Musing on Divinity

 
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This arresting performance – a musing on divinity and Catholic ritualism – is as mysterious as the liturgical tradition that inspired it. The piece marries dance, music and equestrian theatre in surprisingly fluid fashion, juxtaposing flamenco star Andrés Marín’s fiery baile with the poised acrobatics of world-famous horse trainer Bartabas, their interface playing out against the polyphonic motets of sixteenth-century Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria. It’s solemn and exceptionally self-aware stuff, though anything less earnest and I suspect Golgota would not resonate nearly as powerfully.

 

The work is presented in the style of a mass, with grave Gregorian chants accompanying a host of references to worship rites, from self-flagellation (which Marín performs with the tail of a horse) to confession and Maundy (foot washing). The mise en scène is dark and sombre, the stage shrouded in a cloud of incense and cloaked in the chiaroscuro hues of a Velásquez painting. The intermittent appearance of a beruffed court dwarf (played with a sinister zest by Pierre Estorges) intensifies this comparison, as do the textured melodies and ecclesiastical imagery.

 

This shadowy setting, with its mystical connotations, is an apt backdrop for the spellbinding convergence of Marín and Bartabas’ individual performance styles. The former favours a smooth, intense brand of movement, one dotted with ample core strength and quick whips of the feet. While Marín’s flamenco background certainly informs his dancing, it does so quietly; this is not the flamenco of wailing guitars and flamboyant ‘¡Olés!’, though the signature qualities of the genre – body percussion, rhythmic stamping, a proud, upright stance – are undeniably present. In one memorable scene, Marín squares up to the audience and uses hand-held hooves to perform a tap dance of sorts on a small swatch of metal, the show’s musicians forming a stoic tableau behind him.

 

Meanwhile, Bartabas’ technique is evinced in tandem with the four horses he wields during the piece. The animals show hints of dressage and vaulting training, although the exhibitionism of these sports is played down in favour of an impressively unaffected pitch – the horses appear to prance and canter and bow on their own accord rather than at the behest of their rider. One striking sequence sees Bartabas maintain his balance on a steed as it repeatedly lies down and then rises again; a display in which the performer stands erect in stirrups, backlit with pallets of incense dangling from each hand, is likewise noteworthy.

 

Music plays an integral role in Golgota, and one of the show’s most laudable features is that it doesn’t allow this component to become superseded by the equestrian and dance elements. Christophe Baska delivers an exquisite tenor, while Jean Tubéry and Marc Wolff respectively impress on the cornett and lute, their synchronisation and ceremonial presence infusing the performance with a rich, haunting overlay. The final image, in which Marín is left to dangle from a ten-foot-high cross, is evocative to be sure, though its poignancy would surely diminish without Baska’s stirring intonation giving it weight.

 

Sara Veale

 

photos | ©Nabil Boutros