Go Deeper A Matador, Luchadores, and a Godless Bull

A Matador, Luchadores, and a Godless Bull

Posted September 8th, 2016

Forrest Shamlian and Justine Parks (photo by Michael Ermilio)

To its many critics, bullfighting is viewed as cruel and inhumane blood sport, but those who practice and promote it hardly see it as a sport at all. To them it is a highly ritualized cultural event, a gracefully choreographed dance, a deadly serious and death-defying art in the most literal sense. Significant as it may be to Hispanic culture however, the practice’s prevalence has steadily declined in recent years. It’s been banned in parts of Europe and Latin America, including three Mexican states: Sonora, Guerrero, and Coahuila. It seems as though in this day and age our desire to witness someone taking their life in their hands for a bout with a dangerous yet ultimately innocent animal has dwindled. But what would happen if the bull was complicit in the act, eager to entertain?

This weekend Ethos Physical Theatre Company will present their inaugural show, Matador, as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Written by and featuring Ethos co-founder and trapeze artist Justine Parks and drawing inspiration from both bullfighting and the Mexican freestyle wrestling form lucha libre, it explores the relationship between a fearsome bullfighter and his godless bull, a tragic love story set in a fairy tale version of Mexico.

“The entire show is designed to celebrate a mash-up of traditional and pop culture in Mexico,” Parks tells me. “The matador and the godless bull agree not to kill one another so long as they give each other a good and fair fight each night, thus making their bullfights more of a ‘show’ than an actual fight to the death. We thought each of them being luchadores was a great way to illustrate that their goal in fighting one another is rooted in entertainment.”


Colleen Jacob, Jonathan Fortes, Justine Parks, Forrest Shamlian, Rachel Helton, and Natalie Babcock (photo by Michael Ermilio)

To tell it’s fantastical story Matador features narration akin to a classic bedtime story and employs a wide variety of dazzling circus and flow arts including trapeze work, acrobatics, and nunchuck work. “Each of the actors spent a lot of time learning how to move like their characters since their bodies speak for them,” says Parks. “The ladies [physical comediennes Natalie Babcock, Rachel Helton, and Amanda Panrock] all spent many months developing their anthropomorphic bull characters. The actor playing the matador [Philadelphia-based flow artist Forrest Shamlian] practiced with a cape for 5 months and even took a lesson from a real matador.”

This inclusion of the traditional choreography of toreros alongside physical theater that recalls the bombastic displays of luchadores intermingles the old with the new to capture the phantasmagorical tone of a modern fairy tale. With shadow puppetry provided by Ethos co-founder Aaron Rose, the show promises to be a visually captivating experience, an exciting premiere from this young company of circus artists.

The Collective
3245 Amber St
Sept. 9 & 10 at 7pm
Sept. 10 @ 2pm

—Hugh Wilikofsky