Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Review: La Fura dels Baus

With the schlocky Spaniards bringing their sex-themed "XXX" to Australia in a few weeks, it's a good time to put up an unpublished review I wrote of one of their previous shows.

Eight years on, my gut feeling is that "shocking" performance art is exactly that. If you're going to be paying money to see this, orthodox therapy would be a better investment (and is clearly what you need, as well). The big, sucky write-up the troupe get in today's Australian (someone got flown to Barcelona, I'm guessing) should serve as enough of a a warning, but if it doesn't, then there's this:
La Fura dels Baus are doing some of the arts stuff at this year's Athens Olympics festivities. Cringe, cringe.

MTM La Fura dels Baus, Wayville Showgrounds, Adelaide, March 1996.

The setting for the performance was familiar dance party terrain: an industrial looking space, large projection screens up the front, and techno music. And nothing else; for about 10 minutes. The crowd was mainly young and eagerly awaiting the show. This was an audience that expected its own active engagement and participation. Awaiting a signal, perhaps to start moshing. Then an incident suddenly occurred in the audience, when a man was pinned to the ground and stripped naked, by a group wearing beige boiler suits. The man was then passed, writhing, onto a perimeter stage made of cardboard boxes. The whole tableaux was simultaneously filmed and projected, and the process was repeated, for each member of the cast - as the relieved members of the audience gradually realised - of the show.

MTM could be said to be about consent. Looked at as traditional passive theatre, the show was about politics generally, and fascism in particular. La Fura dels Baus’ coming from Spain, and having been founded in 1979, could be assumed to intend a grand metaphor for their performance - life under Franco’s dictatorship - but the show simply doesn’t support any cohesive interpretative structures. The boundaries between audience and stage were too blurred; the audience’s space was continually being infringed upon, captured, as the cardboard boxes were moved around to form new and transient platforms for the performance. A kind of hyperreal apocalyptic resignation ruled in the audience as we got battered around by the ceaselessly moving cardboard boxes and their carriers. The local performances on the boxes were usually games of King of the Castle, complete with some very real-looking torture hardware, but these antics were framed by a larger game, that of audience passivity. We were trapped in an unmoshable pit, dammit, on a low ground beneath Damoclean cardboard boxes.

Yet we consented to this, I think. For some reason it occurred to me that the rear exit door was impossibly remote from my situation - right at the front - there was no way out. At a forum the next day, Miki from Las Fura, explained that this was part of the performance; each member of the audience makes a choice as to which zone they would be in, whether this be the frontline, or a relatively safe area, towards the back. A nice theory, except for the strange inertia that meant no one really moved, after the dramatic start, so as not to exercise this belated right of choice. In any case, my position on the frontline - sort of like B Reserve, when A Reserve is the casualty ward - gave me both a better view of, and empathy for, the playlets happening above. All the closer to ponder the murky outer boundaries of performance art: of where stylised S/M becomes gratuitous [simulated] torture, and whether it was better to watch the turbulence of the actual show as opposed to watching the more visually comforting large-screen representation of the show. The latter approach came with considerable occupational hazards, of course, as the moving show would surely relentlessly mow down a blissful screen viewer. To be or not to be; to live in tawdry relative safety or to fall down in aesthetic purity and grace?

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