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La Veronal – Voronia review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘extraordinary dancers’

La Veronal – Voronia at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Josep Aznar La Veronal – Voronia at Sadler's Wells. Photo: Josep Aznar
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It opens with the cast vacuuming the stage. But things turn nasty pretty quickly after that. This might have been subtitled: Journey to the Centre of the Soul. The title refers to the deepest cave on the planet – Krubera Voronia in the Caucasus – portrayed as an anteroom to hell.

Figures in black and white emerge in front of a long, low, grey curtain and twitch and contort through a kind of mutated body-popping. Short volleys of clapping hands or slapped hips evoke images of chittering insects, satanic cockroaches moving back and forth across the stage. The rear curtains part to reveal various mini-scenes, like the dream surgery in an operating theatre or a boy trapped like a fly in a Perspex box until they open on elevator doors through which a table emerges, set for a banquet. Gnomic, gnostic sentences appear in surtitles above the stage which turn out to be snatches of St Augustine.

As the twisting, cavorting bodies move or sit rigid around the table, the scene resembles The Last Supper crossed with The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, particularly when one man turns discreetly into a polar bear.

With a soundtrack mashed up of urgent, throbbing electronica, whispered voices and tranches of classical music, the effect is continuously unsettling; the lighting is cold and unforgiving, even illuminating (or interrogating) the audience towards the end.

The dancers are extraordinary, pulling, snapping and stretching themselves into grotesque positions and somehow achieving a vision of distorted Goya-like beauty. Imagine a fantasy collaboration between Wayne McGregor, Jean-Paul Sartre and Luis Bunuel and you are halfway there.

It sags in the middle when a girl appears to succumb to an unknown fear and wails tiresomely around the table, and it might benefit from a trim and an infusion of humour to lighten the intensity. At least the polar bear got a laugh.

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Spanish Catholicism is once again anatomised in a metaphorical vision of hell