This beautiful book of images, philosophical musings, conversations and ‘performance texts’ celebrates the work of the company Mal Pelo, a dance collaboration between María Muñoz and Pep Ramis. It represents a ‘pause’ in a creative process that sees performance as a ‘stage on the way rather than a final destination’, and readers will either buy into this concept or not.

The approach is serious, reflective and introspective, and behind the flowery prose there is a genuine desire to capture and record a creative process. It is also undeniably puzzling. The binding has a beautiful image of a horse wrapped around the spine from front to back cover: ‘Horses swim only rarely, perhaps when faced with some danger. In extreme situations we demand the impossible of ourselves …’ we are told, perhaps rather sententiously.

So what is this all this about? The DVD tucked into the back of the book was mystifying too. Short film extracts about human relationships with wolves, heavy voiceovers and a naked body encrusted with dust slowly writhing on the ground might be dismissed as pretentious, but Mal Pelo should not be dismissed, as their recordings on YouTube demonstrate. Their work pushes the boundaries of dance, music and theatre, and perhaps one way to respond to this book is to see it as Mal Pelo’s source book as well as their record, with its collection of drawings, paintings, photographs, poetry and prose. It also makes a lot more sense when seen alongside their performances, even if only viewed in online snippets.

The book itself is a delightful physical object. The various types of paper used vary the look and feel of the pages; a bookmark tucked in with the half-title page shows a horse, a man and a woman; the endpapers are illustrated with pictures of stage sets. As a lovely collection of ideas, images and writings (the latter translated into English by Catherine Forrest with considerable sensitivity) this book is a work that is nevertheless challenging to understand. To quote Muñoz, ‘we have become aware of how much more disorganised and chaotic the creative process is in life than can be seen in the final result’, and the book illustrates that point.

Maggie Watson

21 February 2015

Swimming horses: Mal Pelo, edited by María Muñoz, with photographs by Jordi Bover.   Published by Mal Pelo, 2013.

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