Barcelona-based dance company La Veronal makes its British premiere with Siena at the Southbank Centre’s Dance Umbrella festival. Presented in the grand Queen Elizabeth Hall, I am expecting a big impact. And that’s exactly what I get. Art, film, photography and dance are fused in Marcos Morau’s piece exploring how art can be embodied, literally.
Set in a museum, the stage is dominated by ‘The Venus of Urbino’ – the centre piece. A viewing bench is just in front of it. We see dancers manipulate the space, individually and also in duets and as part of a group. The majority of the cast are in fencing costumes with the exception of two who are dressed as a curator and a member of the public.
The choreography has a frenzied intricacy, unrelenting and demanding. Some of the physical pictures made are quite clearly in reference to pieces of art, film and literature, but which, and from what time period, is almost impossible to distinguish as bodies move with such unapologetic velocity. The incredible dexterity of isolation and speed at which the dancers move is nothing less than exceptional.
What makes Siena so unique to me is its reference to film. Dialogue is played repeatedly, jarring wonderfully with the action, putting us on edge. Scenes are severed by sudden black-outs. The lighting (designed by Enric Planas in partnership with La Veronal) then reveals a radically different positioning of the dancers, sometimes standing still, seizing our gaze or sometimes giving a little wave to one another.
The human body and animal body are depicted with such expression and detail that the dancers almost seem mutant-like, not of this world. A stand-out duet for me is when two women share a body: one naked on her upper half, the other with legs exposed. Together they pose and change seamlessly, enjoying their union. It is both extraordinary to watch and also a reminder of how beautiful and miraculous the human body can be.
A 20-minute ‘Talk Time’ follows the performance, the relevance of which for me lies in the feedback from the director Marcus Morau, rather than people’s feelings on the piece itself. He makes it very clear (despite not having a strong grasp of English) that sense is not intended to be found, and interpretation is ours for the taking. He avoids answering questions about his choices on costume and staging, revealing his passion for the organic process in which he works with his dancers.
Morau and the company provide an hour of surreal fascination; a phenomenal step, jump and leap forward of the imagination. I dare you not to be altered.
Siena played as part of Dance Umbrella at the Southbank Centre. For more information see the Dance Umbrella website.