Fuerzabruta! | De la Gaurda

February 2014 | Roundhouse, London

Fuerzabruta! (‘Brute Force’) returns to the Roundhouse as part of its ongoing international tour, demonstrating stunts, grand set pieces and pacey music throughout, in a sequence of dreamscapes. Music is both live and recorded (DJ’ed), switching between carnivalesque drums to an electronica score that supports the atmosphere and action of the piece which cuts through and over the audience.

Aragon excitedly wrote of Robert Wilson’s Deafman Glance as “…it is at once life awake and the life of closed eyes, the confusion between everyday life and the life of each night, reality mingle[d] with dream…” (belatedly arguing against a long-term decision that Theatre cannot be surreal.) Wilson’s production was a series of performed images, deliberately devoid of sound, but one is compelled to wonder what Aragon would have made of Fuerzabruta!, with it’s speed, fast changes of pace, ambitious design and use of technology on a grand scale. The experience, which attempts to tap into the audience’s primitive rhythms through carnival also encourages a more personal reflection;

“everybody has their own trip inside the show, their own feelings… I want to create a moment where they ‘wake up’, where they are hyper aware and where they feel unsafe.” – Director Diqui James

In this respect, the experience successfully interchanges between the individual and group, subjective and shared. One of the most impressive ‘spectacles’ was the two suspended pools of water above the audience, creating the effect that we (the us/me) were underwater looking up at women playing on the surface, swimming, gliding and jumping. But when the apparatus is lowered and the audience, staring up at young women with wet shirts and small trunks, are invited to touch the ‘pool’ a misogynistically voyeuristic awkwardness arises: “did the creators ever try this with young men in speedos? Probably not. The Running Man character was a recurring image, but to what purpose nobody seems to know. It began with said Man on the treadmill creating the scene of a street as commuters bustle past. This then develops into tables and chairs and he fights his way through, sometimes placing them and other times throwing them away, space for some sort of narrative perhaps but also just quite fun. After this it was just running and running, to the extent that I began to get bored with it and look forward to the next set piece, which would doubtless more than make up for it.

The audience were not particularly forthcoming when they were invited to interact. The show kept setting up moments like in a club, such as building music and tension to an explosion of action, easy and ideal in the environment that was clearly framing the whole event. However, for the crowd, possibly due to a culturally-rooted reticence in London, stood rigidly showing no response. This was amplified hilariously at the moment of the enthusiastic applause as if all at once they accepted permission to declare their presence and be complicit in this performance. It’s tempting to suggest the group needed to explore other approaches to encouraging participation, but really the show wasn’t all that demanding compared to many other contemporary event-theatre shows. Perhaps UK audiences are still a little behind in identifying when they are being given the opportunity to participate (compare Punchdrunk, who have gathered a following familiar with their style of audience freedom).

The Roundhouse is a great space for this show and none of it was wasted. There’s something very nice about action taking both horizontal and vertical planes in that the audience again alternates between viewer/participant, presence and insignificance, forefront and background. Some playmakers follow rules such as ‘not moving an audience unless it’s absolutely necessary’, though that’s more patronising than being nice for their sake. De la Gaurda tear up the space constantly, creating new environments and perspectives. Of course this is partly to cater for various apparatus but it doesn’t matter, there is no static platform in which to separate yourself from the world of the show; everyone is shaped and organised and this successfully prevents viewers of being passive, as well as adding more hilarity to the above mentioned ‘square audience’.

Fuerzabruta! is a great example of how contemporary circus and physical theatre is reclaiming the Spectacle in Theatre without heavy narratives or intellectual dissemination. It proposes, by means of ritual, music and technology, an experience that can be at once shared and personal, shaking up the role of the audience and running with a balance of high energy and striking imagery.

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