Review: La Veronal - Voronia - Dance Umbrella at Sadler’s Wells

Performance: 19 & 20 October 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 22 October 2015

This work is ostensibly based on the ‘concepts of good and evil’ in some relation to Krubera Voronia (or Voronya), the deepest-known cave on Earth, with its entrance located in the remote Abkhazian area of Georgia. It is, however, at best, an association every bit as obscure as what little is known about the farthest reaches of that cave. In every-which-way this new production, by this fast-emerging Barcelona-based company, is a leap in the dark; like that taken by the Ukrainian diver, Gennady Samokhin, when he plunged down 52 metres into a black hole of liquid to extend the known length of the cave to just short of 2,200 metres.

There may be a cave-connection set out in a mysterious, intriguing beginning; one that beckons the viewer into something like the lips that open up into the earth’s inner regions. As the audience arrives, a group of white-coated staff are vacuuming the stage, as if to prepare for an important event but when all is settled, and the house lights go down, the journey begin with a body popping, fractured solo that is not only an impactful sequence of lonely dance but could represent the dislocated, slithering progress of a caver descending through that great channel on his journey towards the centre of the earth.

It bode so well. And then, the long and incomprehensible decline became a descent into hell. By elevator. And, taking The Last Supper with us, to boot.

The initial surprise of the elevator analogy seemed relevant to the world’s deepest cave and that association with hell; but it took over far too long a stretch of this 75-minute work. Doors opened and closed in accordance with the little orangey-red arrows that pointed up and down in fastidious attention to detail. After the banquet-laden table was wheeled out of the capacious lift, other arrivals included a white bear (could have been polar), a riot policeman complete with visor-helmet and shield and four randomly naked guys with flowers. Only the bear was allowed in, as I recall. As an aside, it amuses me that the visual pre-show publicity for this show featured a backside view of the aforementioned naked guys, which was a “sketch” that occupied no more than 30 seconds of the work.

Surtitles appeared at various points with profound statements that turn out to be from the words of St Augustine (the 4th Century Roman Catholic theologian) and a young boy (Jared Irving) appeared as a leit motif throughout the work. The mashed-up sound of electronic and human babble, inter-woven with snatches of classical music, is supplemented by the percussive sound of the performers clapping hands or slapping their own bodies. During the “Last Supper in Hell” scene, a woman (Sau-Ching Wong) shouts what appears to be Chinese abuse while pushing people away from the table: it seems to go on, irritatingly, for a very long time.

The associations of religion and evil are roughly sketched, perhaps too bluntly for the sake of clarity. The visual imagery is often surprising, replete with claustrophobic references: a medical operation; the boy stuck in a box; a mortuary drawer with an animal inside; the aforementioned elevator interior. The performances of the eight dancers – framed by a “Chorus” of nine other actors – is of the highest calibre but the unusual choreography of the opening sequences is not maintained throughout and there is far less dancing in the latter half of the production. Although a performer in a bear’s head is always good for a chuckle, there is nowhere enough light in the darkness and more humour amongst the absurdity would have been welcome.

Under the creative direction of Marcos Morau, La Veronal appears to be following the late Pina Bausch’s concept – articulated towards the end of her life as the World Cities series – by taking a place as the starting point for each work; thereby creating an analogy between dance and geography. It’s a very loosely defined idea, which in this case seems to begin and end with an association between the word’s deepest cave and this modernising of a Dante-esque vision of hell.

The work is challenging, unsettling, cold and largely inaccessible. So, on reflection, perhaps it is a clever allusion to an expedition down that seemingly unending cave.

Dance Umbrella continues at venues across London until 31 October
Take advantage of our special ticket offer to see the last show in this season Gregory Maqoma’s Exit/Exist

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

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