Rosalba Torres Guerrero/Lucas Racasse: Penombre



Mostly I was waiting for it to end. I didn’t feel much of the sense of tension or metamorphosis the programme spoke of, nor the rage. It seemed like a piece in drift.

There were a few beautiful images: such as when a tiny sprite-like Watanabe was projected across Torres Guerrero’s body, like a little spirit dancing across her skin, or when Watanabe flew happily off the screens and across the side walls of the theatre thanks to a rotating projector. Unfortunately these moments were few and far between in this 70 minute solo. It felt a little underdeveloped. Perhaps it would have been better had it been 30 minutes, but then you can’t have an evening to yourself for 30 minutes. Tricky.

My favourite bit came near the end when I was really beginning to die. Rosalba, threw on her hair poncho and started to bounce around madly and joyfully to the rocky music. On the projection, the naked Uiko Watanabe stopped twisting her legs off her torso and started doing a little wiggly bum dance and grinning at the camera. It was great. Bizzare and fun, they both really went for it, which was a relief after the long, slow, seriousness of the rest of the evening.



Rosalba Torres Guerrero’s credits as a dancer make your jaw drop. She has bountiful experience dancing for some sensational choreographers – from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to Alain Platel. The programme makes plain that this is her first choreographic venture. Historically, one might think of her as a new addition to the tradition of dancer becoming choreographer. But actually, I’m not sure that hits the mark. The house was full, anticipation in the air. Were people here to see Guerrero’s choreography or watch her on stage, I pondered. Did it matter? For the purposes of reviewing, I needed my lines uncrossed. I was there to watch choreography.

Once the house lights had gone down, the music started. A big, spacious electronic soundscape that alluded to somewhere quite other. The vastness of the sound and the imposing white self-standing screens, which dominated the back of the stage in an angular, asymmetrical landscape, felt at odds with the small size of the Lilian Baylis. I may be biased because of the numerous other performances I have seen in this studio theatre; usually works befit and embrace the atmosphere and micro-ness of the space so well.

From the very beginning I did not feel like I was really aboard the voyage it seemed this performance wanted to take me on. The opening weirdly made me think of the beginning of West End shows where the music is often the first thing you experience, almost as an aperitif of the show itself. In this instance, I felt a bubble in me burst…

Guerrero’s appearance, luminous and fleshy (bare but for knickers), was welcome and certainly warmed up the space. But even her indomitable presence shrank in this inhumanly proportioned set by Shizuka Hariu.

What proceeded to unfold was a series of interactions with costume and video projection. The costumes were hair pieces: one with fine long brown hair fashioned like a skirt, which rested around her neck and covered her torso; another, more textured, was made from curly reddish-brown hair and was like a long fairytale beard. Both looked more chic than bestial, especially on Guerrero, whose movement was elegant and poised even when fractured or manifesting bodily contradictions in episodes of greater tension.

Meanwhile, the video footage, which ranged from abstract shapes (patterns of triangles) to the moving image of fish forced to the water’s surface fighting for survival to a character (played by actress Uiko Watanabe) who appeared and disappeared in various moods, often just being, watching, sitting, walking.

The presence of this 2D figure did create a kind of counterpoint to what was happening in 3D, an interesting aspect of this being how their two focuses met or refracted off one another. There was rarely a conflict in me about what to watch. Video and live action can be overwhelming but this avoided that trap. Lucas Racasse’s images were given time and Guerrero used stillness. My qualm is that these things never became charged particularly meaningfully or potently. There was not enough clarity for that to happen.

Guerrero has become queen of that dancerly knack of being in ‘a state’, looking out into the audience full of conviction but without much purpose. Her gaze is like an empty signifier. It can mean everything and nothing. In isolation, these moments where she looks out seem a fair indication of the patent vacuousness of the choreography. Indeed, it was naïve, which I suppose is not that surprising given that Guerrero is inexperienced. When I go to the theatre I want to feel like I’m witnessing something really happen but with this piece I never really felt like I was in it for more than a few moments at a time.

Guerrero used easy beautiful things like her naked back moving and lacks the fundamental knowledge of how to get more meaning out of things. The lighting was great, costumes beautiful, performers superb, and video visually stunning. Sadly none of this amounted to good choreography, but a superficial deluge.


‘Penombre’ by Rosalba Torres Guerrero and Lucas Racasse, 5 – 7 May 2011, Lilian Baylis