural, visceral drama that isn’t scared of showing its protagonist’s tragic vulnerability- take out some wine, light up those cigs and enjoy this bitter spectacle.
Favourite Scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WnTfjCEohs
Querelle, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1982)
A sailor walks into a bar… This surreal adaptation of another personal idol, Jean Genet’s, novel Querelle de Brest, is another fantastic film by Fassbinder. Probably one of the queer films that has inspired me the most, it is full of sexual politics, voyeurism, lust, sailors, desire, power games and absurdity.
Querelle, a handsome sailor who is a also a murderer and a thief, arrives in Brest, where he starts some dodgy dealings in a brothel for sailors that lead to a series of acts of violence and desire towards other male characters, all under the voyeuristic and lustful eye of Querelle’s superior, Lieutenant Seblon.
This icon in gay film, starring Brad Davis and Jeanne Moreau, has inspired a lot of my works, in terms of its characters, themes and aesthetic. Most recently, it was one of the starting points for Mariposa: a Transgender Tragedy Inspired by Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, my new production for DeNada Dance Theatre, coming to theatres across the UK very soon.
Female Trouble, John Waters (1974)
Who knows what would’ve happened if Dawn Davenport had got her cha-cha heels for Christmas? One thing’s for sure: the world would not have been treated to the life story of the filthiest, most glamorous criminal in the history of film, brought to life by the larger-than-life icon that is Divine.
Crime and beauty are the same for the Pope of Trash, director John Waters, and Female Trouble is probably my favourite film in all his oeuvre. The low-budget, DIY and trashy feel of his first few films has inspired me from day one, for bringing all kinds of underground creatures, the basest of emotions and the filthiest of desires, in all their beauty, to the spotlight.
The best exponent of how bad taste can become high art, John Waters is, along with Almodóvar and Jean Genet, one of the saints I daily burn incense for at my artistic shrine. Waters’ books are also great and inspiring reads- check out Role Models and Crackpot.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich (1962)
This black and white psychological thriller about sisterly enmity probably needs no introduction, and only two names- Joan Crawford and Bette Davies- to explain why it has inspired so many people.
It took two very courageous performers and a brave director to display the tension, ugliness and downright evil of this story of jealousy and rivalry, and to think two of Hollywood’s brightest stars dove right in (catfights included) to show this darker, yet genuine, aspect of the human condition is amazing and something I strive for with my work.
Write a letter to Daddy, sit back and watch film at its very best. And when you’re done, check out Ryan Murphy’s Feud, a television series depicting the tumultuous relationship between Crawford and Davies during filming, with spot-on performances by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon.
6 INSPIRING BOOKS
From the moment I started reading as a child, a book was always a springboard into new and amazing worlds. Entering new and fictional realms- is what also hooked me to making dance later in life.
Here are six books that have opened the doors to worlds I’ve created onstage.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
This world classic became my bible after first reading it in high school, and is probably the book that has influenced my work- and so many others’- the most. A family saga spanning the hundred years of existence of fictional South American town of Macondo, it is full of mesmerizing imagery, unique and bizarre characters, passionate love affairs, wars, gypsies, ghosts and some very deep truths about life.
Magic realism at its best, with (amongst many other understated magical moments) characters who ascend to the heavens whilst hanging up laundry, or children born with animals tails- from here comes the interest in the fantastical in a lot of my works. Written in poetic prose that is almost impossible to put down, it’s a book you really shouldn’t go without reading.
Available on Kindle and Audible.
Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas
A witty, personable and tremendously sensorial account of homosexual life before, during and after Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, Reinaldo Arena’s autobiographical novel is one of the primary source materials for Mariposa: a Transgender Tragedy Inspired by Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, my new work for DeNada Dance Theatre.
Full of humour, at times sassy and always heartfelt, it is a powerful account of survival in oppressive times that not only paints a colourful and dynamic portrait of Cuba during one of the most tumultuous times in the country’s history; it is also a reminder of the beauty that is the freedom to love whoever you chose.
Available on Kindle.
Film adaptation starring a very young (and handsome) Javier Bardem also available to rent on Amazon Prime.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter
Finding it very hard to choose a favourite Angela Carter (Nights at the Circus and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman are way up there fighting for number one), I chose The Bloody Chamber as this short anthology of revisited fairy tales, retold from a highly erotic, gender-based and dark angle, was the inspiration for my work TORO: Beauty and the Bull.
Carter’s use of language is unique, purring and seductive; her feminist (and queer) rereading of well-known folk tales is exciting and historically enlightening on years of sexual and gender oppression. Her worlds- newly gothic and fantastical- are woven with so much allegory and imagery that as a choreographer, dancer or any other form of artist, it is impossible not be inspired and pushed in new and enthralling directions. Perhaps into dark woods where howling, seducing wolves- and other libidinous monsters- await.
Available on Kindle.
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Who doesn’t love a bit of period drama? There’s no Mr Darcy in this Austen classic, but this parody of the Gothic novel is a hilarious and witty attack on established gender roles and conventions (which choreographically is exactly my cup of tea). As a dance maker, I adore parody, pastiche and satire, of which Northanger Abbey serves a banquet.
Young Catherine Morland is taken to Bath to be presented in society and ends up with the not-so-mysterious Tilneys at the not-so-haunted Northanger Abbey (with a lot of silly adventures, gossip and of course, balls, in between). A fun, comforting and quick read, as well as a great lecture on parody. It’s also quite amusing to think of the city of Bath as encompassing all the dark pleasures of the world.
Free to download on Kindle.
Angels in America, Tony Kushner
This mammoth, epic, spectacular Gay Fantasia on National Themes is a masterpiece of world literature and especially queer theatre. Set during the 80’s AIDS crisis in New York City, and divided into two parts, I consider it- along with A Hundred Years of Solitude– one of the most influential works of art to my choreography.
A perfect example of postmodern, glorious intertextuality, high camp, and pure theatre, with angelic apparitions and clever casting interplay, the script is beautifully written, with incredible nuance and rhythm. Published in 1991, its concerns with modernity- plague, migration, belief- resonate loudly almost thirty years from its publication. Because let’s face it: who doesn’t sit in front of their dressing table mirror in a kimono and wig cap these quarantine days, sighing: “Oh my queen; you know you’ve hit rock-bottom when even drag is a drag?”
Script not available on Kindle (can be purchased on Amazon), but an audiobook with the Tony Award-winning 2018 revival by the National Theatre is available on iTunes, as is the 2003 TV adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Al Pacino.
His Dark Materials Trilogy, Philip Pullman
I was very late to this particular party but read through the whole trilogy during a really, really bad case of man flu a few years ago and was hooked for life. Perhaps not a source of inspiration for my work but wonderful and thrilling escapism, it is an exciting, atheist and philosophical response to C.S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
Although I spent a great part of my childhood walking through closets (not the figurative LGBTQ+ one, but literally trying to get to Narnia), His Dark Materials presents a much more wholesome and gripping adventure, that keeps you on the edge of your seat with every page. Fantastic, four-dimensional characters, who literally carry their souls on their sleeves in the shape of animal daemons, with charming protagonists and terrifying antagonists, asking questions about the nature of consciousness, gender politics and sin- I highly recommend binge-reading the lot during these quiet times.
Available on Kindle; audiobooks on iTunes. STAY AWAY from the 2007 film adaptation The Golden Compass, starring a fabulously evil Nicole Kidman, but the 2019 HBO/BBC TV version is turning out pretty good.
IN CONVERSATION: Carlos Pons Guerra and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Carlos invites Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for an online aperitif. Talking about how their Hispanic heritage influences their work, their subversion of gender roles in ballet and contemporary dance, and their relationship with trash and high art, expect a fun and camp insight into the work of both choreographers! (Vermouth optional!)
Carlos shares some of the kitschiest, most melodramatic and uplifting tracks from some of his works. A mostly Latin, highly camp playlist to kick of your weekend (frozen margaritas sadly not included).