NAC Dance: La Veronal adds a dash of the Italian Renaissance to its exploration of the human form

A scene from Siena by the choreographer . Photo: Jesus Robisco

The director of the dance company La Veronal, based in Barcelona, Spain, Marcos Morau, often mixes dance with cultural references from other artistic disciplines including cinema, literature, music and photography. In the performance of the work Siena, his company is bringing in the art of the Italian Renaissance for its exploration of the human form, In fact the company performs in front of a massive projection of Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Before the company’s performances at the National Arts Centre, Morau, certainly one the more interesting figures in dance in Europe today, answered questions from ARTSFILE. The following is an edited transcript of that email exchange.

Q. Why are you using the Renaissance as a backdrop for this piece?

A. We can say that I (am trying) to better understand the essence of the human being from Italian art and, from that moment in history, I observe how the concept of human being has evolved to our present.

Q. Why are your dancers dressed as fencers?

A. The dancers inhabit that world that we have generated on stage. The fact that they dress as fencers is important. It is  a sport that is (like) dance. It is a sport where they cover their heads and hide their identity so that we only pay attention to the body, the container, the cover, the wrapping.

Q. What is the significance of the Titian painting?

A. The Venus of Urbino that appears behind has a very symbolic charge. The work seeks to question our gaze: How do we see the world? How do we see ourselves? This is something essential in the art world. The naked Venus looks at us shamelessly. Is this a provocation? It opens up a dimension (worth considering) about the public’s gaze towards art.

Q. Is the setting in a museum important?

A. We are always in a museum but the use we make of the museum has three possible readings: First, it is a fencing competition, that is, a sports pavilion. It is also a museum proper. And finally it is a funeral where we said goodbye to the body. For me, the scenario represents a window to progress, where is humanity going?

Q. Your love of the work of filmmakers David Lynch and Luis Buñuel is well known. What’s the attraction?

A. I am interested in film, theatre, literature and many other artistic manifestations. Both Lynch and Buñuel have a very poorly defined way of “narrating” and this lack of apparent logic interests me, I am interested in the darkness they provoke in the viewer’s understanding and how from that absence the mind is free and more receptive. Buñuel is wonderful in his alteration of reality, Lynch in his lack of linearity. Both excel in the psychology of their characters.

Q. Where does your vision for dance come from?

A. I am not a dancer, nor a gymnast. I do not have any background as an interpreter. I have been trained as a creator in photography, theatre and choreographic composition. In my family we had a gymnastics champion and I have always been fascinated by the movement, maybe that’s what sowed a seed in my interest with this world.

I believe in the abilities that creators have, beyond our previous training. I’m not a dancer and that gives me a lot of freedom. My references come from many parts and I do not have to return to my life as a dancer because I have not had it. If I started again in this world, I would not like to change it. I love dancers because they are the people I work with and my colleagues, but my place is to generate universes and worlds with them.

Q. You live in Barcelona, in a region that is in turmoil. Do you have a position on what is going on there today?

A. I am Valencian, I’m not Catalan. I have been living in Barcelona for 10 years, although in the last five years I have spent more time travelling and living abroad than in my own home. The privilege of seeing the world and living with people from such diverse places has reaffirmed my belief that in this wonderful diversity that is the world, in the end we are all alike.

I don’t believe in nationalism. I think that territories need to be organized administratively and this sometimes makes it necessary to divide us into regions, countries, continents or any other type of community. But I don’t believe in borders or countries from the emotional point of view. The conflict in Catalonia, from the beginning, the two sides have appealed to this emotion. Neither the Spanish nor the Catalan government has done well and they have put us in a mess. I only hope that the citizens will rise above the politics be the real engine that allows us to find a conciliatory solution for all.

Q. Where does the company name come from?

A. The name of the company has a lot to do with Virginia Woolf. I owe it in part to my fascination with her. The ‘Veronal’ is an anti-depressant and sleeping pill. According to an anecdote, the discoverer of this chemical compound took some while travelling on a train through Italy. He fell asleep and woke up when he arrived in the city of Verona. Hence the name. It was widely used at the beginning of the 20th century. Virginia Woolf took it to treat her depression. I wanted, on the one hand, to create, with my work, a natural anti-depressant for the viewer, and at the same time to build worlds on the stage, similar to our world but always under the effects of a sleeping draft, of a blurred lens.

Q. What’s next?

A. I am interested in the themes of our present. I think the issues that interest us all are very similar. Dance interests me as a means of communication but I am sure that the future will offer me new languages and new supports. For example, next year I will premiere my first opera in Europe. I hope (always) that movement, as well as the word, the image and everything else is at the service of the idea.

La Veronal presents Siena
Where: Babs Asper Theatre
When: Feb. 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.