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December 5, 2009

Fuerza Bruta

by Jesse North
Going to the theater should always be an “experience.” That’s pretty much the whole point. Bells and whistles aren’t needed to create that experience though. An amazing night of theater could involve two great actors, a riveting script, and no set at all—a bare bones production. That said, some people (admittedly myself) are too quick to write off big-budget or flashy productions. This thought was going through my mind as I attended the visual orgasm that is Fuerza Bruta at the Daryl Roth Theater last night.

The show is flashy. Flashy, glittery, loud, wet, upside down, and in your face (or down your throat, as I experienced with the confetti). Fuerza Bruta (meaning “brute force” in Spanish) is an optical spectacular in the vein of Cirque du Soleil that doesn’t really have a story (unless your imagination is on overdrive, which it should be) and surrounds the audience, forcing them to interact. If the thought of audience participation makes you clench, you have no choice at Fuerza Bruta. Yes, a few audience members do have advanced participation, in that they hop on platforms and groove with the actors, subsequently being smashed over the head with confetti-filled pizza boxes—not everyone has to do that. But in terms of audience participation, every theatergoer must participate in that the group has to be constantly moving, as the “stage” (there really isn’t one) keeps changing shape and direction. Massive (and I mean massive) treadmills, platforms, aluminum foils sheets, and ladders are wheeled out into the performance space. If you choose not to “participate,” then you might find yourself road kill.

Keeping that in mind, it struck me how inappropriate this show could be for someone elderly or disabled. You have to be able to move around easily and not be inhibited by tight spaces. There are. no. seats. at this show—you stand for a full 70 minutes. Furthermore, it could also be inappropriate for someone dressed nicely! I, for one, usually dress for the theater. Unless you have deep, prior knowledge of this show, the only warning you get about the water that’s flung is when you arrive and collect your tickets, as there’s a slip of paper handed to you. (I suppose you’d receive the notice if you had your tickets mailed to you in advance, but I received my tickets at the performance and… here at this blog, we don’t do tickets in advance.) No, Fuerza Bruta is not Splash Mountain, but it’s not exactly the place for a silk tie, either. (Coat check services are available, but for $2, which I think is ridiculous. Besides, you’ll need the protection!)

And on the subject of all this moving around in a non-seated space—if Fuerza Bruta can do it, so can Fela!.

Like those in Bill T. Jones’s new musical, the performers in Fuerza Bruta are athletic, fierce, move extremely well… yeah, and they’re pretty sexy too. These people work hard during these performances—no wonder they only do it six times a week. This cast is so skilled, but at things that few other humans need to be skilled at. For instance, these people really know how to run sideways on tin foil curtains hanging from the ceiling! And they are experts at sprinting on massive treadmills while dodging lawn chairs! And they’re particularly adept at looking like creepy lake monsters in a water tank suspended from the ceiling! The performers of Fuerza Bruta will make you feel like a slacker in that you have learned to do none of these things yourself.

So what makes Fuerza Bruta special? I know many people would think that it’s just eye candy and not good theater. Maybe this show doesn’t need to be given a specific label. Diqui James, Fuerza Bruta’s creative and artistic director, has conceived great performance art. In the absence of spoon-fed story, there are imaginative takes on otherwise regular objects and concepts: designs made in shallow water using feet, vertical chases, and people jumping through seemingly thick walls. It reminded me of the annual Watermill Center summer benefit in the Hamptons. People question the artistic value of that too, but they can’t deny that it gets them to think. So whether walking around Watermill’s wooded art installations or dodging Fuerza Bruta’s four-person treadmill, I’d say that counts as an experience.

Editor’s note: I was invited to see Fuerza Bruta and did not rush it. There is a general rush policy for the show. Tickets are $25 each and go on sale two hours prior to the performance. Only one ticket per ID.
Show: A-
Photo: Courtesy of Fuerza Bruta

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