Standing around with a drink in your hand as if you were on the dance floor of a club might not be a good idea at a Diqui James production.
In “Fuerza Bruta,” which premiered in 2005 and continues its evolution in Tokyo this month, pairs of performers on overhead wires zoom around chasing each other as four or five dive down and skim the floor like aerobatics planes. Some may even touch down briefly and whisk an audience member away into the air.
Meanwhile, unnoticed by everyone gazing intently upward, a small stage materializes in their midst with a man in a white suit on it walking in silence. In fact he has no choice because the floor under him is moving like a treadmill and he has to walk, or run. What is he running from — or to — and what is hunting him?
All that, though, isn’t anywhere near the half of what audiences’ at this spectacular can expect.
As for what it’s all about, some present may recall what James, the work’s creator and artistic director, said in an interview with me in Buenos Aires when his “De La Guarda” was sweeping the world in 2003: “I don’t want the audience to commit any intellectual acts such as ‘understanding the story.’ “
Similarly, in the program for “Fuerza Bruta” (“Brute Force”) in London in 2014, he explained, “It’s not an intellectual way of seeing art or theater, it’s very much for the emotions — it’s physical, it’s like a trip and it’s very primitive. The concept I always mention is that we do primitive theater with 21st-century technology.”
Yet people naturally try to understand what they behold and look to build up a plausible story about it. But James insists, “There’s no need to force it — and if possible, it’s more fun if you don’t.”
Born in 1965, James and the rest of the creative team are from Argentina. As students in the 1980s, in their performances they destroyed walls with forklift trucks, suspended people from cranes and smashed fluorescent light tubes in dark, violent and vivid echoes of their country’s military dictatorship from 1976-83.
After that, they say, they realized that “violence pulls people apart, but the joy that comes from celebration binds people together.” Consequently, while retaining the extreme element of their work, they excised the destruction, violence and other negative elements and began creating works bursting with bright and explosive energy. “Our country is not affluent, so we can’t wait for other people to help us. That’s why we use our own strength and the things we have at hand to find a solution,” company manager Mariana Mele said in a recent interview, citing that treadmill. “That scene came about from a time when Diqui was waiting in line at a bank and he got frustrated and impulsively thought, ‘If I have to wait any longer, I’m going to break this glass door!’
“Thinking about these sort of things might be a very Argentinian thing,” she said, “but the unique sense that Diqui brings to the work unconsciously is a call to instinct — so as a result I think it becomes something universal.”
Certainly, there’s little more universal in life than water, and as if to celebrate that, during the show a pool descends from the ceiling and women swim inside like smiling mermaids — so close you could almost reach up and touch them.
Then, though only a little water splashes from above, it’s as if a storm breaks over the audience as bits of paper and polystyrene rain down as a powerful wind blows, making it impossible to remain a mere bystander. Best to finish your drink before the show begins — then let the elemental power of “Fuerza Bruta” take you where it will.
“Fuerza Bruta” runs in Tokyo May 10-June 29 at Akasaka Sacas Special Tent near Akasaka Station. For details, call Kyodo Tokyo on 0570-550-799 or visit FB2014.jp. This story was written for The Japan Times in Japanese and translated by Claire Tanaka.
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