La Veronal, a Barcelona based company under the Artistic Direction of choreographer Marcos Morau, are currently creating a set of works which each take a geographical location as their background. Voronia, presented at Sadlers Wells as part of Dance Umbrella, takes its inspiration from the deepest cave in the world, ‘Krubera Voronia’ in Georgia.
In a cave that plummets to the depths of the earth the imaginative possibilities are endless, but connotations of hell and other-worlds are perhaps the first to spring to mind. La Veronal portray Voronia as a Dante-an hell, approaching their subject matters of evil and religion in a fantastical, Dadaist manner.
The audience are greeted by a whirring orchestra of hoovers as the cast, dressed in white overalls, busy themselves preparing the stage. It’s a calm, if somewhat surreal opening to Voronia, but it’s not long before an ear splitting sound fills the auditorium, we are plunged into darkness, and the journey through La Veronal’s hell begins.
Throughout Voronia there is a tense parallel between the watched and the watcher. Eight dancers, a chorus and one young boy are at times a part of this underworld, at others confused spectators. The long cream curtains of the backdrop repeatedly part on surreal scenarios as Voronia progesses, much like Dante’s journey in his Inferno, through these strange stages of hell. At one point they open on the glass box of an operating theatre. The dancers watch, approving the work with rapid, short bursts of applause. Later the curtains are replaced by a lift from which a large table, set for a feast, is brought. Whenever the doors re-open a new scene is before us, whether a policeman dressed in riot gear or the naked backs of a trio of frantic, scrabbling men. One of the dancers repeatedly tries to exit, but you sense there is no escape from this underworld.
This sense of entrapment is captured in the company’s distinct movement style, an incredible combination of ballet, contemporary and popping that conjures the image of a tortured body. Their classical, linear lines break into disjointed movements that give the dancers a puppet-like appearance. It’s enthralling to watch bodies move in this fluid yet disconnected way but, after a while, you begin to long for some variation. While the structure of the choreography switches between solos, intricate contact work and perfectly co-ordinated unison, the content differs little and in a work of Voronia’s duration this sadly becomes noticeable.
La Veronal rely heavily on set design and staging to structure their narrative and bridge their themes of evil and religion. Biblical quotes are projected above the set while the chorus, dressed in long black robes, act as sinister religious bodies. In a visually strong moment they cross the stage in silent procession as the dancers obliviously continue their tortured movements. Yet despite the visual impact of Voronia much remains unclear. The young boy is a perplexing figure. His youthful innocence lies at odds with his apparent role as guide of the underworld. In the beginning he is trapped inside a glass box to the sound of buzzing flies, later he seems to be the protagonist of this hell, dragging a gorilla headed god from a small door in what we can only imagine is a kind of sarcophagus.
Voronia is delightful in its weirdness to a point. However, after more than an hour of disconnected imagery you wish La Veronal had dug their teeth into their subject matter just a little deeper. There is a flicker of this in a clever, final twist as the lights are turned on the audience and the watchers become the watched. Voronia may be one of the strangest dance performances you see for a while, but its dramatic, demonic atmosphere is something to relish.