Until Thursday night, I’d never felt nauseated because of a show. But “Otro Teatro,” created by Bessie award-winning Brooklyn-based choreographer luciana achugar in collaboration with more than two dozen local performers (including Zenon Dance Company members) upended my equilibrium in its first 30 minutes. I recovered for the remaining intermission-less two hours but swung between loving and hating the goings-on. This world premiere commission by the Walker Art Center is draining, exhilarating, infuriating and inspiring.
Ritual is key. When the audience enters the theater a prone figure in a black shroud kisses everyone’s shoes. As the lights dim the mysterious being — achugar — takes the stage. Her moans morph into chants as she whirls around blindly (head covered). She catches herself, resets and repeats, pushing herself to exhaustion. It’s literally dizzying to watch — hence the sick feeling — but also oddly virtuosic, like Sufi spinning with a feral twist.
When achugar completes this cycle she dances nude, her limbs streaked with red markings like blood. Her movement runs the gamut from awkward to graceful and then overtly sexual as she deliberately explores the body’s potential for rebirth, pleasure, rebellion. What happens next? A total annihilation of the fourth wall.
Stationed throughout the audience are performers who harmonize, yawn, cry out and bang on their chairs. Some of this rowdy crew beat on the theater’s metallic walls and others go bare-chested (or all-out naked). So many people dance in the aisles, slither in the shadows and writhe onstage that you wonder what’s planned and who just joined in.
Meanwhile, the pounding, psyche-piercing vocalizing and the compulsive movement provoke a strong urge to escape from so much human commotion and an equally compelling fascination with the total lack of inhibition. The performers eventually end up in a pile while one person uses tape to create angular shapes on the back wall; others decorate the floor with more connecting lines. It’s never really clear when the show is over.
“Otro Teatro” invites comparisons to the Living Theatre (co-founded in 1947 by Julian Beck and Judith Malina), which pioneered participatory experimental performance aimed at dismantling societal norms. That troupe earned respect however its approach was — and remains — challenging. The same holds true for achugar’s efforts: audacious but tough to endure.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.