Humour with disturbing undertones: Pasionaria by La Veronal

Sadler’s Wells, London
April 3, 2022

Marcos Moreau gazes deep into a terrifying world but the anarchy of Pasionaria that melds theatre of the absurd with dance, is so compelling, the detail so intelligent, that it totally captivates for its 70-odd minutes.

Moreau came to dance from a drama and film background. As a result, he has a free range imagination untrammelled by ideas about what is possible in dance. The eight dancers, including Lorena Nogal, his choreographic assistant, are all extraordinarily flexible and versatile, adept at tying their legs in knots and extending their bodies beyond the range of possible.

Pasionaria, despite the emotion suggested in the title, is visualised in banal beige. Picture framed in a neon rectangle and mostly behind a screen, the air is thick and hazy and the lighting patchy. Despite the physical presence of the dancers, it seems remote and untouchable bordering on a virtual reality world.

The sense of almost reality is repeated in the dancers’ movements and their gyratory pathway: entering above, taking a flight of stairs past a window and crossing the stage to exit stage left. There are distinctive individuals, the dancer in noisy heeled boots, the tall man with the vacuum cleaner and the delivery man with a stack of cardboard boxes, (now a staple of modern life). Most amazing is the dark-haired dancer who repeatedly makes a terrifying headfirst tumble on the bottom few steps but is back on her feet in seconds.

La Veronal in Pasionaria
Photo Alex Font

Moreau’s dancers specialise in the inexplicable. A highlight is a duet on a sofa plumped with comfy cushions; a witty piece of choreography of entwined limbs and bodies. The humour was abundant in the close manipulation, but lacking was any desire or emotion. Smart humans, just missing the humanity.

The action is programmed and repetitive, running smoothly when it works. The exit door is a focal point. Buttons are punched on the entry phone with expectations and no results. We’ve all been there before. The next guy arrives repeats the code and the door swings wide. Tech is fine, until it isn’t.

Fortunately, for the run of the show, the lighting and technical management was expertly handled by Bernat Jansà. The lighting is unsettling and tends to be the catalyst for change. It’s not the chiaroscuro of dramatic light and dark but an ambiguous gloom. The large window is obscured by blinds that open to reveal the moon so close we see the pockmarked surface. When a figure arrives with a red torch and floods the scene with crimson light, the automatons seem to short circuit, even falling briefly out of the frame or the window. A measure of ‘normal’ returns as lights fade to neutral but madness is always waiting in the wings.

While we are being so richly entertained by Moreau’s theatricality heavily laced with humour, there are very disturbing undertones. Are we sleepwalking to a form of control we can’t reverse? Keep calm and dance on!