United Kingdom Various Composers, Siena: La Veronal, Southbank Centre, London, 30.10.2014 (J.O’D)
Dancers: Inma Asensio, Cristina Facco, Cristina Goñi, Anna Hierro, Ariadna Montfort, Lorena Nogal, Manuel Rodríguez, Marina Rodríguez, Sau-Ching Wong
Direction: Marcos Morau
Choreography:: Marcos Morau in collaboration with the dancers
Text and Dramaturgy: Pablo Gisbert – El Conde de Torrefiel, with the collaboration of Roberto Fratini
Space and Lighting Design:: La Veronal and Enric Planes
Photography: Jesús Robisco, Edu Peréz and Quevieneelcoco
Costume:: Octavia Malette
Voice-over: Victoria Macarte and Benjamin Nathan Serio
The best thing about Siena, and it’s a very good best, is what you see before it starts. The stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall has become the large, high-ceilinged room of an art gallery: three grey walls, a grey floor, a rectangular archway with white architrave, and four, red-covered benches. On the back wall, exerting some of the power that the original must exert in the Uffizi, is a reproduction of Titian’s The Venus of Urbino. Expecting to look as you do in a theatre, you find yourself having to look as you do in a museum. The clash of these different ways of looking, before this ‘reflection on art and the human body’ has even begun, is disorienting.
When the performance did start, when the room began to be peopled, I felt an almost immediate disappointment. It makes perfect sense for seven of the female dancers to be dressed in the clothes used for fencing. (In the 17th century, and beyond, as Catherine Turocy points out in her essay in Dance on Its Own Terms, fencing and dancing could be taught in the same place by the same person.) And each one of the dancers is able to turn her body into a ballet-informed, hip-hop techno-body, with stop-start articulation, tilted heads and pivoted limbs. But the initial impact of this quickly wears off. The rapidly changing, art-historical tableaux into which the dancers arrange themselves are somehow lost in the setting or behind the stylised movement that creates them.
Also in the room is the mostly immobile museum ‘overseer’, Manuel Rodríguez, who performed a similar role in James Thiérrée’s Tabac Rouge at Sadler’s Wells in March (a production that had its own identically clothed group of female dancers). Another woman, differently dressed, sits looking intently at the painting. ‘Vertigo’ I wrote in my notebook, seconds before Bernard Herrmann’s music for the start of Psycho began to be heard. The music to Vertigo, the art gallery scene, came later on.
Siena, which forms part of the Dance Umbrella Festival 2014, is a coproduction of institutions in Barcelona, Dresden, Portugal, Greece and Ireland. It was created, with the support of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, in the framework of European project modul-dance and in partnership with Southbank Centre. This might explain why it seems to collapse under the weight of its ‘text and dramaturgy’, its references (art history, Hollywood, European Catholicism, European fascism), its choreography, and, ultimately, its mise en scène. Titian’s Venus is replaced towards the end by the figure of a woman lying on a bier. She is ‘the woman behind the painting’ that a female speaker on the soundtrack has spoken of. When this woman walks into the now empty gallery space and looks back into the frame, a second figure rises from the bier she has vacated. It is Manuel Rodríguez. Not having had much to do so far, he steps out of the frame for a solo (as Death, perhaps). His dark lurex, mummy-like costume is a striking visual effect, but one that is by now a striking visual effect too far.