“Were you really there? Did that really happen?”
A concoction of crazy contortion, confusion and references rooted in Italian Renaissance. Marcos Morau has directed a unique production, in collaboration with his cast of nine dancers. The stage is set in a museum gallery situated in Siena, Italy, a large replica of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) hangs on a wall and one man oversees eight women that wonder in and out of the gallery.
This eerie, dreamlike display of layers upon layers of symbolism is shown fittingly a night before Halloween. Tricks are played on the mind as the soundscape describes the action on stage before, after and during when it actually takes place, treating us to something solid to hang onto amidst the abstract, yet fluid choreography.
Suspense draws me in as a voiceover says chillingly that someone is coming. A woman trips, this echoes in the voiceover and reverberates in the theatre. The voiceover says bells are chiming, before these bells are heard. This seems to create a bubbling cauldron of chaos as the mind tries to connect the cutting and pasting of what you hear, see and feel.
The work circulates around the idea of humanism, which grew out of the age of Renaissance in Siena. This philosophy debates that humanity exists without the need of divinity or supernatural matters. It suggests that we can live and drink in all that we do without believing that there is something else out there in the universe. Siena speaks in volumes of this theology, questioning our senses in a situation as simple as an art exhibition, but nonetheless a setting recognisable and relatable to probably most in the auditorium.
Complex patterns flow between the dancers, as they pop, tut and ripple almost with a hip-hop style vocabulary. Two women wrestle, one baring her breasts and the other showing her legs, they come together not knowing which limb belongs to who, adding to the grotesque nature of Morau’s piece. This image adds to the curiousity of what may or may not and can or cannot be seen.
Disappearing and reappearing, a dancer moves bodies in and out of the gallery on a stretcher. At one point the dancer carts in a shopping trolley, instead of a stretcher, thrown in to see if we notice it? Moments cleverly crafted like these help to recreate the feeling that may be felt when waking up from a dream. Were you really there? Did that really happen? These questions are also thrown in by the man and woman voiceover that seems to narrate the work. Perception blurs, déjà vu sets in and a state of limbo washes over, destroying the boundaries between reality and imagination.
Listening to Morau talk about Siena at the end of the evening, it becomes clear that nothing needs to be taken as it seems. At the end of the piece the painting unveils a corpse, turning the gallery into a funeral, the male dancer becoming a priest.
It can be thought that viewing death is as blasé as taking in a work of art. It is just part of life. Perhaps the unknowing of what is taking place on stage is a truth in the unknowing of the paths we take whilst living. I could become lost in Morau’s labyrinth of dreams for days and I encourage you to do the same!
Reviewed at Southbank Centre, London, 30 October 2014