A theatrical equivalent of the X-treme sports phenomenon, “De La Guarda” consists primarily of bungee-bouncing performers and raucous, percussion-heavy, techno-pop accompaniment. The Argentinean troupe, a lasting sensation in New York, has landed in Las Vegas, the latest in a string of nonverbal, nonnarrative acts — part vaudeville, part avant-garde — to class up the performing arts in Sin City. While generating a good share of unconventional thrills in a running time just over an hour, the show confronts a significant marketing challenge if it hopes to settle into Las Vegas the way Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil have. “De La Guarda” doesn’t share the same broad appeal as those more easygoing entertainments.
Although it could definitely develop a mesmerized and committed fan base of teens and young adults, “De La Guarda” risks turning off the middle-aged, middle-America vacation crowd with its in-your-face, rave-like sensibility. It’s an exciting show, but it may prove too hip for the room, even at the carnival-esque Rio.
The show requires the audience to stand throughout, mostly with neck angled skyward. The opening sequence involves a creepily effective series of images created above a paper ceiling — we see human shadows scurrying back and forth as if they were giant cockroaches. Gradually, the images become more peaceful as the ceiling transforms into a starlit sky, which soon lets forth a mist.
Before long, the performers break through the paper heavens, descending on bungee chords into the audience, and even lifting a few willing members of the crowd into the air for brief bungee joy rides. Other performers wade through the (now moist) assembly, with looks of numb open-mindedness on their faces. They’re on a different planet, it seems, and yet they aren’t lost at all.
At various times, the performers reattach to their chords and bounce back up to the mezzanine level, which serves as home base for the musicians, led by an ethereal-voiced shirtless guy singer with dyed blonde hair and a few tattoos, and joined, especially on percussive instruments, by whatever performers aren’t circling the arena overhead or forming elaborate group hugs as they lower themselves again into the crowd below, encouraging everyone to jump up and down.
While the physical stunts are visually stimulating, they’re not impressive in the same way as, say, Cirque du Soleil acrobatics. This is a show that relies much more on atmosphere and attitude than on derring-do, although it’s certainly possible that the performers make it all look a lot easier than it is.
The whole thing has an enveloping, trippy charm, reminiscent of a Grateful Dead show, or going back even further, a Living Theatre happening, although the show does have an aggressive energy that gives it a genuinely contemporary feel. There’s a sexiness to the proceedings as well, a raunchiness to the male and female members getting wet, flying around and entangling with each other.
Show reaches an artistic climax with a subdued sequence, where a performer falls with progressively greater force against a loosely hanging canvas wall, creating larger and larger ripples. It’s a simple but elegant effect, highly evocative and surprisingly beautiful.
Throughout the show, the music injects a consistent dynamism, grounding the unusual goings-on in steady, danceable rhythms. Even with a short running time, “De La Guarda” is a full-fledged experience, filled with so much adrenaline that it leaves the audience physically, and in some ways psychically, satiated.