Imagine a performance of Cirque du Soleil’s “O,” except instead of sitting in your comfortable Las Vegas seat, you are thrust into the middle of the show and forced to experience it viscerally, vertiginously and very wetly. This is something like the effect of seeing “Fuerzabruta,” a gravity-defying Argentine spectacular from the makers of “De La Guarda” that has to be seen to be believed. Premiered in 2006 at London’s Roundhouse, the show kicks off a European tour on the Edinburgh Fringe in a purpose-built black tent, while a franchise production is due in Gotham in October.
In atmosphere and staging this is theater as club night. The all-standing audience crowds together as if on a dimly lit dance floor. They wait for the show to begin, chatting over the pumping beats of the music and drinking beer from the food and drink concession. It isn’t clear where the performance will take place or which direction is best to watch — a sense of dislocation that helmer Diqui James sustains throughout his disorienting show.
It begins when a platform is rolled into the center of the crowd, forcing the audience to make space. A man in a suit, who could be an office worker, is going against the flow on a moving walkway. This is the defining image of “Fuerzabruta”: the ordinary man facing life’s daily challenges, pushing himself forward.
It’s an image we see repeatedly through the performance with a number of variations. Twice he is shot yet returns to his feet like some angelic survivor, blood dripping from his shirt. Sometimes he walks past people on this imaginary sidewalk — each of them dropping like statues when they reach the end of the platform. Other times he is confronted by a wall of cardboard, a blast of wind or a haze of rain and still he soldiers on, casting debris into the audience as he goes.
If the Earth’s rotation and the tug of gravity are this Everyman’s enemy, they are of no consequence to anyone else in this remarkable performance.
At one point, attention is directed suddenly to a place on the ceiling where a man appears to hang unaided from the underside of a small acrylic pool of water. Above him is a writhing swimmer whose every movement he mirrors as if she were magnetic.
Already, by looking skywards, we’re starting to lose our sense of balance and orientation. When a huge curtain of silver wraps itself around the room and two acrobats on ropes chase each other across the walls of the tent, it even becomes hard to tell up from down. James’ giddy inventiveness makes us weightless in the darkened space, laughing in the face of Newton’s laws even as we’re sprayed with water or set upon by actors smashing powdery Styrofoam blocks over our heads.
In effect, the director and his troupe present a series of images of obstacles and liberation, complemented by sequences of sheer sensuality, such as when a massive curtain flaps across the space swinging closer to our outstretched arms with each movement. Most stunning of all, in a feat of technical daring, a full-size swimming pool is floated over our heads, its transparent base allowing the diving dancers to be seen as they create mesmerizing ripple effects in the water. Their supple, semi-naked bodies add a sexual frisson to the images of freedom as they glide across the surface, unbound and unrestrained.
Arguably, a couple of sequences are repeated more than necessary and the show lacks a really big finale, but in its sheer sensory overload and dizzying imaginative flair, “Fuerzabruta” is a triumph.