Life and death, the worldly and otherworldly: Asun Noales’ La mort I la donzella

Mercat de les Flors, Barcelona
January 29, 2023

A contemporary revision of Schubert’s romantic String Quartet No.14 in D Minor (Death and the Maiden), La mort I la donzella by Valencia director and choreographer, Asun Noales, tackles the essential existential elements, to be alive or to die. The passage from life to death, premature death, the pain and dismay after the death of beloved ones and the support needed in such moments, the fragility of life itself, and the decision to continue to live despite the immeasurable grief all feature in a work that has an interesting set design and a rich range of well-performed dance.

It opens with a man shovelling earth on top of something, that shortly after is revealed as a tall, thick, moveable, grey wall. Maybe he represents the gravedigger preparing the hole for the body, or maybe he is digging to release part of the afflicting pain.

That wall folds and opens to reveal previously invisible doors and windows that the dancers pass through. The imposing structure could be the gateway between life and death. At first, we see just hands and feet, but then full bodies emerge from one window only to immediately re-enter into another one.

La mort I la donzella by Asun Noales
Photo German Anton

A suffused and soft light confers gravity to the whole work. Transience is predominant, evident in the interpretation and the quick and changing movements that come in a continuous flux of lifts, abandonments, rounded and interrupted motions. Despite the strong performances and well-thought stage design that make the work alluring to watch, it lacks some dramaturgical consequence, however.

Noales focuses on the reaction of the organic body to specific sensations. At times, this is visible in the explosion of energy by some dancers and the pathos expressed by others. Shifts of energies can also be perceived. Sometimes, intentions are embodied absolutely in wild or fiery movements. But at other times it’s as if the dancers surrender. It seems to be a dialogue between two forces, the otherworldly and the earthly. The two collide but also dialogue with one another.

At one point, the performers start writing German phrases on the walls using a stick of chalk. ‘I am wild, I am young, I will not calm down’. It immediately brought to mind the very well- known piece also related to death, Bon Voyage, Bob by Alan Lucien Øyen for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. The chalk, being an impermanent material, reflects well the similar ephemerality of human life. But, while the short phrases are meant to give an extra voice to the piece, I didn’t find them effective nor evocative.

All in all, La mort I la donzella is an ambitious piece, beautifully performed, and with well-planned and effective designs. It is pleasant and entertaining to watch but, somehow, and despite the sensitive topic, I didn’t find myself shaken by any strong emotional response.