Acrobatic theater group Fuerza Bruta breaking barriers – and the fourth wall

Ask the members of Argentina’s avant garde theater company, Fuerza Bruta, how they describe themselves and you’ll be met with furrowed brows and half-hearted comparisons to Cirque du Soleil, before receiving a confident assurance that they are nothing like them. Fuerza Bruta (or “brutal force”) can definitely be said to be true to its name.

The group, which premiered in Buenos Aires in 2005 before going on to become a national institution and world tour, offers a mix of hip-hop dance, high-wire art, a light and noise extravaganza, and heat-punting , a foot-stopping euphoric rave. Depending on your interpretation, a show can weave a complex story through metaphor and image – or simply be a spectacle to tickle the senses.

It is constantly changing, and no one – not even the cast themselves – is ever quite sure what will happen during the performance. Camila Taranto, a longtime member and captain of the current team, recalls one evening that ended with an audience member getting down on one knee: “We were saying goodbye to the crowd,” she tells me, “and it was like, ‘Oh my God!, this guy is proposing!'” (Thankfully, his girlfriend said yes.) Another time, recalls Federico Díaz, who joined the group in 2022 and ‘acted with him more than 300 times, interacting with someone who was present. blind “She was this little girl, and she was feeling things with her hands. Her mother told me: ‘She just wants to feel your face.’” Díaz agreed, letting the girl explore the contours of his features with her hands. “She had her own experience, something unique. It was like I was frozen there in time with her, it was amazing.”

I really don’t think about the future. I always try to do our best show tonight

Diqui James

No matter how much things may change from night to night with Fuerza Bruta, one constant is the performers’ love of playing with the fourth wall – joyfully breaking it and cutting it back with together slowly. The group has mastered the art of seamless interaction with the audience. One moment the dancers will be caught as actors in their own play, without mentioning the crowd; the next you’ll be staring them in the eye, wondering if you’ve just entered the stage. Their set pieces move through the crowd, often forcing the audience to scream out of the way, and the group spontaneously uses pulleys and harnesses to plunge into the audience, playing with touch and sight to to work a crowd into a frenzy.

With its conceptual roots, Fuerza Bruta remains an institution even as dancers have moved in and out of it. Usher performed as part of the group during his off-Broadway stint, and was joined by K-pop superstar Shownu and legendary dancer and choreographer David Campos. The group’s current show, Aven (from the word heaven), is meant to inspire hope and joy in contrast to the body’s darker past incarnations; it includes 14 dancers, with three different ensembles performing in different cities at any given time. After a run in Buenos Aires, it has gone around the world, hoping to give the audience a moment to breathe after the trauma of all the pandemic years, and the lurch of the political right in much of the world.

I caught up with the group in Mexico City, where they were visiting for a series of performances en route to London. Aven uses giant inflatables, high-flying harnesses, wind and smoke machines, carefully arranged lighting and a specially tuned soundscape to create a series of spectacles that often break down that fourth wall, true to form.

Backstage, an hour before the show, the group enter their dressing room, which is filled with rows and rows of pastel trousers, blouses and blazers. I’m allowed to dress up in some of their costumes, and then invited to strap myself into a harness and try my hand at a show-stopping finale act called The Whale – a giant inflatable version of the swashbuckling sea creature . back and forth across the dance floor as spectators press up to grab a hold of his amazing fins.

“You smell nice,” Díaz smiles as he crawls inside the whale, and I wonder if he is, or if he’s trying to assuage my fears that I might be over my head. For the next few minutes we throw ourselves to opposite sides of the creature’s interior, using our body weight to wheel it back and forth, before climbing into the whale’s windows to dance and laugh at the audience below. After a few minutes I am dizzy and sweating profusely, wondering how the performers make it through their one hour show.

The history of Fuerza Bruta is intertwined with the history of Argentina itself, although its dancers and creators are far from politics, embracing an all-too-familiar rebellion born of decades of regimes that do not seem to yield permanently one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America. financial stability. “We cannot solve our economic problems,” says Diqui James, the artistic director. “I don’t know why really, I think we have everything we need. We have a beautiful culture built from people all over the world, but we can’t find a way to be together.”

“Fuerza Bruta stays out of politics,” Díaz asserts, before curtailing his statement. “What we do is political in a way, but it doesn’t have to be done directly with politics.” He says the show is more about the present, a relief from all the dark things happening politically.

Although the show is seen as an alternative to the harsh political realities that still exist in Argentina and other parts of the world, the group tells me that the fall of Argentina’s dictatorship was key to the formation of Fuerza Bruta. Its precursors go back to the release of artistic ferment after the transition from military rule to democracy in the late 1970s and early 80s. At that point, James and longtime musical colleague Gaby Kerpel were involved in an avant-garde group called La Organización Negra, whose aim was to stir some life back into the bodies of the repressed Argentines during the dictatorship. His instruments were performed in the open air on the streets of Buenos Aires, where everyone – regardless of social class, level of education or interest in the arts – could participate.

In Argentina, we have problems: poverty, education, culture. We are trying to break through that

Diqui James

After La Organización Negra, James and Kerpel took part in De La Guarda, which eventually led to Fuerza Bruta in 2003. From the beginning it was intended to appeal to everyone – James sniffs at theater groups that only belong to high-minded intellectual. “In Argentina we have many problems: poverty, different levels of education and access to culture. We wanted to break through that and find a language that everyone could understand.” To do so, the company literally built its own means of theatrical communication, inventing the machinery that allows it to perform its unique, euphoric performances.

Ultimately, for James, Fuerza Bruta is the experience of the moment, the most fleeting experience that his brand of theater can throw. When I ask him how he thinks his company will be remembered, he replies that he doesn’t think it will at all – all theater has ever really been is that fleeting moment of performance. “I don’t really think about the future,” he says. “I always try to put on our best show tonight.”

Being responsible and moving with the crowd in Mexico City, I understand how true this is for James. He was disappointed that he would go to such lengths over the years to commit rape, only to turn the lights on at the end of the show and kick everyone out, as Aven James insisted that all his venues after party available. “I asked myself: why do we push everyone out right when they are all accused? So now it’s in the contracts: after the show ends this ball comes out and everyone dances. This is a whole new experience, and I think it’s going really well.”

As I swing my hips and throw my head to the sky, seeing looks of great joy around me, I have to agree – this beautiful moment is all that is left of Aven, and none of us here at ask to release it.

Fuerza Bruta: Aven is at the Roundhouse, Londonfrom July 9 until September 1.

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