Dance review: La Loba is beguiling, visceral and vivid, a masterpiece in gothic horror

La Loba by Lenka Vagnerova and Company at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.
La Loba by Lenka Vagnerova and Company at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival. PHOTO: VIKTOR KRONBAUER

LA LOBA

Lenka Vagnerova & Company

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

Esplanade Theatre Studio/Last Friday

Beguiling, visceral and vivid, La Loba is a masterpiece in gothic horror.

Czech choreographer Lenka Vagnerova conjures a bleak world inhabited by a woman who is by turns deranged and benevolent, reckless and caring. Dancer Andrea Opavska and singer Jana Vebrova, as alter egos of this central character, are entangled in a duet of harmony and tension.

Inspired by a Mexican myth from which it takes its title, La Loba portrays an elusive old woman who collects and assembles animal bones, bringing these creatures back to life. But apart from the hooded figure hunched in the dark, Vagnerova portrays multiple facets of this mystery-laden character.

Vebrova's bright voice suggests this woman was young once, but the folk melodies she sings taper off into unexpectedly shrill and discordant peaks.

Opavska moves with incredible dexterity, luxuriating and propelling from the floor like it is both carpet and springboard. This agility and earthiness of movement is not simply a girl's, rather it is also a wolf's. La Loba, meaning wolf woman, exposes the polarity of such a hybrid creature, giving form to its fears and whims.

A foray into such a complex soul is much like a walk through a haunted house, with each turn of a corner revealing an astounding surprise.

Vebrova's melodic lines morph into a wolf's guttural snarls, as her face distorts to produce the gravelly sound and her chest rises and falls to the rhythm of the panting. Her voice's versatility is bizarre and bone-chilling especially when paired with the sinister glint in Opavska's eyes. The latter vibrates with a predator's aggression, vigorously bounding and thrashing across the stage.

Although the piece is darkly atmospheric, some scenes feel overlong when packed with repetitive movement sequences and threaten to disperse the built-up tension. But this does not discount the power of Vagnerova's imagination as she overlaps legend and reality.

Sitting down to a picnic of carrots and assorted animal bones, Opavska behaves like a child assembling Lego bricks. The macabre allure of the scene is inescapable, as the dancer eventually assembles a skeleton of a baby wolf and it is given life through the awakening of Vebrova's brooding physicality and deep growl. Her voice is amplified and multiplied in Eva Hamouzova's sound design, resulting in a cacophony of ferocity and verve.

While in this ritual, the dry bones inhale life, the old woman exhales it. In La Loba's most stirring scene, the two alter egos - one self-sustaining, the other self-sacrificing - are in conflict over this gradual loss. This culminates in Vebrova appearing to remove bone after bone from Opavska's body, leaving her flailing and empty. Her jelly-like body exemplifies the irony of uncontrollable freedom. 

Vagnerova questions the gratification of such sacrifice by offsetting it against the accompanying loss. Tugging at the shreds of her hair that remain, Opavska fades away into death, dust and oblivion. 

stlife@sph.com.sg