Phoenix Dance Theatre, 2006

Credits | Reviews  ⇓


Nomination 2006 Critic’s Circle National Dance Award: Best Modern Dance Production




Music by Lila Downs, 2001

Choreographed by Javier de Frutos

Stage and Costume Design by Jean-Marc Puissant

Lighting Design by Michael Mannion




Images © courtesy of Phoenix Dance Theatre, J.M. Puissant

“ A hallucinatory magic lantern show of Mexican culture. Beautifully weird and unpredictably wild.”

The Guardian


The design for Nopalitos peels off and reassembles various cultural layers compressed into Mexican culture: the Lucha Libre, the Day of the Dead, the Ranchero’s Americana, Hollywood-style cinema and the glamour of pulp fiction. They sit side by side, superimposed and reorganised, present in everyday life, rituals, festivals and celebrations.


Set to songs by Lilla Downs, the troupe of dancers folds and unfolds four painted cloths, hanging from a circular track stabilised by ropes and sand bags, circus-like. They create scenes, vignettes, processions and dances. Bold graphics quickly change the world the dancers inhabit, swiftly opening and closing the space.


Following the tradition of layering clothes borrowed from various traditions and genres, dancers become genderless creatures in a world where every assemblage is allowed; ancient and contemporary, mundane and surreal.



Sunday Telegraph by Louise Levene

Jean-Marc Puissant’s designs were a beguiling and eclectic blend of pulp comics and Latin American peasant drag that chimed perfectly with the passionately throaty laments sung by the Mexican-American chanteuse Lila Downs.


The Guardian by Judith Mackerel

Inside a pavilion decorated with a lover’s portrait and a pair of capering skeletons; a hallucinatory magic lantern show of Mexican culture. The extraordinary cast of characters ranges from camp wrestlers to a pair of girlish maidens in gas masks, from swaying funeral processions to brimming fiesta parties. A fantasy: beautifully weird and unpredictably wild.


The Daily Telegraph by Elena Seymenliyska

A blend of the Mexican Day of the Dead, a Wild West showdown and a carnival freak show. Seven dancers in gimp hoods took turns joining in unnerving threesomes and foursomes in a gladiatorial-style ring. Then ghostly widows in shoulder-length veils and cowboy hats floated in their space. The effect was as mesmerising as it was disturbing, a deviant, spiky, pulpy drama.


The Observer by Luke Jennings

A strange, dreamlike piece peopled by men and women of fluid gender. The cast interact around a curtained booth resembling a giant lampshade. Too surreal to lend itself to easy interpretation, the piece seems to filter sacramental and ritual images through a post-modern, ballet-historical sensibility. So you get women with long plaits, in an image borrowed from Les Noces, and a fleeting Giselle vignette, with men in dresses and veils dancing before a tinselly grave.


Evening Standard by Sarah Frater

Latin America’s strange voodoo mix of Africa, Hispania and Christianity-run-amok is the heavily perfumed inspiration for Nopalitos. I begins in a circus-cum-boxing ring, with a substantial female “wrestler” in mask and boots; a baroque pageant of the living and the dead, with skulls and skeletons alongside lithesome athletes. Skirted, masked carousers parade the circus-within-a-stage; upstage right a cross marks a grave, and the dancers seem to mimic its star-bust design.


The Independent by Zoe Anderson

Jean-Marc Puissant’s set, painted curtains hanging from a circular frame, suggest a circus tent or a zoetrope. The hangings show cowboys, skeletons, pulp glamour figures. The dancers wear skeleton-print tops and balaclavas that blur the lines of heads and neck.


The Times by Debra Craine

Jean-Marc Puissant’s costumes, like an explosion at a jumble sale, put the dancers in Mexican wrestling masks.


The Sunday Times by David Dougill

(…) masked, carnival-dressed dancers in a handsome circus tent with much-manipulated decorated curtains (designs by Jean-Marc Puissant). by Graham Watts

‘Nopalitos’ looks great, with an intriguing circus ring set and designs that made diverse reference to Tamara de Lempicka (in the huge chiseled-faces painted on the back-drop curtains); Cath Kidston (in the vintage cowboy prints) and the kind of gimp masks and burlesque wear that would be favoured by Dita von Teese.