“Growling up the wrong tree”
Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 22 January 2016
La Loba is dark, macabre and haunting. Inspired by a Mexican story (“La Loba” is Spanish for “the wolf”), about a woman who collects animal bones and brings them back to life, this performance deals with the tensions between humans and nature; an animal rights activist manifesto conveyed through movement and music/sound rather than words.
While the premise sounded promising, the performance just misses the mark – perhaps due to, in part, the foreignness of the folklore.
But more than that, the use of props in the form of actual animal skulls, and “hair” which appears to be made of a hemp-like material, throughout the performance, seems a bit too literal. Dancer Andrea Opavská in one scene munches on carrots while arranging various animal skulls and bones on a picnic mat. Towards the end of the performance Singer Jana Vébrová arranges a set of larger skulls (appearing to belong to rather large carnivores such as wolves) in a semi circle upstage, where they remain until the end of the performance.
Noticeably, some of the skulls are packed in and brought onstage in the ubiquitous recyclable blue bags from furniture giant IKEA. While this appears to be a cheeky nod to contemporary consumerism, it is also as if the creators of the piece cannot resist another opportunity to chide humans for their thoughtless behaviour, which is to blame for the demise of those animals whose skulls those once were.
There is no doubt, however, that Opavská and Vébrová are masters in their respective forms. Opavská’s movements are clear, sharp and powerful. Near the start of the piece, she performs bouts of continuous rolling movements on the floor, coming to a stop suddenly while a spotlight goes up near her to reveal Vébrová standing over her, imposingly, even accusingly, while singing in piercing fragments. They hold the tableau for a few moments, before the light goes down and Opavská continues her next set of movements. This entire sequence is powerful and impeccably executed by both performers.
Vébrová’s vocal skill shows in her ability to deliver extremely clear, haunting, high-pitched melodies, as well as guttural, grunting noises mimicking the growl of wolves to uncanny likeness. Although the latter probably involves some sound engineering as well, Vébrová’s incredible range is undeniable and certainly awe-inspiring.
These strong performances notwithstanding, La Loba still leaves me somewhat confounded. Although its subject matter is easy enough to understand, and should indeed be a matter of strong concern for an animal lover like me, I cannot help but feel that the overall piece is too distant and perhaps trying too hard to be didactic to really tug at my heartstrings.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
LA LOBA by Lenka Vagnerová & Company (Czech Republic)
22 – 23 January 2016
Esplanade Theatre Studio
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn Chng graduated from the Masters in International Performance Research programme, receiving a double degree from the Universities of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Tampere, Finland. She currently freelances and teaches at the LASALLE College of the Arts.